Ruling

10662-21 Champion v Kentish Gazette

    • Date complaint received

      19th May 2022

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 9 Reporting of crime

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 10662-21 Champion v Kentish Gazette

Summary of Complaint

1. Kieran Champion complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Kentish Gazette breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 9 (Reporting of Crime) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Raped after being offered ‘safe’ place” on 14th October 2021.

2. The article reported on a court case, in which the complainant was found guilty of rape and sexual assault. The article stated that the complainant had “repeatedly attacked his victim after luring her from a nightclub and plying her with drink”. The article described him as “devious” and said that he had “tricked the woman into believing she had a safe place to stay for the night - before subjecting her to the terrifying ordeal”. It reported that “[a]fter giving her whisky and coke, the fiend raped and sexually assaulted his terrified victim” and that, when she told him to stop, he “made lurid and derisory remarks”. The article stated that “jurors heard” the victim was able to get away when “a police officer appeared outside the crime scene by chance”. It continued by stating that the complainant was “arrested the same day and gave a no comment police interview” and that he “forced her to repeatedly re-live the terror in court - even after his DNA was discovered on his victim”. It reported that the complainant “preyed on the girl […] as she searched for a safe place to stay, tricking her into thinking he was being kind”. The article quoted the judge stating that “’[the victim] was looking for a safe place to spend the night, she didn’t know your address or the area, she was drinking and had little avenue of escape’.”

3. The article also appeared online in substantively the same format under the headline “Rapist Kieran Champion, of Canterbury, jailed for attacking woman after night out in Margate”, published on 8th October 2021. It stated that “the predator has now been jailed for six years at the same court today for the sustained terror he subjected her to”. The article also reported that “Devious Champion lured the woman […] to a property […], leaving her isolated and lost”. It stated that “[a]fter plying her with whisky and coke, he raped and sexually assaulted his terrified victim”. It also reported that “He would drag his victim through the courts, forcing her to repeatedly re-live the terror, even after his DNA was discovered”.

4. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 because the phrase “repeatedly attacked” had not been said in court. He said it implied that the victim had been assaulted several times, which was not the case. The complainant denied having “plied [the victim] with drinks”; he said that this suggested the victim had been forced to drink, whereas, in her testimony she had said she had poured their drinks. Similarly, he said it was inaccurate for the article to suggest he had “lured” the victim to the property as, in her testimony, she had said she got in their mutual friend’s car willingly. The complainant said it was also inaccurate for the article to report that he had “made lurid and derisory remarks” to the victim as the victim had in fact made such remarks to him, for example that he smelled. The complainant said it was twisting the story.

5. The complainant also said it was inaccurate for the article to state that the victim had escaped after a police officer “appeared outside… by chance”. The police had never confirmed this point and there was no confirmation that the police had been anywhere near the property. He said that the victim had also testified that she had called 111 once she was away from the property and the police picked her up at another location, some distance from the house. He said that this account had been verified by the police during the court proceedings.

6. The complainant said it was inaccurate for the article to report that he had given a “no comment interview” as he had cooperated fully with the police and had answered all questions. In a later interview, following the advice of his previous solicitor, he provided a prepared statement and then gave a no comment interview.

7. The complainant further said that it was inaccurate for the article to claim that he “preyed on the girl” as she had been over 18 and so was an adult. The complainant also said it was inaccurate to describe him as “devious” and having “trick[ed] her into thinking he was being kind” in both articles, and for the online article to claim he had subjected the victim to “sustained terror” as none of this had been heard in court. He said it was the opinion of the journalist and was not relevant to the article.

8. The complainant also said his DNA had not been found and so it was inaccurate for the article to report that “his DNA was discovered on his victim” and for the online article to state “his DNA was discovered”.

9. The complainant said the article also breached Clause 9 (Reporting of crime) because it was a twisted and sensationalised version of what happened that represented personal opinion, rather than a report of the facts.

10. The publication denied any breach of the Code. It said that the term “repeatedly” was a fair reflection of what had happened. It said that the definition of “repeat” was to “do something more than once” and that in court it had been heard that the complainant had sexually assaulted the victim with his mouth and that later she had awoken to find him raping her. As such, the publication said she had been assaulted “repeatedly”. The publication also said “plied” was an accurate representation of what was heard in court as the complainant had bought the victim drinks throughout the night and had stopped to purchase additional spirits on the way home. The judge’s sentencing remarks, provided by the publication, had said “[the complainant] provided [the victim] with more alcohol and that without doubt made the offences easier to commit”. Whilst the victim may have poured her own and his drinks, where the word “plied” meant to “supply or furnish something”, and where he had bought the drink, it was not inaccurate to use this term. Notwithstanding this, the publication said that for complete clarity, it was prepared to change the word “plied” to “supplied”.

