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Weekly entitled to name policeman in court report, rules watchdog

IPSO_logo_newA weekly newspaper has been vindicated for its decision to name a police sergeant in a court report – despite apologising to him for doing so.

The Eastbourne Gazette said sorry to Darin Birmingham after naming him in an article which reported his daughter had been given a 20-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, after pleading guilty to supplying cocaine and cannabis.

But an investigation by the Independent Press Standards Organisation has found Mr Birmingham’s identification by the Gazette was justified.

The Gazette had not had a reporter present in court, but instead had taken information about the sentencing hearing from the website of the local police force to form the basis of the story.

The article in question said Mr Birmingham had been a police sergeant who had earned 23 commendations during his 30 years in the Metropolitan Police, and had worked in a gangs unit that had sought to “disrupt gangs which dealt in extortion, organised violence and hard drugs”.

Mr Birmingham, who has now retired, complained under Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 9 (Reporting of crime) of the Editors’ Code of Practice, claiming the article had caused him and his family considerable embarrassment and distress.

He said that he had been present in court and had written to the judge prior to sentencing outlining failings of the local police force in dealing with his daughter’s case. As a result, the judge had decided to suspend her custodial sentence. However, he denied being genuinely relevant to the story.

Mr Birmingham added the publication of his daughter’s partial address had been intrusive and had put his family at risk.

The Gazette accepted that the complainant was not relevant to the story, and it offered its sincere apologies for naming him.

It as not aware of the intervention the complainant said he had made in his daughter’s sentencing and said the paragraph had appeared in the “small circulation” Eastbourne Gazette, but it had been removed from the article before it was published in the newspaper’s sister publication and online.

The newspaper said that the matter had been reviewed at length with the journalist concerned, and she had been referred for further Code training. It offered to publish an apology, letter or statement to resolve the matter.

IPSO gave regard for the specific role that the complainant had played in the police, and the nature of his daughter’s offence, concluding on balance that the complainant had been genuinely relevant to the story and his identification was justified.

The defendant’s partial address had been given in open court, thus there was no breach of Clause 2.

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

7 comments

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  • June 28, 2016 at 8:28 am
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    Well it’s difficult to know where to start on this one. It is utterly in the public interest that the paper should report on the family connection. It appears from the htfp story that the information was confirmed by the “local police force website” (whatever that is, do you mean the Sussex Police website?). If the county police force actually published the family police connection, mind-boggling as that is, it seems they have been braver in revealing public interest information than the long-established local paper. The former officer, if he wasn’t central before, made himself so by writing to the judge seeking to influence the sentencing (although the paper didn’t know this at the time). And yet the paper rolls over, apologises (for what?), spikes the story and ships the hapless reporter off for training on a Code she hasn’t broken. Shame on them. Wouldn’t have happened when this once fine and proud paper had an Editor.

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  • June 28, 2016 at 10:18 am
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    It’s just depressing that a seemingly good story was picked up from the force website rather than having a reporter in court.

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  • June 28, 2016 at 11:45 am
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    It seems like the reporter did a decent job with he information provided to her (obviously it would have been preferable if she had been in court) so I’m not sure why she needs further training.

    Of course the complainant being a police officer is relevant. He used it to help mitigate for his daughter. This is poor form by the paper.

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  • June 28, 2016 at 12:05 pm
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    “The Gazette had not had a reporter present in court, but instead had taken information about the sentencing hearing from the website of the local police force to form the basis of the story.”
    JP papers are very nervous about legals (no wonder looking at their share price) yet they rely on a police handout for a court case. Why wasn’t a reporter there?
    Another once fine local paper reduced to mediocrity by JP greed.

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  • June 28, 2016 at 12:22 pm
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    The code has not been breached so why would you apologise to the father – a former police officer – who gave evidence on his daughter’s behalf in court? (Not that the newspaper knew this).

    This is complete madness from the editor in chief of the Eastbourne Gazette Gary Shipton or one of his underlings.

    It shows the management have little knowledge of the code or how court reporting works, unlike the reporter who clearly does.

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  • June 28, 2016 at 5:47 pm
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    I hope the Gazette gives this verdict a prominent spot in the paper.
    It seems winners of complaints demand prominence but I suspect they are not so keen if they lose. Or would that be considered vindictive?

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  • June 29, 2016 at 11:17 am
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    JP Jane is absolutely correct. It isn’t the reporter who needs further training, it’s the plonkers up the ladder at the Gazette who need it, including the morons who think they know how to run JP titles..

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