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Complainant Name:
Ms Emma Manson

Clauses Noted: 1, 3, 10, 12

Publication: News of the World


Ms Emma Manson, a member of a Wiccan coven, complained that an article in the News of the World on 27 October 1996 headlined "Satan Gran's Coven is a Cauldron of Sin" contained inaccuracies in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code of Practice. She also complained that the article failed to distinguish between comment, conjecture and fact, in breach of Clause 3 (Comment, conjecture and fact), and contained material prejudiced against her religion in breach of Clause 15 (Discrimination). Complaints were also raised under Clause 4 (Privacy) and Clause 7 (Misrepresentation).

The article was written by an investigative journalist who, along with a colleague, had posed as would-be witches in order to gain access to the coven attended by the complainant. The article said that the reporter had found the witches to indulge in orgies, black magic and unusual ceremonies. The witches were also labelled "devil-worshippers" who took part in "vile rituals". The complainant denied such allegations and said she did not practise black magic or take off her clothes during rituals; she was unaware of other people and places mentioned in the article.

The newspaper responded with the account of a journalist who had researched the story and who said he had spoken to the complainant about members of the coven. He understood from their conversations that lewd behaviour was commonplace and had himself witnessed sexual activity by members of the coven. The newspaper believed subterfuge had been necessary to test the statements of the High Priestess (in interviews she had given in the past) as it had found a dichotomy between her claims and its own experiences and publication was in the public interest. It did not believe it was unfair to have named the complainant, who was part of the coven, although it had made it clear that she had not been present at all the meetings referred to.

Not Upheld


The Commission did not find there was sufficient confusion between witchcraft and devil-worship to raise a breach of the Code - particularly as the two are often synonymous in the view of the public. In the particular circumstances the subterfuge was not unreasonable in order to test the claims which had been made for the covens activities; as the complainant was an integral part of the story, her identification was not an unacceptable intrusion into her privacy.

Whilst noting the complainant's denials that orgies had taken place, the Commission considered this claim would be seen as the journalist's own interpretation of the nudity, innuendo and apparent sexual contact between coven members which the journalist had either witnessed or been informed of. The Commission noted the difference of opinion over whether black magic had taken place, but considered that the newspaper had shown that what might have been taken for magic rites took place.

The complaint was rejected.


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