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Watchdog raps daily after brothers complain over sister’s sex abuse claims

hazel-larkinTwo brothers whose sister claimed they sexually abused her have had their complaint against a regional daily upheld.

The Belfast Telegraph republished an article containing allegations made by Hazel Larkin about her family members which had initially appeared in one of its sister titles based in the Republic of Ireland.

But the Independent Press Standards Organisation ruled the Bel Tel had failed to take care over the accuracy of the reproduced piece.

Newspapers in the Republic of Ireland are subject to a different Editors’ Code of Practice to the one overseen by IPSO.

The brothers claimed the Bel Tel had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 2 (Privacy) of the IPSO Code in the piece, in which Ms Larkin, pictured above left, claimed she had been “abused by family members”.

The article said that in sworn testimony, provided before the “trial”, a nun had stated that a doctor had been made aware of the abuse at the time, and had taken steps to ensure that the girl would not get pregnant because “a scandal like that would be very bad for the town’s image”.

The brothers, who were not named, denied the allegations made by their sister and expressed serious concern that the newspaper had published her claims as fact without taking any steps to verify them.

They said that the newspaper’s use of the term “trial” had been misleading because their sister had made an unsuccessful attempt to bring civil proceedings against them, a civil injury case was never heard in court, a judge had never “ruled against them” and a nun had never provided “sworn testimony”.

In response, the Bel Tel did not consider that the term “trial” had been misplaced because the term was commonly used to describe both civil and criminal legal proceedings, and it provided court judgments to demonstrate that proceedings had taken place.

It was unable to provide the nun’s testimony, but did not consider that its absence had indicated that it had published a “significant inaccuracy”.

The Bel Tel’s offer to publish a correction was rejected by the brothers.

IPSO found the Bel Tel had been entitled to report Ms Larkin’s account, had made no attempt to obtain the complainants’ version of events before publication, or to ascertain whether its sister publication had already done so.

It said that, coupled with its inability to provide the nun’s “sworn testimony”, represented a failure to take care over the article’s accuracy.

The complaint was upheld, and the full adjudication can be read here.