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Complainant Name:
A woman

Clauses Noted: 11

Publication: News Shopper (Bexley and North Kent)


A woman complained to the Press Complaints Commission that an article published in the News Shopper (Bexley and North Kent) and online in February 2013 had identified her as a victim of sexual assault in breach of Clause 11 (Victims of sexual assault) of the Editors' Code of Practice.

The complaint was upheld.

The article reported that police had launched an investigation following an allegation of rape. The online version of the article (which was published two days before the print version) included a photograph of the site of the incident, which was in fact the complainant's home, and video footage showing forensic officers entering the property. Clearly recognisable shop fronts were visible in the images, and the article named the general locality and road where the incident had occurred and mentioned a nearby junction. The complainant said that the article had been seen by friends and relatives who had then contacted her about the matter. The complainant found it inconceivable that the newspaper had not considered that her identification was a likely consequence of its coverage.

The newspaper said that it had initially been alerted to the forensic activity by a member of the public. After obtaining footage of the scene, it had contacted the police for information about the incident, who had confirmed that an allegation of rape was under investigation but had not advised that the incident had taken place at the victim's property. When the police had advised the newspaper of this information after publication, the images and video had immediately been removed. While the newspaper accepted that it had published information which had led to the complainant's identification and offered to apologise privately to her for the distress the article had caused, it did not see how it could have acted differently without more information from the police.



Clause 11 makes clear that "the press must not identify victims of sexual assault or publish material likely to contribute to such identification unless there is adequate justification and they are legally free to do so". This places a considerable onus on editors to consider how information which is published in such cases - including images and video - might have the effect of identifying victims, even in instances where they have only partial information about the incident or the individuals concerned.

The version of the article published in the newspaper's print edition included the general whereabouts of the police cordon but omitted any other potentially identifying details about the complainant or the incident. In the view of the Commission, this was unlikely to contribute to the complainant's identification as the victim, and it therefore did not find a breach of the Code in relation to this version of the article.

However, the online article had gone significantly further. The images and footage enabled easy identification of the property's precise location, with the inevitable, and distressing, result that the complainant had faced inquiries from friends and family who had been unaware of the incident previously. While the Commission noted the newspaper's position that it had not been advised of the complainant's connection to the property where the alleged attack had occurred, it emphasised that the responsibility for published material lay with the editor. The images and video plainly had the potential to contribute to identification of the victim, and the Commission therefore upheld the complaint about the online coverage.

Date Published:

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