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Watchdog dismisses claim court story was biased towards defendant

NewIPSOThe press watchdog has dismissed an assault victim’s claim a weekly newspaper was biased towards her attacker in its coverage of his conviction.

The Independent Press Standards Organisation has rejected a complaint by Carol Oldfield over a story carried by the North Wales Pioneer about the court case resulting from the incident.

Mrs Oldfield claimed the story had made her and her husband David seem to be to blame for the incident and gave the impression that they had attacked the defendant, who was unnamed in IPSO’s ruling.

But the watchdog found the Pioneer was entitled to report comments from the defendant which were heard in court, even if Mrs Oldfield did not agree with them.

The story in question reported the defendant, a stonemason, had assaulted the couple after failing to complete a job for them and to repay money they had loaned him.

The story stated: “David and Carol Oldfield distributed flyers to neighbours and others warning them not to employ [the defendant] but what happened when they confronted him at his place of work landed the 53-year-old ex-soldier in court.”

Complaining under Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice, Mrs Oldfield said she and her husband had “distributed leaflets” after the assault had taken place, whereas the story gave the misleading impression that the leaflets had been given out prior to the attack and therefore justified it.

She also claimed the court had found that the leaflets were not relevant and were not to be included as evidence.

Mrs Oldfield further believed was biased in favour of the defendant because it referred to him as an ex-soldier, reported that he felt harassed by the couple, described what she called a “physical assault” as “abusive language” and reported that he had “dropped a spade” when it was a deliberate act.

She claimed this had the cumulative effect of making her and her husband appear to be to blame for the incident and gave the impression that they had attacked the defendant.

Denying a breach of Code, the Pioneer provided IPSO with the notes that had been taken by its court reporter, as well as an email from the defence solicitor who said he had no note or recollection of the leaflets being held to be inadmissible.

The solicitor said leaflets were found to be a possible mitigating factor, but were not relevant to the court finding the defendant guilty, while the reporter’s notes also made reference it being heard in court that one of the leaflets had been put on the defendant’s landlord’s van in July, months prior to the attack.

The notes recalled the defendant had said in his evidence that “letters were put through the letter boxes of vulnerable people I intended to work for” and also stated that the defence solicitor had presented the leaflets as a “warning”.

The Pioneer said it had mirrored the language used in court, such as that the defendant had “dropped a spade” and “abusive language” had been used, adding it had included the defendant’s background as an ex-soldier purely for context.

IPSO found the Pioneer had used language from the court case, as presented by the solicitors, and was entitled to report comments from the defendant, even if Mrs Oldfield did not agree with them.

In addition, the story made clear that the defendant had been found guilty.

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