Resolution Statement 02544-22 – A woman v

    • Date complaint received

      8th September 2022

    • Outcome

      Resolved - IPSO mediation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Resolution Statement – 02544-22 A woman v

Summary of Complaint

1. A woman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “PAEDO TEACHER Dance teacher, 48, who sent boy, 13, ‘intensely sexual’ WhatsApp messages & told him she loved him is spared jail”, published on 5 April 2022.

2. The article was a court report which reported on a woman who was found guilty of sexual communication with a child to gain sexual gratification following a trial at Bournemouth Crown Court. The article reported that “A DANCE teacher who bombarded a 13-year-old boy with sexual messages was spared jail today” and that she “developed warped feelings for the boy at her private dance class in Bournemouth, Dorset”. It further stated, “The married mum-of-two abused her position of trust and secretly sent him ‘intense sexual’ WhatsApp messages, Bournemouth Crown Court heard”.

3. The article quoted the prosecutor who said: "The victim gave evidence in which he rejected that he had a crush on [the woman] and the jury also rejected this version of events. The jury were given a great deal of messages between them. It was extremely intense and emotionally pressurising. It often took place late at night and the defendant was under the influence of alcohol some of the time. The messages were sexualised and there was reference to 'touch and tease'. She repeatedly told him she loved him." It continued: "This was an abuse of trust. It became his 'new normal' that he had to deal with such intense and pressurised messages. They left him stressed out and embarrassed. It is clear that he did not want to go to the dance school through fear of meeting [the woman]."

4. The article further quoted the judge, who, when addressing the woman said: “You bombarded [the victim] with messages and would not listen when he said, 'please stop'. He found it very difficult to deal with. You put a heavy burden on him to satisfy what you perceived to be your needs. Some of these messages were for the purposes of sexual gratification."

5. The complainant, the woman convicted at court, said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 as it claimed she had abused her position as a teacher; however, she said she had never taught the boy, privately or otherwise. She said she had never been a dance teacher or taught a private dance class. The complainant further believed the inaccuracy about her profession had made the story newsworthy, and that the article would not have been published if it had not inaccurately referred to her as a teacher.

6. The complainant also queried whether the prosecution’s quote included in the article had been heard in court. She also said the article breached Clause 1 as she believed the headline which referred to the messages as “intensely sexual” was inaccurate. She said that the messages were “emotionally intense” and that some of the messages were found to be sexual – but there had not been a finding that the messages were intensely sexual.

7. The publication did not accept a breach of Clause 1, it said that it had taken care to publish accurate information by relying on contemporaneous court notes from the complainant’s first hearing at the magistrates’ court supplied by an agency, which included references to the complainant being a teacher. The publication provided the agency’s notes which stated the prosecutor had said: “she ran a dance class“ and that "She extorted (sic) her position as a teacher, albeit at a dance school". However, the publication also noted that during the sentencing hearing the reference to the complainant having been a dance teacher had been dropped. It offered to amend the article to remove references to the complainant being a teacher and publish her position that she was not and never had been a dance teacher.

8. The publication denied that it was solely the reference to the teacher which made the article worthy of publication. It said that the sexual abuse and/or sexual grooming of children by adults is likely to be reported in the press regardless of the status of the offending adult.

9. In response to the reference to “intensely sexual” messages in the headline, the publication referred to the prosecutor who said in court: "The jury were given a great deal of messages between them. It was extremely intense and emotionally pressurising...The messages were sexualised and there was reference to 'touch and tease'. She repeatedly told him she loved him...It became his 'new normal' that he had to deal with such intense and pressurised messages." The publication also referred to a statement from the judge who said: "Some of these messages were for the purposes of sexual gratification". On this basis, it was the publication’s position that it was not significantly inaccurate to characterise the messages sent by the complainant as “intensely sexual”, however it amended the reference as a gesture of goodwill.

10. The complainant said this would not resolve the matter to her satisfaction.

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.

Mediated Outcome

11. The complaint was not resolved through direct correspondence between the parties. IPSO therefore began an investigation into the matter.

12. The publication offered to remove the article from its online archive and notify Google to deindex it. It also said it would be happy to confirm to other search engines that it had taken the article down should any require confirmation.

13. The complainant said that this would resolve the matter to her satisfaction.

14. As the complaint was successfully mediated, the Complaints Committee did not make a determination as to whether there had been any breach of the Code.

Date complaint received: 19/04/2022

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 09/08/2022