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June 22, 2023updated 29 Jun 2023 3:52pm

Six news titles breach Editors’ Code privacy clause – one with ‘egregious’ details of sexual assault victims

The Greenock Telegraph was told it should undergo training as a result of its code breach.

By Charlotte Tobitt

Publishers including the Sunday Mirror, Liverpool Echo, Lancashire Evening Post and a number of other regional titles have fallen foul of rules after naming or failing to protect the identities of children or victims of sexual assault in recent articles.

On Wednesday press regulator IPSO ruled that six news titles had breached the Editors’ Code of Practice in reports on three different stories.

The Greenock Telegraph was found to have breached Clause 2 and Clause 11 (victims of sexual assault) in an article about a hearing in which a defendant charged with sexually assaulting two people was granted bail.

One of the alleged victims complained to IPSO, saying the newspaper had included a level of information, including street addresses and dates of incidents, that could mean they were identified. She claimed that in the immediate aftermath of the article’s publication she and others close to her were contacted by seven or eight people asking if it referred to her family and that this figure went up further after IPSO’s investigation began.

The newspaper argued it was not possible to identify the victims from the details included, but IPSO’s complaints committee disagreed, saying they “revealed the identity of the alleged victims to a circle of people known to them”.

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They said Clause 11 did not solely ban identification to the “average reader”, as the newspaper had argued, with the committee saying this defence “demonstrated a fundamental lack of understanding of how the clause worked as well as the wider principle of ‘jigsaw identification'”.

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Victims of sexual assault are protected in law with anonymity for life in the rest of the UK but in Scotland, where the Greenock Telegraph publishes, this is not the case. IPSO’s guidance states: “In Scotland, the law is different but the practice of respecting anonymity is the same.”

Because of the “seriousness” and “egregious nature” of the breach, the committee recommended the publication “undergo training by IPSO on the relevant parts of the Editors’ Code, to support its editorial standards in this area” as well as publishing an adjudication signposted from the front page of the newspaper.

Separately, the Lancashire Evening Post website ran aground in a round-up of people who had been “convicted of crimes by local magistrates”. The article, written using a court register, named a child aged 15 at the time of publication as an accomplice in a criminal charge made against another individual.

Reporting restrictions were in place banning the publication of the name, but the journalist had not been in court and had not seen the order in the 238-page court register, where it was not mentioned alongside that charge on page six but was mentioned later on page 19 next to a charge against the child. The information was online for about two days, having been published at 12.30pm on a Saturday and taken down on the following Monday.

IPSO’s complaints committee ruled there had been a breach of Clause 2 (privacy) and Clause 6 (children) of the Editors’ Code, saying the court order meant there was a reasonable expectation of privacy and that the incident could have impact the child’s time at school. The Post subsequently published an adjudication.

Finally, four Reach publications – the Sunday Mirror, Edinburgh Live, Liverpool Echo website and Lancashire Live – were also found to have breached Clause 2 and Clause 6 by publishing the names and photos of two children whose mother died after they flew to Pakistan, and whose grandparents were concerned over the circumstances of her death and the whereabouts of the children.

(Update: A further ruling was later published showing that Mail Online also breached Clause 2 and Clause 6 with its version of the same story.)

Despite the pieces being published with the co-operation of the children’s maternal grandparents, the children’s father had not given permission for them to be identified. The publications told IPSO permission from the grandparents was enough, and it was a story of public interest.

But the complaints committee said it “did not consider that publishing the children’s images or identities was warranted or justified under the public interest for the reasons cited, when balanced against the potential for intrusion into the children’s lives” and that the article amounted to an “unjustified intrusion into the children’s privacy”, meaning adjudications were ordered.

Find all the IPSO rulings here.

Email pged@pressgazette.co.uk to point out mistakes, provide story tips or send in a letter for publication on our "Letters Page" blog

Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
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