The Sun has been found to have broken the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act after inadvertently identifying the victim of a sexual offence.
Former editor David Dinsmore, who appeared at Westminster Magistrates Court, was found guilty of breaking the law. But publisher News UK's understanding is that Dinsmore's conviction will be considered "spent" once compensation of £1,000 has been paid to the victim..
The story appeared on 4 March this year and concerned a 15-year-old girl who footballer Adam Johnson was accused of having sex with.
It showed a picture of Johnson with the girl in which her image was heavily obscured.
The article included a warning that anyone who identified the child online would face prosecution, including a reference to a case where people had been convicted for identifying a victim on social media.
The court heard that the girl was identified by social media users who recognised the photo while the investigation into Johnson's sexual offences was ongoing.
The original photo was visible on a private Facebook account which was later shut down. Those who had access to that Facebook page were apparently able to spot similarities between the original photo and the altered one published by The Sun.
Judge Riddle said he was satisfied that Dinsmore and The Sun staff thought they were complying with the law after taking extensive steps to obscure the photo of the girl.
However, he said that it was a fact that the original photograph was likely to have been seen by others and that the girl was likely to have been identified so he said the matter was proven.
Judge Riddle said he was satisfied that at the time Dinsmore committed the offence he didn't realise he was doing so.
The picture was published with a story headlined "Soccer ace and girl he bedded", with the subheading "Johnson in pose with his 15-year-old fan".
Dinsmore, who is now chief operating officer of News UK, took the stand and said that the article was taken down from The Sun's website after the issue was brought to the newspaper's attention on 4 March.
He told the court that the test staff applied was "can this person be identified by a man or woman on the street?"
Dinsmore said that he had considered pleading guilty to the offence to avoid the girl having to come to court and give evidence about Johnson again.
The court heard that the image of Johnson and the girl was cut out from the original photo and put on to a white background before photoshopping and airbrushing was used to leave the girl with a blank egg-shaped face.
The Sun team then took a photograph of the Irish President Michael Higgins at a tree-planting ceremony in a Dublin park and photoshopped all of the people out of it so it could be used as the background in the picture of Johnson and the girl.
Johnson was found guilty of sexual activity with a child last week.
Judge Riddle said: "It is right and it is indeed clear that there are no facial features identifiable from the photo, the hair colour has been disguised, the hair length has been changed, and the background to the photograph has been altered and indeed there have been other changes relating to, for example, clothing.
"Having heard from Mr Dinsmore I am satisfied that he took and the staff on the newspaper took steps that they thought complied with the law.
"I will order compensation for the distress that was inevitably caused.
"I realise that more distress was caused by social media."
The prosecution was launched by Durham Constabulary.
Det Insp Aelfwynn Sampson, of Durham Constabulary, said: “We are delighted with today’s result.
“What Dinsmore did in the Sun was legally and morally wrong.
“As a victim of a sexual offence, the identity of this child should have been protected. Instead her picture, although pixelated, was plastered across a national tabloid.
“She was not fair game, she was a child who was groomed by a person in power for his own sexual gratification.
“I hope today’s result serves as reminder that anyone who identifies someone who may or may not be a victim of a sexual offence is committing a criminal act and we will take robust action.”
Dinsmore was ordered to pay £1,300 costs and £1,000 compensation.