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‘People probably knew who she was’, says editor who denies sex law breach

An editor has denied breaching sexual offences legislation in a court report which allegedly identified a victim – claiming anyone interested “probably already knew who she was”.

Thomas Sinclair, who edits the Ceredigion Herald, pleaded not guilty at Llanelli Magistrates’ Court to a charge of identifying a sexual offence complainant and further claimed the article in question could not be considered a breach of the Sexual Offences Act 1992 because so few people read the paper that it was unlikely anyone who knew the victim or the guilty man would have read it.

In the report, the Herald named the guilty man and gave details of his age and occupation before detailing his “familial links” to the victim.

Appearing before District Judge David Parsons, Sinclair, 37, admitted that the reporting of the case “sailed pretty close to the wind” in relation to breaching the Act but said that as only 0.68pc of the Ceredigion population – around 450 people – read the title there was little risk of the woman being identified.

Thomas Sinclair court

The court was told that the report had been written by a trainee journalist, who, despite being in her first weeks in the job, had been sent to court without training, supervision or support.

Deputy editor John Coles had then read the report “to check for grammar and style” but had not considered “legal compliance” because, he said in a statement read to the court, he had “no legal training”.

According to a Western Telegraph report on the hearing, the article was then forwarded to Thomas, but he had not read it before printing it. Thomas said he was not a journalist and that his “background was in law”.

In relation to the victim, the court was read out an extract from a police interview in which Thomas had told officers that people “probably already knew who she was”.

Emma Myles, prosecuting, told the court: “The case is clearly that in publishing the details he did, he has breached the legislation set out in Statute. The Act is to protect the privacy and dignity of the victim.

“He has put enough information into the public domain that provides a link between the guilty man and the victim, and in expressing that familial link he makes reference to ‘sailing close to the wind’, but the defence case is that the Act has not been breached.

“This is a case about jigsaw identification where if you put enough of the pieces together you can identify the victim even if she is not named. By publishing details of the familial link he has published enough of the pieces.”

According to Wales Online, at one point the hearing was suddenly adjourned, and when Judge Parsons returned, he said there was a suspicion that Thomas was recording the court hearing on his mobile phone in contravention of section nine of the Contempt of Court Act 1981, which he denied, but his phone was taken to the security office of the court while the hearing was ongoing.

Thomas also edits the Pembrokeshire Herald, The Carmarthenshire Herald and The Llanelli Herald.

Matthew Paul, defending, said: “In this case there is no risk that the information in this article allows anyone who was not acquainted to lead to identification.

“You are being asked to consider whether there is a real risk – not a hypothetical risk. The most effect this article could possibly have would be to place the complainant in a small group of potential victims.”

Judge Parsons deferred passing judgement on the case until 12 May to consider the legal arguments put forward by the defence.

Speaking after the hearing, Thomas told HTFP: “I strongly deny that my journalist’s article could have led to the identification of the victim, and therefore I have pleaded not guilty to this charge. Our case is that the article in question was lawful and does not fall foul of the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992.”

“The Herald titles, in line with legislation, grants life long anonymity to victims of sexual offences, We hope, when handing down judgement on 12 May, District Judge Parsons agrees with our submissions that the victim could not have been identified from the newspaper report concerned, and returns a not guilty verdict.”

25 comments

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  • April 21, 2017 at 12:13 pm
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    This would be hilarious if it wasn’t such a serious matter. Some of the lines of defence are beyond belief and there seems an incredibly carefree attitude in terms of what goes in the paper. Unfortunately this guy is not doing the industry’s reputation any favours, even though he is very much an exception to the rule and does not come from a journalistic background.

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  • April 21, 2017 at 12:17 pm
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    There is no defence, hilarious or not. So we’ve got a whole newspaper where nobody has any legal training and don’t seem to understand the basics of court reporting. I’ve got one of my heads coming on…..

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  • April 21, 2017 at 12:22 pm
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    Sympathies with the victim who has been put through another ordeal – this time by the media who have let her down.

    Mr Sinclair’s comments and actions are so disgraceful I don’t know where to start.

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  • April 21, 2017 at 12:23 pm
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    Although we’re all heading to hell in a handcart you can always count on the Herald’s slapstick merchants to lighten the gloom.

    However on reflection – as Sub It Out has already stated – this is really no laughing matter…actually had to check today wasn’t April 1.

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  • April 21, 2017 at 12:24 pm
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    I’ve read this three times now and my jaw’s still on the floor!

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  • April 21, 2017 at 1:42 pm
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    0.68 per cent of about 450people? Seems hardly worth the effort. the rest reads like the stuff of fiction.