11. The publication also did not accept a breach of Clause 1 regarding describing the complainant as having “lured” the victim to the property. It said that “lured” means “to trick somebody into a specific place or action”. Where the judge had said that the victim “was looking for a safe place to spend the night. She didn’t know the area of where you lived or even the address. You offered and she trusted you” and where the complainant had seemingly offered the victim a safe place before raping her, “lured” accurately described what happened.

12. The publication did not accept that referring to the victim as a “girl” represented a breach of the Code. It stated that “girl” could also mean a “young, or relatively young woman” and so this constituted a fair characterisation of the victim. Regarding the “lurid and derisory remarks” the publication said it was not inaccurate to report that the complainant had made these comments as it was heard in court that he had said the victim was “loving it” as he raped her.

13. The publication further stated it was not inaccurate to report that a police officer had appeared outside by “chance” allowing the victim to escape as this was the prosecution’s case and had been accurately attributed to the prosecution in the article. The judge’s sentencing remarks had said “[b]y chance there appear to have been Police Officers outside near your house. That fact alarmed you. She took the opportunity to leave your house.”.

14. The publication did not accept a breach of Clause 1 regarding the claim that the complainant had given a “no comment interview”. It said that, whilst the complainant may have initially answered the questions in full, it was not in dispute that the complainant had given a “no comment” interview to the police following his arrest”. The publication proposed to amend the article to make clear that he had initially engaged in a police interview and later gave a no comment interview; however, it said making clear that there had been at least one comment interview did not materially affect the story and so was not significantly inaccurate to report that he had given a “no comment interview”.

15. The publication stated that “sustained terror” was an appropriate summary of the victim’s experience where she experienced repeated sexual assaults. It also said “devious” was a fair characterisation for an individual who purported to offer a safe place to stay before raping someone.

16. In relation to whether the complainant’s DNA had been found, during the referral period, the publication stated that DNA had been discovered under medical examination and that a police statement said the complainant’s claims had been “undermined by forensic evidence”. However, it accepted that it was in fact the victim’s DNA that had been found in the complainant’s underwear. As such, it amended the online article so that it said, “Forensic evidence undermined Champion's claims he had not raped the woman and he was charged with rape and a sexual assault”. It included a note below the headline that stated:

This story was edited on November 17 to clarify a previous reference made to DNA evidence.

Once the publication became aware that the complaint also related to the print version of the article it offered to publish a clarification on page 7 on this point in print also:

On October 14, 2021, the Kentish Gazette reported that Kieran Champion had been jailed for six years following a conviction for rape.

The article stated that Champion’s DNA had been discovered by police. This was incorrect.

The victim’s DNA was in fact found on Champion, with police saying the “forensic evidence undermined Champion's claims he had not raped the woman”.

The Gazette is happy to clarify this.

17. The publication did not accept a breach of Clause 9 (Reporting of crime). They stated the article reported what had been heard in court and did not unnecessarily identify the complainant’s friends or relatives as they had supported him in court.

18. The complainant said that there was a difference between the terms “repeatedly” and “repeated”. Whilst “repeat” meant to do something more than once, “repeatedly” meant “to do something over and over again, constantly”. The complainant also disputed the publication’s position regarding the word “plied”. He said that whilst he had bought the victim’s drinks, the victim’s friends had also bought her alcohol. In addition, he had stopped to purchase a bottle of spirits on the way home, but he had also bought food for the victim and so any amendment should also state that he also supplied the victim with food.

19. Regarding the “lurid and derisory remarks” and the assertion that he had said the victim had been “loving it”, the complainant said that this had not been said by the victim as evidence. He also said stating he had made “lurid and derisory remarks” implied that he had repeatedly berated the victim, which was not the case.

20. The complainant did not accept the amendment to the article or the further proposed amendments as a way to resolve his complaint.

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 9 (Reporting of crime)

i) Relatives or friends of persons convicted or accused of crime should not generally be identified without their consent, unless they are genuinely relevant to the story.

ii) Particular regard should be paid to the potentially vulnerable position of children under the age of 18 who witness, or are victims of, crime. This should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings.

iii) Editors should generally avoid naming children under the age of 18 after arrest for a criminal offence but before they appear in a youth court unless they can show that the individual’s name is already in the public domain, or that the individual (or, if they are under 16, a custodial parent or similarly responsible adult) has given their consent. This does not restrict the right to name juveniles who appear in a crown court, or whose anonymity is lifted.

