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Page one apology over sex case stories ‘sufficient’

A regional daily’s front-page apology after falsely claiming a headteacher was guilty of raping a child was a sufficient remedy to a complaint, it has been ruled.

Anthony Talbot contacted the Press Complaints Commission over a front page article headlined “Junior school head guilty of raping child” and a further article headlined “School headteacher admits raping child” which were published in the Swindon Advertiser on 29 June.

He said the articles inaccurately reported that he had admitted 11 charges of rape, when he had in fact been convicted of indecent assault and had pleaded not guilty to and not been convicted of rape.

Mr Talbot also said the newspaper’s front page had misleadingly suggested the offences had been committed when he was serving as a headteacher or were related to the school in some way – whereas they had occurred between 1978, when he was a 13-year-old, and 1981.

The paper had immediately accepted the reference to rape charges was in error and said it had obtained the information in good faith from Cardiff Crown Court, which went though the 28 charges with the reporter, while further enquiries with Gwent Police and Swindon Borough Council had not suggested the information was incorrect.

It arranged to publish a front-page correction and apology and removed the original online article, which the Commission judged was right for the newspaper to do “promptly and with due prominence”.

The PCC also considered the front page did have the potential to mislead readers about when the offences had been committed and it was felt the paper could have done more to make the context clear – that the offences were committed while he was minor, around 30 years ago.

It said the profession of the complainant was relevant to the story and could be legitimately highlighted and the front page also clearly directed readers to the full story on page five, which said the offences pre-dated his time as a teacher.

The front page correction did specifically refer to the time period in which the offences had been committed and the Commission was satisfied any misleading impression would have been satisfactorily corrected.

PCC director Stephen Abell said: “The newspaper was fully entitled to report the outcome of the court case, which was an important local issue, and to highlight the complainant’s profession as a headteacher.

“However, it also had a responsibility under the Editors’ Code to take care to ensure that the information it presented was not significantly inaccurate or misleading.

“The steps taken by the newspaper to remedy the inaccuracies – in particular, the front page correction and apology – satisfactorily corrected any misleading impression readers might have had.”