The Swindon Advertiser published a front-page correction and apology after a local headmaster who had been convicted of child sexual offences complained the paper’s coverage incorrectly claimed he had admitted to rape.
Anthony Talbot complained to the Press Complaints Commission after the paper published a front page article on 29 June headed ‘Junior school head guilty of raping child’and a further article headed ‘School headteacher admits raping child”.
The primary school teacher complained that the articles inaccurately reported he had admitted eleven charges of rape. Talbot had been convicted of indecent assault at Cardiff Crown Court but was cleared of rape charges after pleading not guilty.
Publishing the findings of its investigation today, the PCC said the newspaper had contacted the court and a official had gone through the 28 charges with the reporter.
The information had been checked three times with the court, and subsequent enquiries with Gwent Police and Swindon Borough Council had not suggested that the information was incorrect – the newspaper told the PCC.
The newspaper told the PCC that following direct correspondence between the parties, a front page correction had been published by the newspaper which accepted the error in regard to the rape charges.
The PCC said today: “The newspaper had published information about the conviction taken in good faith from the appropriate sources – primarily the court itself.
“The information, however, subsequently proved to be inaccurate. Although there were good grounds for the newspaper to have used this material, it was still right that it corrected the errors, promptly and with due prominence.
“The apology published by the newspaper constituted sufficient remedial action in regard to the published inaccuracies about the details of the complainant’s conviction.”
Talbot also complained the paper’s front page had misleadingly suggested that the offences had been committed while he was serving as a headmaster, when the offences had occurred around thirty years previously.
The PCC ruled that taken alone the front page had the potential to mislead.
The paper could have done more to make clear on the front page that the offences occurred prior to his becoming a teacher and – in relation to a number of offences – while he was a minor, the PCC said.
However, the PCC ruled that it had to consider other factors.
“There was no doubt that the profession of the complainant was relevant to the story, and could be legitimately highlighted as he had been prosecuted and convicted while a serving headteacher,” the PCC said.
“The front page also clearly directed readers to the full story on page five, which informed readers that the offences pre-dated the complainant’s position as a teacher.
“Finally, the front page correction had specifically referred to the time period – around thirty years ago – in which the offences had been committed.
“In light of these factors – especially the front page apology – the commission was satisfied that any misleading impression about the complainant’s offences would have been satisfactorily corrected.
“It did not consider that any further action was necessary from the newspaper.”