The Lancashire Evening Post has been fined a total of £3,000 and ordered to pay compensation totalling £4,000 to two women victims of sexual offences whom it identified in a court report.
The fines were imposed on Lancashire Evening Post Ltd, the newspaper’s publisher, at a hearing at Preston Magistrates’ Court on December 11, when it admitted two charges under the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992, which give lifelong anonymity to the victims and alleged victims of sexual offences.
After the company pleaded guilty, the Crown withdrew two similar charges against the newspaper’s editorial director, Simon Reynolds, when the court accepted his pleas of not guilty.
The two women were named in a report of one of a series of proceedings involving a brothel in a Lancashire town which appeared in the newspaper in April this year.
But they had also appeared at a previous trial as the victims of offences, committed by the people who ran the brothel, of trafficking women to the UK for purposes of sexual exploitation, of trafficking women within the UK for the same purposes, and controlling the victims for prostitution for gain.
It is understood that the report of the trial in which the women were identified as witnesses was prepared in ignorance of the fact that an earlier trial had been told that they were the victims of the trafficking offences, which were introduced in the Sexual Offences Act 2003.
The Crown Prosecution Service said that the report naming the two women victims and detailing their evidence appeared in the newspaper in April, and on its website – which led to its being further reported in Brazil.
“As a result of the story further reports have been made in Brazil resulting in embarrassment and distress to the victims,” said a CPS spokeswoman.
“One of the victims stated that as a result her family may well disinherit her. The families of the victims were not aware of the case details.”
The Lancashire Evening Post was reluctant to discuss the case in detail, on the grounds that a trial linked to the other proceedings concerning the brothel is due to take place soon and it did not wish to run the risk of breaching reporting restrictions or contempt.
But it did issue a statement saying: “Lancashire Evening Post Ltd, publisher of the Lancashire Evening Post, has pleaded guilty to two offences under the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992 following the identification of two victim of sexual offences.
“At the same time, Simon Reynolds, Editorial Director of the Lancashire Evening Post, pleaded not guilty to two similar charges, and the Crown has withdrawn these charges.
“Lancashire Evening Post Ltd was fined a total of GBP3,000 for the two offences and ordered to pay compensation totalling £4,000 to the two women, and costs of £45, at Preston Magistrates Court on December 11.
“District Judge Peter Ward said he was satisfied that neither Mr Reynolds nor the newspaper had recognised the women as victims, and added: ‘The article was not recklessly or deliberately published – it was through the process of putting together the story and deadlines’.”
It is understood that the newspaper intends to report the proceedings at which it was fined after the conclusion of the coming linked trial.