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Complainant Name:
A woman

Clauses Noted: 1, 9

Publication: Harrogate Advertiser

Complaint:

A woman complained to the Press Complaints Commission that articles published in the Harrogate Advertiser and Knaresborough Post on 9 August 2002, both headlined "Man fractured girl’s arm as he attacked mum", contained inaccuracies and named her and her daughter in breach of Clauses 1 (Accuracy) and 10 (Reporting of crime) of the Code of Practice.

The complaint was not upheld.

The article reported a court case at which the complainant’s partner had pleaded guilty to assaulting her and unlawfully wounding her fifteen-year-old daughter. As the defendant was not normally known by his given name as stated in court, the victims would not, the complainant said, have been identified had they not been named; her daughter’s vulnerability had been increased by this unnecessary identification. The complainant added that she had said she would ‘stand by’ her partner only if he continued to receive treatment for his mental health problems, and that it was misleading to omit this qualification from the report of the case.

The newspaper contended that it was necessary to identify both the complainant and her daughter in order to provide a full and fair report of court proceedings; and that it was important to report, for example, the domestic context of the attack to explain the relatively lenient punishment received by the defendant. Simply withholding the victims’ names would not have avoided identification, and a truly anonymous report would have had to have omitted such pertinent details as the complainant’s relationship with the defendant, her daughter’s age, and the injury sustained, without any certainty that neither would have been identified in a ‘small community such as Knaresborough’. The proviso outlined by the complainant had not been referred to in court, although the newspaper undertook to ensure that if stated in any future trial it would make the complainant’s position on this point clear.

Decision:
Not Upheld

Adjudication:

Clause 10 sets out the principles which newspapers must bear in mind when identifying without their consent relatives or friends of persons convicted or accused of crime. The guidelines relating to children extend to cover both witnesses and victims of crime and state that in the reporting of such cases, particular regard must be paid to their potentially vulnerable position.

The Commission agreed that the circumstances of the incident were so specific that if reported in full readers would have been likely to identify the complainant and her daughter as a result of a jigsaw of facts, and not solely by publication of their names. As the complainant was, regrettably, a central figure in the case brought against her partner, the Commission did not consider that it was incumbent on the newspaper to seek her permission to identify her, particularly as she had already been named in open court.

In light of this the central issue of the complaint rested on the regard the newspaper owed to the position of the complainant’s daughter’s weighed against the importance of a full and fair report of the court case. The Code itself makes clear that Clause 10 should not be interpreted as restricting the right to report judicial proceedings where no case of vulnerability is made out. In this instance the Commission considered that the newspaper had paid sufficient regard to the position of the child in accordance with the terms of the Code. It noted further that there had been no restrictions imposed by the court in relation to the reporting of the case.

The Commission did not consider that any significant inaccuracy had been established in the reporting of the proceedings, although it was pleased to note that the newspaper had undertaken to ensure that the complainant’s stance on her partner’s behaviour would be reported if stated in open court.

Report:
60



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