An editor has denied breaching sexual offences legislation in a court report which allegedly identified a victim – claiming anyone interested “probably already knew who she was”.
Thomas Sinclair, who edits the Ceredigion Herald, pleaded not guilty at Llanelli Magistrates’ Court to a charge of identifying a sexual offence complainant and further claimed the article in question could not be considered a breach of the Sexual Offences Act 1992 because so few people read the paper that it was unlikely anyone who knew the victim or the guilty man would have read it.
In the report, the Herald named the guilty man and gave details of his age and occupation before detailing his “familial links” to the victim.
Appearing before District Judge David Parsons, Sinclair, 37, admitted that the reporting of the case “sailed pretty close to the wind” in relation to breaching the Act but said that as only 0.68pc of the Ceredigion population – around 450 people – read the title there was little risk of the woman being identified.
The court was told that the report had been written by a trainee journalist, who, despite being in her first weeks in the job, had been sent to court without training, supervision or support.
Deputy editor John Coles had then read the report “to check for grammar and style” but had not considered “legal compliance” because, he said in a statement read to the court, he had “no legal training”.
According to a Western Telegraph report on the hearing, the article was then forwarded to Thomas, but he had not read it before printing it. Thomas said he was not a journalist and that his “background was in law”.
In relation to the victim, the court was read out an extract from a police interview in which Thomas had told officers that people “probably already knew who she was”.
Emma Myles, prosecuting, told the court: “The case is clearly that in publishing the details he did, he has breached the legislation set out in Statute. The Act is to protect the privacy and dignity of the victim.
“He has put enough information into the public domain that provides a link between the guilty man and the victim, and in expressing that familial link he makes reference to ‘sailing close to the wind’, but the defence case is that the Act has not been breached.
“This is a case about jigsaw identification where if you put enough of the pieces together you can identify the victim even if she is not named. By publishing details of the familial link he has published enough of the pieces.”
According to Wales Online, at one point the hearing was suddenly adjourned, and when Judge Parsons returned, he said there was a suspicion that Thomas was recording the court hearing on his mobile phone in contravention of section nine of the Contempt of Court Act 1981, which he denied, but his phone was taken to the security office of the court while the hearing was ongoing.
Matthew Paul, defending, said: “In this case there is no risk that the information in this article allows anyone who was not acquainted to lead to identification.
“You are being asked to consider whether there is a real risk – not a hypothetical risk. The most effect this article could possibly have would be to place the complainant in a small group of potential victims.”
Judge Parsons deferred passing judgement on the case until 12 May to consider the legal arguments put forward by the defence.
Speaking after the hearing, Thomas told HTFP: “I strongly deny that my journalist’s article could have led to the identification of the victim, and therefore I have pleaded not guilty to this charge. Our case is that the article in question was lawful and does not fall foul of the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992.”
“The Herald titles, in line with legislation, grants life long anonymity to victims of sexual offences, We hope, when handing down judgement on 12 May, District Judge Parsons agrees with our submissions that the victim could not have been identified from the newspaper report concerned, and returns a not guilty verdict.”