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Watchdog backs daily for revealing offender was sex abuse victim

NewIPSOA regional daily was justified in revealing a convicted sex offender was himself the victim of sexual abuse, the press watchdog has ruled.

The Independent Press Standards Organisation has ruled in favour of the Teesside Gazette after it covered the court case of a “serial sex offender” who had been arrested “after taking photos on his phone of a young woman’s legs, crotch and bottom”.

The story in question included his name, street-level address and several photographs of him, as well as a statement from the defendant’s solicitor who said that his “problems were connected to sex abuse he suffered as a child”.

The man, who was unnamed by IPSO following its investigation, subsequently complained that the Gazette had breached Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 11 (Victims of sexual assault), claiming that, as a victim of sexual assault and an autistic person, he had been granted lifelong anonymity and that nothing about him could be published by newspapers.

He also made complaints under Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 3 (Harassment), Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock), Clause 6 (Children), Clause 7 (Children in sex cases), Clause 9 (Reporting of crime), Clause 12 (Discrimination), Clause 13 (Financial journalism) and Clause 14 (Confidential sources).

Denying a breach of Code, the Gazette noted that Clause 11 allows for newspapers to identify victims of sexual assault where “there is adequate justification and they are legally free to do so”.

It said defence lawyers had referred to the defendant’s previous abuse at many of his court appearances, including the court case reported on in the story.

The Gazette cited section 1(4) of the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992, which states: “Nothing in this section prohibits the publication or inclusion in a relevant programme of matter consisting only of a report of criminal proceedings other than proceedings at, or intended to lead to, or on an appeal arising out of, a trial at which the accused is charged with the offence.”

The newspaper said that, therefore, there was both adequate justification and it was legally free to publish the information.

IPSO found there was no indication the court had imposed reporting restrictions on coverage of the man’s court appearances, noting his lawyer had raised the assaults against him as mitigating evidence during criminal proceedings.

Where the story was a report of these open criminal proceedings and the mitigating evidence formed part of the hearing, the Committee found that there was adequate justification for the information’s inclusion and the Gazette was legally free to publish it.

The complaint was not upheld, neither was a similar complaint against the Liverpool Echo, and the full adjudication can be read here.