Ruling

02390-22 Williams v dailystar.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      5th January 2023

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 2 Privacy, 3 Harassment

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 02390-22 Williams v dailystar.co.uk

Summary of Complaint

1. Llinos Williams, acting on behalf of herself and her daughter Rebeca Williams, complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that dailystar.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 3 (Harassment) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in the following articles:

· An article headlined "Teaching assistant told boy, 15, 'age is just a number' before having sex with him twice", published on 29 March 2022.

· An article headlined “Teacher, 21, who seduced schoolboy, 15, says she 'bitterly regrets' sleeping with him", published on 6 April 2022.

2. The first article reported that Rebeca Williams had admitted to and was convicted of “two offences of sexual activity with a boy of 15 and abusing a position of trust”. It reported that the court heard that the woman exchanged “flirty” text messages with the boy before she took him back to her home address and had sex with him. It then reported that the woman had asked to meet up with the boy again and taken him to her bedroom for a second encounter. It explained that the victim had “blocked” the woman on messaging apps after she wanted more of a relationship.

3. The second article reported that Rebeca Williams – 21 – had since told friends that she “bitterly regrets” her actions. It included comments provided by two unnamed individuals to separate publications. The article reported that the woman, who had “ groomed a 15-year-old schoolboy to have sex with her twice”, was convicted of “two offences of sexual activity with a boy of 15 and abusing a position of trust.” It went on to say that “one close friend, who has not been identified, told” a separate publication: “Becky knows what she did was wrong and she bitterly regrets what happened now. She wishes she could turn the clock back but she knows she can’t. She is truly sorry for what she did. She has suffered very badly with depression as a result of losing her career and the court case. She has paid a high price for her mistake”.

4. The second article was accompanied by two images of the woman, captioned “Former teacher Rebecca [sic] Williams is said to be 'truly sorry' after joining the sex offenders register” and “William's friends claim she regrets grooming the teenager”.

5. The complainant said that the two articles were inaccurate, in breach of Clause 1, to report her daughter’s current age. She said that her daughter was younger when the offences were committed, although she accepted that her daughter was an adult. Further, she said that the articles were inaccurate to describe her daughter as a “predator” and to use “rape” and “sexual abuse” as these specific terms were not used in court.

6. The complainant also said that the second article was inaccurate to describe her daughter as a “teacher”; she had been a “teaching assistant”. Further, she said that the quotes attributed to her daughter’s friends in this article had been fabricated. Her daughter denied that she had confided in friends; she had only discussed the matter with her immediate family and did not have any close friends locally. The complainant also noted that one of the “friends” had described her daughter as “Becky”; her daughter did not call herself “Becky” and was instead known as “Beca” by friends.

7. The complainant also said that the second article, headlined “Teacher, 21, who seduced schoolboy, 15, says she 'bitterly regrets' sleeping with him”, breached Clause 2, as it published photographs taken from her daughter’s private social media account without consent or permission.

8. The complainant also said that she and her daughter had received multiple unwanted approaches from journalists at their home, in breach of Clause 3. She said that two individuals had approached the family house on 29 March 2022, before she asked them to leave. She said that one of these individuals had claimed to be a courier delivering court documents and had presented her with a “calling card”. She said that she had shown this card to a police officer, who said that it was a journalist pretending to be a courier. She said that the other individual had parked nearby her home, taking photographs and had been “aggressive” when she requested that they leave. She also said that the police had completed “a trace” on the vehicle’s registration number and confirmed that this individual was a journalist.

9. The publication did not accept a breach of the Editors’ Code. It said the articles were an accurate and fair summary of court proceedings against the complainant’s daughter. It said that the court heard the age her daughter was when she had committed the offences in question and provided a copy of the reporter’s contemporaneous notes to demonstrate this; this was a different age to that provided by the complainant. It also said that her specific age was insignificant: her daughter had legally been an adult when she committed the offences against the child. Further, it said that the year of the offences was omitted in order to minimise the risk of the victim being identified.

10. Notwithstanding this, upon receipt of a direct complaint from the complainant on 7 April 2022, in a gesture of goodwill, the publication had amended the online articles to reflect the age provided by the complainant.

11. The publication did not accept that the disputed terms “predator”, “rape” and “sexual abuse” had appeared in any form of the online articles in question.

12. In addition, the publication did not accept that the second article was inaccurate to describe the complainant’s daughter as a “teacher”; she had worked as a “teaching assistant” and the difference between these two roles was not significant: her daughter had held a position of trust and responsibility at the school and had abused that position when she had been found guilty of sexual offences with a minor in her charge. Further, the publication said that the article was an accurate report of the comments made by sources to separate publications.

