The Plymouth Evening Herald has been fined £1,500 after a court ruled that a photograph published in the paper identified a 15-year-old boy – even though it was partially blacked out.
The newspaper had denied a summons, under Section 49 of the 1933 Children’s and Young Persons Act.
But editor Alan Qualtrough said the story had been ‘important local news’ and that in printing the picture he had behaved in accordance with newspaper industry standards.
District judge Paul Farmer found the paper had identified the boy in the photo that appeared in March, and fined it £1,500 plus court costs.
Society of Editors director Bob Satchwell said the case raised serious concerns for the whole of the media, which frequently used photographs of young people in which their identity is disguised without problem.
He said: “This case has serious implications that we shall be examining urgently.
“It raises new concerns about reporting young people generally, because the judge failed to see a distinction between recongnition by someone who knew the young person and identification by a stranger.
“There could be greater risks in reports as well as pictures.”
The 15-year-old had been given a two-year supervision order after pleading guilty to inflicting grievous bodily harm on another boy at school.
In publishing his picture in the paper, the Evening Herald had decided to go beyond the usual black bar across the eyes of such a photograph to prevent identification and had also blacked out the boy’s nose and hairline as well as his eyes.
But the prosecution claimed the boy could still be identified, and the newspaper had therefore gone against an order made by magistrates which banned the publication of anything which identified him.
The boy’s father told the court that he received about 30 telephone calls on the day the picture was published from close friends and acquaintances who recognised it as being his son.
Editor Alan said: “We asked ourselves, ‘Would a reasonable person be able to identify him?’ and we said, ‘No.'”
The Evening Herald is considering an appeal against the finding.
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