A man complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that thesun.co.uk breached Clause 11 (Accuracy) in an article published in 2020.
The article reported on the life of a person convicted some years ago of a number of serious criminal offences. It reported that “[a]ccording to a close friend [the complainant] was sexually assaulted when he was 11”.
The complainant said this reference identified him as a victim of sexual assault. He said that he had never spoken to any media outlet about the incident nor ever waived his legal right to lifelong anonymity; which he said was granted by the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992. Therefore, he said that the publication was not legally free to identify him as a victim of sexual assault and had breached Clause 11.
The publication mentioned that the complainant had been identified as a victim of sexual assault in an article prior to the enactment of the 1992 Act; that it could be inferred that the information had first been disclosed on the complainant’s behalf; and that the information had subsequently been placed into the public domain seemingly with the complainant’s acquiescence.
In these circumstances, the publication argued that it was legally free to identify the complainant as a victim of sexual assault. It also said it had an adequate justification to do so, given that the fact might explain or contextualise the complainant’s offending and given that disclosure
of this fact was unlikely to be intrusive given it was already in the public domain.
In response, the complainant said that he had neither consented to nor acquiesced to being identified as a victim of sexual assault.
IPSO found that the publication did not have an adequate justification to identify the complainant as a victim of sexual assault and as such had breached Clause 11.
Further disclosure of the complainant’s status as a victim of sexual assault was still likely to be intrusive regardless of whether this fact had previously been published.
Additionally, previous disclosures of this fact were without the complainant’s consent.
Finally, the article did not attempt to explain why this information was relevant or important to understanding the complainant’s crimes, it was simply mentioned in passing.
Given the Committee’s finding that the publication had breached Clause 11 on the basis that it did not have an adequate justification to identify the complainant as a victim of sexual assault, it was not necessary for the Committee to decide whether the publication was legally free to identify the complainant as such.
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