Findings of the Committee

21. The Committee first considered the complaint that it was inaccurate to report that the complainant had “repeatedly attacked his victim”.  The complainant said that this had not been heard in court and suggested that the victim had been assaulted several times, which he denied. The Committee considered the sentencing remarks of the judge who, in relation to the offences for which the complainant had been convicted, said “These were separate offences, but they were linked.  One followed the other, not as a single event, but not unrelated”. In these circumstances, and where the article accurately reported the complainant’s conviction, it was not inaccurate for the article to report that he had “repeatedly attacked his victim”; the Committee did not accept the distinction drawn by the complainant between “repeated” and “repeatedly”. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

22. The Committee next considered the report that the complainant had attacked the victim after “plying” her with drink. The Committee noted the complainant’s position that the victim had poured drinks herself but did not consider that “plying” necessarily implied “forcing”.  It was not in dispute that the complainant had bought drinks for the victim or that  the victim had been given whiskey and coke at the complainant’s house, as reported. In these circumstances, there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

23. The Committee noted that “tricked”, “lured”, and “devious” represented the newspaper’s characterisation of the complainant and his actions. The question for the Committee, therefore, was whether this characterisation was sufficiently supported within the article and was not a misleading or inaccurate description of what had taken place. In his sentencing remarks, the judge had stated that the victim was “looking for a safe place to spend the night. She didn’t know the area of where you lived or even the address. You offered and she trusted you”. The article reflected these comments by reporting that the complainant had convinced the victim into “believing she had a safe place to stay for the night” before raping her and that he “led the woman from a Margate venue to a property in Canterbury, leaving her isolated and lost”. The newspaper had provided sufficient basis to support its characterisation that the complainant had “tricked” and “lured” the victim, and that he was “devious”. There was no breach of Clause 1 on these points.

24. The Committee found that “Girl” was not an inaccurate or misleading description of the victim where it was accepted that she was a young woman; there was no suggestion that the complainant was charged with child sex offences, and the nature of the complainant’s conviction was accurately reported in the article. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

25. The Committee then considered the complaint that it was inaccurate to report that the complainant had made “lurid and derisory remarks”. The reporter’s notes recorded that it had been heard in court that the complainant had said that the victim was “loving it” as he assaulted her, which supported the report. As such, there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

26. The Committee then turned to the complaint that it was inaccurate to report that the jury had heard that the victim was able to escape “when a police officer appeared outside the crime scene by chance”. The Committee noted that the sentencing remarks of the judge explained the sequence of events: “By chance there appear to have been Police Officers outside near your house.  That fact alarmed you. [The victim] took the opportunity to leave your house”. The reporter’s notes confirmed that this had been heard in court. The publication had taken sufficient care to not publish inaccurate or misleading information and so there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

27. In relation to whether it was accurate to report that the complainant had given a “no comment interview”, the Committee acknowledged the complainant’s position that he had given a full comment interview after first being arrested. However, he did not dispute that, in a later interview, on the advice of his solicitor, he provided a prepared statement and answered “no comment” to questions. As such, it was not inaccurate for the article to report that he had given a “no comment interview” and there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

28. Finally, the Committee considered the complaint regarding the report that the complainant’s DNA had been found on the victim. The publication had accepted that this was inaccurate; the victim’s DNA had been found on the complainant’s clothing, rather than the complainant’s DNA being found on the victim’s clothing. The question for the Committee was whether this inaccuracy was significant in the context of the story, and whether its publication represented a failure to take care over the accuracy of the story in breach of Clause 1(i). On balance, the Committee concluded that it was not: the significance of the forensic evidence was that it had established that the complainant and victim had been in contact and that contributed to the complainant’s conviction, and this was unaffected by the inaccuracy. In the context of the full report of the court proceedings, this inaccuracy was not significant and did not represent a failure to take care over the article that breached Clause 1(i). There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point. Nonetheless, the Committee welcomed the publication’s prompt amendment of the online article on this point once the inaccuracy was brought to its attention, and the fact it had published a footnote clarification, and that it had later offered similar action in print.

29. The complainant had also complained under Clause 9 (Reporting of crime) on the grounds that, in his view, it had twisted and sensationalised what had been heard in court. Clause 9 is designed to prevent friends and family of those convicted of crime being identified unless they are genuinely relevant to the story. The complainant’s concerns did not relate to this and so this Clause was not engaged.

Conclusion(s)

30. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

31. N/A


Date complaint received: 09/10/2021

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 08/04/2021


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.