A woman who claimed a weekly newspaper article could have identified a 12-year-old sex assault victim has had her complaint thrown out by the press watchdog.
The unnamed woman went to the Independent Press Standards Organisation over two court reports in the Harlow Star, which reported that a man had been accused, and was then found guilty of, kidnapping and sexually assaulting a child while she was walking home from school.
The woman said she was concerned that publishing the child’s age would identify her year group at school, and that by naming the area, date, and time in which the attack occurred, the complainant said that it would be possible to work out which school the child attended.
However, IPSO sided with the Star’s defence that the girl was not identifiable from the information which was published.
Complaining under Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 7 (Children in sex cases) of the Editors’ Code of Practice, the woman also claimed that as the child’s character had dramatically changed as a result of the attack, the information contained in the article may have proved sufficient for her peers to guess what had happened.
She further felt it was unnecessary for the Star to go into the detail it did about the incident, and believed the article could have focused on evidence concerning the perpetrator instead.
Denying a breach of Code, the Star said there were many schools in the vicinity of the attack, and that neither of the articles described any details of the child’s school, only that she was making “her way home from school that afternoon”.
For this reason, it did not accept that the information published in the articles meant that the child was identifiable, adding there were also extensive reporting restrictions put in place by the court which ensured that the child would not be identified.
The complainant also disputed the accuracy of some of what the newspaper had reported from court.
The Star accepted there were some descrepancies between its reporter’s notes from court and what was published, but denied that these were significant inaccuracies.
As a gesture of goodwill the paper said it would be willing to amend these statements accordingly, as well as publishing an online footnote to note these changes and a print clarification which would make the correct position clear.
IPSO did not consider that there was any information included in the article which could lead to the identification of the child, and found the inaccuracies which appeared were not significant.
The complaint was not upheld, and the full adjudication can be read here.