Ruling

17450-23 A woman v Greenock Telegraph

    • Date complaint received

      21st June 2023

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of adjudication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 11 Victims of sexual assault, 2 Privacy, 4 Intrusion into grief or shock, 9 Reporting of crime

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 17450-23 A woman v Greenock Telegraph


Summary of Complaint

1. A woman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Greenock Telegraph breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief and shock), Clause 9 (Reporting of crime) and Clause 11 (Victims of sexual assault) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article published in 2023.

2. This decision is written in general terms, to avoid the inclusion of information which could identify a victim of sexual assault.

3. The article reported on a petition hearing where a defendant who was charged with sexually assaulting two people was granted bail. The article listed a number of sexual assaults against both of the alleged victims and gave the addresses for several, including that one occurred in a “flat” and ranges of dates when the assaults were said to have taken place. It also contained other details of the charges. The defendant was named in the article.

4. A similar version of the article appeared online.

5. The complainant, one of the alleged victims, said the article was in breach of Clause 11. She said the level of detail included in the article could easily identify the alleged victims, especially due to the locations of street addresses and dates, which together allowed some readers to associate the addresses with the complainant. The complainant also noted some of the dates listed in the article were during Covid-19 where restrictions on visits to residential addresses were in place, which she said revealed the relationship between the victims and the accused. She said that immediately after the publication of the article she, and others close to her, had been contacted by seven or eight people to ask whether the article referred to her family. During the course of the few weeks it took IPSO to investigate this complaint, the number continued to rise.

6. The complainant said the article breached Clause 2 by revealing that she and another member of her family were victims of sexual assault, information she said they had an expectation of privacy over. She also said the article was in breach of Clause 2 because it reported on specific and intimate details of the charges. She also said it was in breach of her privacy because it reported on the family’s residential addresses; the dates in which they had lived there; and the other family member’s age. The complainant said the hearing had taken place in private, and at this stage the charges would not have been made public. She said the information could only have been accessed through an officer of the court.

7. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 because it had explained the defendant had been released but had omitted the geographical restrictions of the conditions of bail, giving the misleading impression he could go to places he was banned from.

8. The complainant also said the article was in breach of Clause 9 because she alleged it identified other family members of the victims by virtue of identifying the two victims.

9. The complainant also said the article was in breach of Clause 4, as it intruded into her grief and shock by identifying the victims and by including the intimate details of the charges.

10. The publication denied a breach of Clause 11. It said that the “average reader”, who had no prior knowledge of the case, the alleged victims or the accused, would not be able to establish the identity of the alleged victims, and as such no “jigsaw identification” could have taken place. It said that specific addresses were not given in the article, rather they were simply street level. It said that the fact some of the dates cited took place in lockdown was “neither here nor there”. The publication said what has been reported came directly from the charges contained within court papers, and these details were highly likely to be contained within a future indictment prior to the accused's trial. It noted that the alleged victims were not named in either article, however, the accused was. It said taking the complaint to its logical conclusion would mean that naming the accused could lead to the identification of the alleged victims.

11. The publication did not accept a breach of Clause 2. It said the details of the charges came from the actual charge against the accused. It said these details were in the public domain because they were accessible to the press through an officer of the court. The publication additionally said these details were highly likely to feature in a future indictment which will be made public through the calling of the case in open court for both a preliminary criminal hearing and a trial at the High Court.

12. The publication also disputed it had breached Clause 4. As the publication did not accept the article had identified the complainant, it refuted the suggestion that the article had breached Clause 4 through identification. It also said the details in the article were the same or similar to the detail that would be given in a resultant public indictment.

13. The publication also did not accept a breach of Clause 9 as it considered that all the details of the case in the article would be included in the resultant indictment.

14. The publication did not accept a breach of Clause 1. It said the information about the bail conditions in the article was accurate; the article did not state the defendant could go anywhere he was not permitted. It said as the hearing took place in private the publication was not aware of that specific restriction on the defendant’s bail and even if it were aware, it would not be able to report it.

Relevant Clause 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 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock)

In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively. These provisions should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings.

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.

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. Journalists are entitled to make enquiries but must take care and exercise discretion to avoid the unjustified disclosure of the identity of a victim of sexual assault.

Findings of the Committee

15. It is a principle of open justice that court proceedings may be reported by the media in an open and transparent way. Nonetheless, the terms of Clause 11 impose strict constraints on court reporting of cases involving victims of sexual offences in recognition of their exceptionally vulnerable position.

16. The Committee first considered Clause 11. It did not accept the publication’s argument that it was not possible to identify the victims from the details included in the article. It considered the inclusion of the dates and locations of the assaults, as well as the nature of the charges, and other details of the circumstances of the alleged crimes, revealed the identity of the alleged victims to a circle of people known to them. The Committee stressed that Clause 11 at no point specified that identification could only be to an “average reader” with no knowledge of anyone involved in the case; it considered that this defence by the newspaper demonstrated a fundamental lack of understanding of how the Clause worked as well as the wider principle of “jigsaw identification”. The combination of the failure to adhere with the Clause as well as the demonstrable lack of understanding as to how the Clause worked meant the Committee found an egregious breach of Clause 11. The Committee also had strong concerns about the publication’s conduct during the investigation. In particular, the Committee was concerned that the publication had not recognised the seriousness of the concerns raised during the investigation.