13. In relation to Clause 2, the publication did not accept that the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to the photographs published in the second article. It said that the images had been taken from a report by a separate publication and thereby already in the public domain at the time of publication. Further, it said that the images were still publicly available on the woman’s social media accounts – a point the complainant disputed, who said that at the time of the article’s publication the social media account had been deactivated. The Committee noted that these photographs were removed from the second article, with the remaining image –  which showed the exterior of the court –  captioned: “The teacher admitted to two offences at Mold Crown Court”.

14. In relation to Clause 3, the publication did not accept that complainant’s allegations related to any of its journalists or individuals working on its behalf. 

Relevant Code Provisions

Clause 1 (Accuracy)

i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.

ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and — where appropriate — an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator.

iii) A fair opportunity to reply to significant inaccuracies should be given, when reasonably called for.

iv) The Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.

Clause 2 (Privacy)*

i) Everyone is entitled to respect for their private and family life, home, physical and mental health, and correspondence, including digital communications.

ii) Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual's private life without consent. In considering an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy, account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information and the extent to which the material complained about is already in the public domain or will become so.

iii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals, without their consent, in public or private places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Clause 3 (Harassment)*

i) Journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit.

ii) They must not persist in questioning, telephoning, pursuing or photographing individuals once asked to desist; nor remain on property when asked to leave and must not follow them. If requested, they must identify themselves and whom they represent.

iii) Editors must ensure these principles are observed by those working for them and take care not to use non-compliant material from other sources.

Findings of the Committee

15. The Committee first considered the complainant’s concerns under Clause 1. The Committee considered whether the first article was inaccurate or misleading in reporting the complainant’s daughter’s current age, rather than her age when the offences were committed. Whilst there was a dispute between the parties as to the daughter’s age when she committed the offences, the Committee did not consider her exact age to be material – the nature of the complainant’s offences had been accurately reported, namely that she had been an adult who held a position of trust when the offences had been committed. While the Committee did not find a breach of the Editors’ Code, it welcomed the steps taken by the publication to address the complainant’s concerns on this point.

16. The Committee then considered the complainant’s concerns in relation to the following terms which the complainant claimed appeared in the online articles: predator, rape and sexual abuse. The Committee reviewed the articles and could not identify any usage of those words. As such, there were no grounds for investigation on this point.

17. The complainant said that the second article misrepresented her daughter’s position within the school; she had not been a “teacher”, but rather a “teaching assistant”. The Committee accepted the two roles had different job titles and responsibilities and noted that the articles were reports of the offences for which her daughter had been convicted. It was not in dispute that, similar to a teacher, her daughter’s role meant that she held a position of trust towards the children who attended the school where she worked and that this was a feature of the offences. Taken in this context, the Committee did not consider that the description of the complainant’s daughter as a “teacher”, rather than a “teaching assistant”, rendered the articles significantly inaccurate or misleading. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

18. In relation to the allegedly fabricated quotes which were referenced in the second article, the Committee noted that the complainant had not identified any particular inaccuracies within the quotes, rather they had questioned whether the claimed sources really existed. However, the article clearly attributed the quotes as anonymous ones drawn from articles in other publications and it was therefore clear that the sources of those quotations were not on record with the dailystar.co.uk. This did not absolve the publication of its obligation to take care to avoid publishing inaccurate information. However, the Committee noted that the comments did not appear to significantly differ from the daughter’s own position during court proceedings: she admitted the offences, she was no longer able to work in educational settings, and her mental health had been affected; she was regretful for her actions. Given this, the Committee considered that the newspaper had taken sufficient care in reporting the claims made and reporting these comments did not give rise to any significant inaccuracy requiring correction. There was no breach of Clause 1.

19. The Committee next considered the complainant’s concerns under Clause 2. The Committee noted that the images, which showed only her daughter’s likeness, had already been published by separate publications prior to this article’s publication, and were still publicly available on her daughter’s social media accounts. For this reason, the complainant’s daughter did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in respect of the information contained in the photographs and their publication did not represent an intrusion into her private life. There was no breach of Clause 2.

20. Finally, the Committee considered the concerns raised under Clause 3. The Committee’s task was to establish whether the newspaper under complaint had been responsible for the harassment, for example if the harassment had been carried out by a member of its staff or by an external contributor which it had engaged, such as an agency reporter or photographer. The Committee noted there was a dispute between the complainant and the publication as to the extent of contact between the parties over the relevant period. The complainant had not provided any information which suggested that the individuals who had spoken with her at her home on 29 March 2022 represented the publication or had identified themselves as representing the publication. The publication had denied that these individuals represented them. There were, therefore, no grounds to find that the individuals in question had represented the publication. There was no breach of Clause 3.

Conclusion(s)

21. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

22. N/A


Date complaint received: 01/04/22

Date complaint concluded by IPSO:13/12/22