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Newspaper company fined as reader's 'detective work' identifies sex victim

A victim of childhood sexual abuse has received £2,500 compensation from the Kent Messenger Group after claiming they could be identified in a court report the paper had published.

Magistrates also fined the company £1,000, after deciding the report in the Medway Messenger last year was likely to lead to identification of the victim – now an adult – under the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992.

The company admitted the charge but Joanne Cash, said in mitigation that an old friend of the victim did some detective work, linked events and then questioned the victim.

She told the court: “There was no intention for any identification to take place and it is a matter of deep regret that they find themselves in this position.

“They take very seriously their responsibility and this is the first time they have found themselves in court for any reason.”

She said credit should be given for the guilty plea, adding: “They have put first and foremost their concerns for the woman.”

Group editorial director editor Simon Irwin said: “We took the view that we should not have been prosecuted in the first place.

“But our key driver and motivation for the way we treated the case was to avoid the victim having to give evidence in court.

“We had offered to take her evidence ‘as read’ but it became clear to me there was still a risk the Crown Prosecution Service might have called her to the stand.

“We decided immediately then, the best option in this case would be to plead guilty to stop this happening.”

He added that it was far from clear whether the paper would have been found guilty if the case had gone to trial, because the paper did not directly identify the victim and the identification was made only with some work on the part of the third party “friend”.

He said the paper had met its obligations under the Press Complaints Commission Code of Practice in respect of the identification of victims, and he would write to the Director of Public Prosecutions to clarify implications of the prosecution in the circumstances.