17. Both the Editors’ Code and the law protect the anonymity of people making allegations of sexual assault. In these circumstances, the complainant and the other alleged victim had a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to this highly sensitive information. The inclusion of the identifying details about the complainant and the other alleged victim in the article represented an unjustified intrusion into their private lives, and a breach of Clause 2 of the Code.

18. The Committee turned to the complainant’s concerns under Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock) and Clause 9 (Reporting of crime). Although it had deep sympathy for the complainant, and accepted the article had caused her deep distress, it noted both Clauses 4 and 9 specifically stipulate they do not restrict the right to report legal proceedings. Where the information in the article was disclosed as part of legal proceedings, there was no breach of either Clause.

19. The Committee considered the complainant’s concerns that the article was inaccurate as it omitted a reference to the geographical restrictions of the conditions of bail, whilst stating that the defendant had been released. Where it was not inaccurate that the complainant had been released, and the article did not state that the complainant was present, or allowed to be present, in the region he was banned from, the Committee did not consider the article to be inaccurate on this point. There was no breach of Clause 1. Conclusion

20. The complaint was upheld under Clause 11 and Clause 2.

Remedial Action required

21. The Committee considered the placement of its adjudication. In exercising its powers to determine the nature, extent and placement of a remedy to a breach of the Code that it has established, the Committee will have regard to a number of factors including the seriousness of the breach, its placement within the article, and its prominence. The Committee is also obliged to act proportionately.

22. Having upheld the complaint under Clause 11 and Clause 2, the appropriate remedy was the publication of an adjudication.

23. In light of the seriousness of the breach and an apparent lack of understanding by the publication of the seriousness of the issue and the application of Clause 11 (Victims of sexual assault), the Committee also recommended the publication undergo training by IPSO on the relevant parts of the Editors’ Code, to support its editorial standards in this area.

24. The Committee considered the placement of the adjudication. The print article had featured on page four. Given the egregious nature of the breach and the lack of any action taken by the publication to remedy it, the Committee considered a reference to the upheld ruling should be published on the front page of newspaper. This should direct readers to page two, where the adjudication should be published in full, and be clearly distinguished from other editorial content.

25. The adjudication should also be published online, with a link to this adjudication (including the headline) being published on the top 50% of the publication’s homepage for 24 hours; it should then be archived in the usual way. A link to the adjudication should be published as a footnote correction with an explanation that the article had been amended following the IPSO ruling. The publication should contact IPSO to confirm these amendments it intends to make to the online material to avoid the continued publication of material in breach of the Editors’ Code of Practice.

26. The headline to the adjudication should make clear that IPSO has upheld the complaint, reference the title of the newspaper and refer to the complaint’s subject matter. The headline must be agreed with IPSO in advance.

27. The terms of the adjudication for publication are as follows:

A woman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation, the press regulator, that Greenock Telegraph breached Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 11 (Victims of sexual assault) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article published in 2023.

The complaint was upheld, and IPSO required Greenock Telegraph to publish this adjudication to remedy the breach of the Code.

The article reported on a petition hearing where a defendant who was charged with sexually assaulting two people was granted bail. The article listed a number of sexual assaults against both of the alleged victims and gave the addresses for several, including that one occurred in a “flat” and ranges of dates when the assaults were said to have taken place. It also contained other details of the charges. The defendant was named in the article.

The complainant, one of the alleged victims, said the article was in breach of Clause 11. She said the level of detail included in the article could easily identify the alleged victims, especially due to the locations of street addresses and dates, which together allowed some readers to associate the addresses with the complainant. The complainant also noted some of the dates listed in the article were during Covid-19 where restrictions on visits to residential addresses were in place, which she said revealed the relationship between the victims and the accused. She said that immediately after the publication of the article she, and others close to her, had been contacted by seven or eight people to ask whether the article referred to her family. During the course of the few weeks it took IPSO to investigate this complaint, the number continued to rise.

The complainant said the article breached Clause 2 by revealing that she and another member of her family were victims of sexual assault, information she said they had an expectation of privacy over. She also said the article was in breach of Clause 2 because it reported on specific and intimate details of the charges. She also said it was in breach of her privacy because it reported on the family’s residential addresses; the dates in which they had lived there; and the other family member’s age. The complainant said the hearing had taken place in private, and at this stage the charges would not have been made public. She said the information could only have been accessed through an officer of the court.

IPSO did not accept the publication’s argument that it was not possible to identify the victims from the details included in the article. It considered the inclusion of the dates and locations of the assaults, as well as the nature of the charges, and other details of the circumstances of the alleged crimes, revealed the identity of the alleged victims to a circle of people known to them. IPSO stressed that Clause 11 at no point specified that identification could only be to an “average reader” with no knowledge of anyone involved in the case; it considered that this defence by the newspaper demonstrated a fundamental lack of understanding of how the Clause worked as well as the wider principle of “jigsaw identification”. The combination of the failure to adhere with the Clause as well as the demonstrable lack of understanding as to how the Clause worked meant IPSO found an egregious breach of Clause 11.

Both the Editors’ Code and the law protect the anonymity of people making allegations of sexual assault. In these circumstances, the complainant and the other alleged victim had a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to this highly sensitive information. The inclusion of the identifying details about the complainant and the other alleged victim in the article represented an unjustified intrusion into their private lives, and a breach of Clause 2 of the Code.

IPSO also had strong concerns about the publication’s conduct during the investigation. In particular, IPSO was concerned that the publication had not recognised the seriousness of the concerns raised during the investigation.

 

Date complaint received:  12/03/2023

Date complaint concluded by IPSO:  06/06/2023