Clauses Noted: 11
Publication: Daily Mirror
Cleveland Police complained to the Press Complaints Commission on behalf of a woman that an article published in the Daily Mirror in 2011 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 a man's initial appearance before Teesside Magistrates Court, at which he pleaded not guilty to charges that he had sexually assaulted two women. One of the alleged victims - the complainant - had been named in the article, causing her significant distress. The newspaper's publisher had pleaded guilty to naming a victim of sexual assault in breach of the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992 in connection with the incident and had been fined. The Commission issued its ruling on the matter following the conclusion of these proceedings.
The newspaper accepted from the outset of the complaint that it was at fault. The editor of the newspaper apologised to the complainant in a private letter, and the newspaper offered to publish an anonymous public apology to the complainant in addition. The newspaper said it had launched a thorough investigation into how the complainant's name came to be published and intended to improve its training of its journalist to prevent such breaches in future.
Under Clause 11 of the Editors' Code, "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". The terms of this clause are tightly drawn in order to protect extremely vulnerable individuals from intrusion and to ensure that victims of sexual assault are not deterred from reporting such crimes by a fear of unwanted publicity.
Although the newspaper had acted properly in accepting at the first opportunity that it had breached the Code, this was an alarming case in which an individual who ought to have benefited from proper protection had instead been identified by name. The Commission upheld the complaint without hesitation.
Given the serious nature of this case, the Commission resolved to review the terms and outcome of the newspaper's investigation into the incident. The newspaper subsequently confirmed that the matter had been raised formally with the editorial and legal staff concerned to understand how the breach of the Code had occurred and to specify the steps that should be taken in future to ensure that it would not be repeated. The newspaper also explained that the reporter concerned had undertaken training on the relevant legal requirements and the importance of maintaining the anonymity of victims in such cases. The Commission acknowledged the measures that had been taken and emphasised that the newspaper should continue to keep its processes under review to ensure that such an error would not recur.
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