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  • April 21, 2017 at 2:01 pm
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    Beyond belief!
    How is this person allowed to be involved in any way with a newspaper?
    Passing it off as unimportant as almost no one reads his paper “….0.68%”
    “…. little risk of the woman being identified”
    It’s like something from a Basil Fawlty/ David Brent / Alan Partridge script,and with a cavalier attitude,it just goes from bad to worse:

    “…without training, supervision or support”
    “…no legal training”
    ” didn’t read it before printing it”
    “..sailed pretty close to the wind”
    “….not considered “legal compliance”
    “…because so few people read the paper that it was unlikely anyone who knew the victim or the guilty man would have read it”
    “….suspicion that Thomas was recording the court hearing on his mobile phone”

    The industry is in decline as we know, but this will just take it down to even more unimaginable depths in the eyes of the public
    My sympathies with the victim and any of the few people who see this paper.

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  • April 21, 2017 at 2:32 pm
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    I can’t believe what I’ve just read – I too had to check to make sure it wasn’t April 1.
    Disgraceful……a catalogue of legal errors.

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  • April 21, 2017 at 2:46 pm
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    There’s a reason people have to train to be journalists, let’s have some proper standards back eh?

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  • April 21, 2017 at 3:40 pm
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    I’m not sure the Ceredigion Herald really ought to be publishing anything at all, let alone court cases.
    DP

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  • April 21, 2017 at 3:52 pm
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    Once upon a time, subs would have picked that up… and “It’s OK cos no-one reads us” is hardly much of a defence, or a ringing endorsement of the paper!

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  • April 21, 2017 at 4:25 pm
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    In a piece on HTFP in march 2016,Timothy Evans, advertising sales director said …”We have already had a strong response from the business community in Ceredigion”
    …..Errr not any longer I’m afraid as your editor has just hit a spectacular own goal by telling everyone that with only 0.068 percent of the area ( that’s just 450 people) seeing it or put it another way, quote; “because so few people read the paper ” after that local businesses will surely see this paper as reaching so few people as to be hardly worth spending money to advertise in any longer.
    Not exactly the message to be giving in austere trading times is it.
    Good luck with the ad sales targets from here on in Mr Evans
    Ouch

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  • April 21, 2017 at 4:59 pm
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    Good to see the Welsh regional press is in such good hands
    # prayforCeredigion

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  • April 21, 2017 at 8:14 pm
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    I see from previous HTFP stories about the Pembrokeshire Herald that this Sinclair chap has a tendency for ‘sailing close to the wind’, as he puts it. Unbelievable.

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  • April 21, 2017 at 8:27 pm
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    Please don’t generalise, Archie.
    Thankfully, this is not in any way typical of the Welsh regional press.

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  • April 21, 2017 at 10:17 pm
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    Just read this out to my drinking pals. None of them have any media background. They fell about laughing at what they thought was a spoof.

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  • April 24, 2017 at 7:18 am
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    Just when you thought the reputation of this country’s regional publishers couldn’t get any worse or when the view that quality has given way to content at any or no cost this guy raises his head again!

    Regular readers of HTFP wil be very familiar with Mr Sinclair so this kind of car crash item shouldn’t come as any surprise as he never fails to deliver, but with his admission that almost no one reads his paper I wonder how long he will be allowed to remain in his role as editor, .68 % readership is hardly a glowing testimony to potential advertisers is it

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  • April 24, 2017 at 8:52 am
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    Then @casper, let’s hope the Welsh regional press does something about it as this person and the papers he is involved with are no strangers to HTFP as you’d know if you clicked on the ‘related items’ links beneath the main story

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  • April 24, 2017 at 9:16 am
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    This is a joke, this man should not be in a job. For him to be described as a “journalist” brings shame to us all.

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  • April 24, 2017 at 9:58 am
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    Seeing the proliferation of non-journalists making a mockery of an industry I once knew and loved is truly heartbreaking. It truly is the Dark Ages. This is what it must have felt like to be a Roman soldier returning to the Palatine after the city has been sacked by Goths. The once great halls echo with the sound of clickbait and ‘editors’ who don’t know the law. I’ve just found a golden eagle, it’s covered in dung and I’m going to up sticks and move to Carthage.

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  • April 24, 2017 at 10:22 am
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    Instead of braying like a donkey about “sailing close to the wind” this “editor” should be on his knees begging the poor woman for forgiveness.

    Absolute disgrace.

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  • April 24, 2017 at 11:20 am
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    An editor with no training as a journalist? Surely no self-respecting organ such as the London Evening Standard would ever be tempted to try something like that.

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  • April 24, 2017 at 12:05 pm
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    From the piece on the papers own web site
    ” He also noted that this small risk of identification was made even smaller by the Ceredigion Herald’s circulation figures at this time, which amounted to a relatively small percentage of the county buying a copy”
    I’ll bet the ad reps love him!
    Tobe fair though, his “…training was in law not journalism”

    Sometimes I just despair….

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  • April 27, 2017 at 11:51 am
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    He discredits us all, tainting an already often wonky reputation we have in our trade. It shows have far standards have slid partly no doubt to cuts and recruiting policies.

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