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  1. Media Law
May 29, 2018

Daily Mail breached Editors’ Code after freelance journalist identified victims of sexual assault to their parents, IPSO rules

By Sam Forsdick

The Independent Press Standards Organisation upheld a complaint against the Daily Mail from three victims of sexual offence after a journalist identified them to friends and family in the course of inquiries.

Warwickshire Police complained to IPSO on behalf of three people claiming that the journalist’s enquiries had breached Clause 2 (privacy), Clause 3 (harassment), and Clause 11 (victims of sexual assault) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.

The Daily Mail commissioned a freelance reporter to make contact with various individuals involved in a high-profile criminal case concerning allegations of sexual offences.

A friend of two of the victims, contacted by the reporter, saw the pair’s names on a list in the reporter’s possession. The friend then contacted the parents of the victims to inform them of what had happened.

He told IPSO they had been “shocked and upset” to hear their children’s connection to the case as they were unaware they were victims of a sexual offence.

In its ruling, IPSO said: “…they [the victims] had not disclosed their association with the criminal case to their parents because they had not wanted to cause them any distress, and their friend had also been unaware of their involvement in the case.”

It added: “They had been assured by the police that their anonymity would be protected, and the journalist had identified them as victims of sexual assault to these third parties.

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“This had caused them and their parents considerable distress and anxiety.”

The freelance journalist said the list of names had formed part of an internal memo and at no stage had they deliberately shown the friend this list, adding that any disclosure had been inadvertent.

A third victim also claimed that a reporter from the Daily Mail had approached their parents and asked if they could speak with their child.

The reporter told them they were seeking a “victim’s story” in relation to the court case, which the victim claims identified them as a victim of sexual assault to their parents.

The Daily Mail “expressed regret that the enquiries of its journalists had caused distress”, the IPSO ruling said, but the newspaper did not accept it had breached the Editors’ Code.

The Daily Mail was found to have breached Clause 2 (privacy) and was required by IPSO to publish an adjudication within the first four pages of the Daily Mail newspaper and on the Mail Online website.

IPSO said: “The fact of their involvement in the case as potential victims was extremely sensitive and personal information about which the three individuals had a reasonable expectation of privacy. This represented a gross intrusion into their private lives.”

IPSO ruled that the reporter had not engaged in harassment or intimidating behaviour in breach of Clause 3.

As the victims were identified to third parties in conversation, and not in a published article, IPSO decided not to uphold the additional complaint under Clause 11.

However, IPSO decided to draw this issue to the attention of the Editors’ Code of Practice Committee for its consideration as part of the next Code Review.

In a statement the Daily Mail said: “In June 2017, the Daily Mail commissioned a freelance reporter to make contact with various individuals linked to a high-profile criminal case.

“During the course of those enquiries, the freelance – who was acting on behalf of the newspaper and without the knowledge of Mail Online – unwittingly revealed the names of potential victims to third parties.”

While it did not consider it had breached the Editor’s Code, the newspaper had offered to write a private letter of apology to the victims and offered to make a donation to charity.

However the complainants decided that a “formal ruling was the only way to prevent victims of sexual assault having the same experiences”.

Picture: Reuters/Toby Melville

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