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Newspaper identified sex assault victim rules PCC

The press watchdog has upheld a claim that a local newspaper identified a sex assault victim in a report on the Max Clifford case.

A woman complained to the Press Complaints commission that the Kentish Gazette had identified her in its coverage of the PR guru’s trial on charges of historic sex abuse.

It found that a story headlined ‘Woman’s relief after PR guru Max Clifford found guilty of historic sex abuse charges’ was misleading in breach of Clause 1 of the Editor’s Code of Practice, which covers accuracy, and had identified her as a victim of sexual assault in breach of Clause 11.

The woman had been a key prosecution witness in Clifford’s trial and gave evidence that he had coerced her into performing a sex act on him.

The Gazette’s story, published shortly after Clifford’s conviction on eight counts of indecent assault, reported that she had spoken briefly to the newspaper from her home.

She was quoted as saying: “I have already stuck my head above the parapet. It’s been an ordeal and I’m just relieved he has been convicted and it’s over”.

The story recounted aspects of her evidence in the trial and included details of her former profession, age, and the area in which she lived.

The complainant said that as a result of the report, individuals who knew that she had been involved in the court case had been able to connect her with the evidence she had given against Mr Clifford, and the specific allegations she had made.

The woman also claimed that the story gave the false impression that she had given an interview to the Gazette.

In fact, she claimed, a reporter had arrived at her doorstep, and she had informed him that she did not want to comment, explaining, “I have already stuck my head above the parapet”.

She denied having said the words “it’s been an ordeal and I’m just relieved he had been convicted and it’s over”.

Rather, her version pf events was that, as she shut the door on the reporter, he had said “it must have been an ordeal”, to which she had replied, “you have no idea”.

In response the newspaper said that while the woman had initially said she did not want to make a statement, she had then gone on to briefly discuss the case with the reporter.

The reporter maintained that he had persuaded the complainant to speak on the record, but unfortunately had not taken a note of the conversation.

While the newspaper considered that the exchange had been so brief that it had been unnecessary, it recognised that a note should have been taken as a record of the complainant’s comments, and said its staff had been reminded of the importance of comprehensive note-taking.

It had also removed the online article on receipt of the complaint and offered to publish an apology explaining that the complainant disputed the accuracy of the quotation and that she maintained that it had been published without her consent.

However while the newspaper expressed sympathy to the complainant, it denied there had been a breach of Clause 11.

It said that the only new information in its story which had not already been published in national newspapers was the geographical area in which she lived, and references to this had been kept vague.

On the first complaint, the commission said that the newspaper was under an obligation to provide evidence substantiating its position, such as a contemporaneous note or audio recording

However it had been unable to demonstrate that it had taken care over the accuracy of the reported comments and as such, the Commission found a breach of Clause 1.

On the issue of whether the newspaper had identified the complainant, the PCC said the question it had to determine was whether the published detail was “likely to contribute to [her] identification” as a victim of sexual assault.”

It concluded that, taken together, the information contained in the article was likely to contribute to her identification. The complaint under Clause 11 was therefore also upheld.

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  • August 15, 2014 at 9:03 am

    Why haven’t you named the reporter and editor concerned?
    Any paper would certainly name the offenders in any case of professional misconduct.

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