Ruling

07265-18 A woman v Mail Online

    • Date complaint received

      23rd May 2019

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 11 Victims of sexual assault, 2 Privacy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 07265-18 A woman v Mail Online

Summary of complaint 

1.    A woman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that two articles published by Mail Online breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 11 (Victims of sexual assault) of the Editors' Code of Practice. 

2.    The articles reported that the complainant was on trial accused of stalking a man she had met on an online dating site after he had refused to leave his wife. 

3.    The first article reported that the complainant “allegedly accused [the man] of rape when the affair ended”. It also said that in July 2018 “the police finally dropped the rape allegation”. The second article reported that the complainant had accused the man of rape “before dropping the allegation earlier this year”. A photograph of the complainant, taken outside of court, accompanied both of the articles. 

4.    The complainant said that she had been identified as a victim of sexual assault, in breach of Clause 11. She said that naming her, publishing her photograph and disclosing the area in which she lived had breached her privacy. 

5.    The complainant said that the articles had implied, inaccurately, that it was she who had dropped the allegation of rape. The complainant acknowledged that shortly before her trial, the police had informed her that they were not going to proceed against the man in relation to the rape allegation, but said that this was solely because there was no independent evidence available to prove or disprove the allegation. She said that at the time the article was published, she was engaged in a Victim’s Right to Review process and had therefore not withdrawn any part of her complaint. 

6.    The complainant said that it was inaccurate to report that she had made the allegation of rape after the affair had ended. She said that she had made the allegation of rape in February 2017 while she was still in a relationship with the man, not after the relationship had ended in March 2018. 

7.    The publication denied any breach of the Code. It said that the article was a report of proceedings heard in open court, which did not relate to a defendant being tried for an offence of sexual assault. Given this, the newspaper said that it was legally free under the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992, to identify the complainant. The publication further said that it was justified in doing so: the complainant had been named in open court by the prosecution as having made the allegation of rape. The publication said that the allegation of rape, made in conjunction with the harassing telephone calls, would have undoubtedly formed part of the conduct which distressed the victim. 

8.    The publication said that the article accurately reported that the police had decided to “drop” the rape allegation; they had decided not to proceed against the man as there was insufficient evidence and no reasonable prospect of conviction. The publication acknowledged that the phrasing of the second article indicated that the decision to “drop” the rape allegation had been made by the complainant earlier in 2018. It said that the court had heard that the decision to drop the allegation was first taken in 2017 and then, later by the police in 2018. It said that to ensure clarity, it would amend the article to read: “she even accused him of rape before the police decided to take no further action earlier this year”. 

9.    The publication disputed the complainant’s timeline of events. It said that the court heard complainant’s relationship with the man ended in February 2017. 

Relevant Code provisions 

10. 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. 

Clause 2 (Privacy) * 

i) Everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence, including digital communications. 

ii) Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual’s private life without consent. Account will be taken of the complainant’s own public disclosures of information. 

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

Clause 11 (Victims of sexual assault) 

The press must not identify or publish material likely to lead to the identification of a victim of sexual assault unless there is adequate justification and they are legally free to do so. 

Findings of the Committee 

11. The Committee acknowledged the complainant’s position that she was a victim of sexual assault and therefore should not have been identified in the article. Under Clause 11 of the Code, victims of sexual assault may only be identified by publications in circumstances where there is adequate justification and they are legally free to do so. In law, and under the Code, victims of sexual assault are granted anonymity in reports of criminal proceedings which are brought against a defendant for alleged sexual offences. 

12. However, the law allows victims of sexual assault to be identified in legal proceedings in which a defendant is not being tried for an offence of sexual assault, but with which the victim is involved. The Committee was satisfied that on the facts of this case, the publication was, as is required under the terms of Clause 11, legally free to name the complainant. The Committee acknowledged the importance of the principle of open justice which ordinarily allows the press to identify the parties to legal proceedings, unless precluded by law.  The article was a report of court proceedings in which the complainant was on trial charged with harassment; part of the prosecution’s case against her was the allegation of sexual assault which she had made against the man. There was a public interest in reporting what was heard in court in respect of the complainant’s trial in an open and transparent way. The Committee noted that no reporting restriction had been imposed which prevented the complainant being identified, despite the complainant’s request. In these particular circumstances, the publication was justified in naming the complainant in the article and including the information that she had made an allegation that she was the victim of sexual assault. There was no breach of Clause 11. 

13. The published photograph disclosed only the complainant’s likeness, as she had appeared outside of court. No private information was revealed about the complainant. There was no breach of Clause 2. 

14. The article was a report of the prosecution’s case against the complainant. It was not disputed that the prosecution had alleged that the complainant had made the allegation of rape after the affair had ended. It was not inaccurate to report that the police had “dropped” the rape allegation; they had decided not to proceed against the man. The articles did not state explicitly that it was the complainant who had dropped the allegation. There was no breach of Clause 1. 

Conclusions 

15. The complaint was not upheld. 

Remedial Action Required 

14. N/A

Date complaint received: 08/11/2018

Date decision issued: 12/04/2019

Independent Complaints Reviewer 

The complainant complained to the Independent Complaints Reviewer about the process followed by IPSO in handling this complaint. The Independent Complaints Reviewer decided that the process was not flawed and did not uphold the request for review.