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Watchdog dismisses sex abuse victim’s jigsaw identification claim

IPSO_logo_newA man sexually abused as a teenager who claimed two court reports had exposed his identity has had his case against a weekly newspaper dismissed by the press regulator.

The man complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Surrey Advertiser had breached Clause 11 (Victims of sexual assault) in two articles published in 2015, saying it had ignored a judge’s warning about issues around jigsaw identification.

The articles reported on the trial of a man for sexual offences against teenage boys that had taken place over a number of decades.

The complainant said that the articles had contained details which would be likely to contribute to his identification as a victim of sexual assault, including the defendant’s role in a named organisation and information about the timeframes in which the defendant was said to have committed the crimes.

In addition, the complainant explained that at the time of publication, there was information on the internet which provided details of his connection with the named organisation.

After the publication of the first article, the complainant raised these concerns with the publication directly and after the publication of the second article, the complainant raised these concerns with the prosecution.

The complainant said that the judge then issued a memorandum to all local papers in relation to the jigsaw identification of the victims in the case, adding that during court proceedings the judge made clear to the reporters present that naming the organisation was a form of jigsaw identification.

The Advertiser said that it did not believe it was possible to identify the complainant from its coverage of the case, and that the information the article included about one of the victims could apply equally to a number of individuals.

It noted that the second article made clear that more than one individual shared the connection with the defendant which had enabled him to commit the alleged crime, and denied that the information about the complainant on the internet rendered the details in the articles likely to contribute to the identification of the complainant.

The Advertiser said that seven days after the publication of the second article, the requirements of s.1 (1) of the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992 were set out in writing at the request of a journalist in court.

This was originally made as an order, which was later set aside as, while the judge was permitted to give guidance, the legislation did not provide for the judge to do so in the form of an order.

The newspaper said that in its further coverage of the case, the judge’s guidance was kept in mind, but it denied the articles published prior to the judge’s guidance breached the requirements of the Editors’ Code.

It acknowledged that this had been a difficult time for the complainant, but considered that the details included in the articles were not likely to contribute to his identification as a victim of sexual assault.

The complaint was not upheld, and the full adjudication can be read here.