A regional daily has been rapped for publishing information that could have led to the identification of a child sexual assault victim.
The Independent Press Standards Organisation has upheld a complaint against the Lancashire Post after a story it ran was ruled to have implied the relationship between a convicted sex offender and their victim.
The Preston-based Post reported the named defendant had pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a child, and went on to give the age range of the victim at the time of the abuse as well as an indication as to when the abuse stopped.
The story also contained information from the Victim Personal Statement of the child, and described the circumstances in which the assaults had taken place.
But the Post’s coverage prompted a woman to complain to IPSO under Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief and shock), Clause 6 (Children), Clause 7 (Children in sex cases), Clause 11 (Victims of sexual assault) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.
The woman’s name has been withheld, and IPSO’s decision was written in general terms to avoid the inclusion of information that could identify the victim.
The woman told IPSO the story contained details that implied the relationship between the victim and the defendant, adding its publication was upsetting and an intrusion into the child’s privacy and grief and shock.
She added she was not aware that a Victim Personal Statement would be read in court, or that this could be published, and said the child was very anxious about returning due to a fear of gossip and having been identified as the victim by the story.
Denying a breach of Code, the Post said it did not name the victim, nor give their age, address, school, or describe their appearance or any distinguishing features.
It told IPSO the story did not give the location or timing of when the crimes took place, and said that it could have happened at any point during the defendant’s life or in a variety of circumstances.
The Post added it neither stated, nor alluded to, a relationship between the defendant and the victim, noting it had deliberately chosen not to include other information which was read out in court in order not to identify the victim, or their relationship to the defendant.
It said there was not a reasonable expectation of privacy over the Victim Personal Statement, and that it was in the public interest to publish it.
The Post recognised that both the impact of the offences and court proceedings would have been extremely traumatic for the victim, but it did not accept that either they or their school were identified.
IPSO recognised the Post had taken steps to reduce the likelihood that the child would be identified as the victim of the assaults for which the defendant had been convicted.
However, it found the newspaper had reported information heard in court regarding the circumstances in which the offences had taken place, which the Committee considered was sufficient to imply the relationship between the defendant and the victim in breach of Clause 7.
There was no breach of Coe found on the other points raised.
The complaint was upheld, and the full adjudication can be read here.