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Daily slammed over ‘egregious’ identification of sex assault victims

NewIPSOA regional daily identified multiple sexual assault victims while covering their alleged attacker’s case, the press watchdog has ruled.

The Independent Press Standards Organisation has censured the Greenock Telegraph after finding that details included in a story would have revealed the identities of the alleged victims to a circle of people known to them.

IPSO found the publication of details including the dates and locations of the assaults, as well as the nature of the charges, would have identified the victims in what it deemed an “egregious” breach of the Editors’ Code of Practice.

The watchdog also criticised the conduct of the Telegraph during its investigations into the matter, saying the newspaper had not recognised the seriousness of the concerns raised during the investigation.

The story under complaint, in which the defendant was named, listed a number of sexual assaults against two alleged victims and gave the addresses for several, including that one occurred in a “flat”, and ranges of dates when the assaults were said to have taken place.

It also contained other details of the charges.

IPSO launched an investigation after one of the alleged female victims complained under Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief and shock), Clause 9 (Reporting of crime) and Clause 11 (Victims of sexual assault) of the Editors’ Code.

She said the detail included in the story could easily identify her and the other victim – another member of her family – especially due to the locations of street addresses and dates, which together allowed some readers to associate the addresses with her.

The woman noted some of the dates listed in the story were during Covid-19 where restrictions on visits to residential addresses were in place, which she said revealed the relationship between the victims and the accused

She said that immediately after the publication of the story she, and others close to her, had been contacted by seven or eight people to ask whether the article referred to her family – a number that continued to rise once IPSO’s investigation began.

The woman added it was in breach of her privacy because it reported on the family’s residential addresses, the dates in which they had lived there and the other family member’s age.

She further noted the hearing had taken place in private and at this stage the charges would not have been made public, meaning the information could only have been accessed through an officer of the court.

Denying any breach of Code, the Telegraph said no “jigsaw identification” could have taken place because the “average reader” who had no prior knowledge of the case, the alleged victims or the accused, would not be able to establish the identity of the alleged victims.

It said that specific addresses were not given, rather they were simply street level, adding the fact some of the dates cited took place in lockdown was “neither here nor there”.

The Telegraph added what has been reported came directly from the charges contained within court papers, and these details were highly likely to be contained within a future indictment prior to the accused’s trial.

The newspaper further said taking the complaint to its logical conclusion would mean that naming the accused could lead to the identification of the alleged victims, while the details were in the public domain because they were accessible to the press through an officer of the court.

IPSO rejected the Telegraph’s argument that it was not possible to identify the victims and considered that including the dates and locations of the assaults, as well as the nature of the charges and other details of the circumstances of the alleged crimes, had revealed their identity to a circle of people known to them.

The Committee stressed that Clause 11 at no point specified that identification could only be to an “average reader” with no knowledge of anyone involved in the case and considered that this defence by the newspaper demonstrated a fundamental lack of understanding of how the Clause worked as well as the wider principle of “jigsaw identification”.

The watchdog also had strong concerns about the publication’s conduct during the investigation, in particular that it had not recognised the seriousness of the concerns raised during the investigation.

Its ruling states: “The combination of the failure to adhere with the Clause as well as the demonstrable lack of understanding as to how the Clause worked meant IPSO found an egregious breach of Clause 11.”

The complaint was upheld and the Post was ordered to publish the adjudication by way of remedial action. The full adjudication can be read here.