The press watchdog upheld two complaints against the newspaper for a story published on 10 August last year with the headline “Terrorised by knife thug, 7”.
Following publication the father of the boy complained the article contained inaccuracies and included a photograph taken without consent.
The article said the boy had been ‘terrorising’ local residents in Aberdeen, including by stalking people with knives, drinking and smoking, and hitting a girl with a spade. It added that he had been expelled from several different schools.
The boy’s father said these claims were inaccurate and that publication of a pixellated photograph of his son would have identified him to people in the community.
The boy’s father then provided the PCC with a letter from his local council, proving his son had attended one school continuously, along with a further letter from the child’s Boys Brigade Minister; details of the child’s medical condition; and a petition signed by over 100 residents in support of the complaint.
Publishing its adjudication today, the PCC said the newspaper claimed the piece was in the public interest; that it had not named the boy and took care to obscure his identity.
The PCC said the newspaper relied on several pieces of evidence for its story, including a diary of alleged behaviour written by a neighbour – the boy’s father challenged the reliability of this – letters from Aberdeen City Council and an MSP about the family’s ‘unacceptable’ behaviour.
The paper also relied on affidavits from another neighbour, the reporter and the news agency photographer and a statement from a local councillor.
The PCC said Grampian Police also confirmed the child had been involved in three anti-social incidents in the summer of 2008, while additional sources confirmed the thrust of the story.
The commission said today the newspaper had grounds for its story but the most serious claims about the boy’s behaviour – allegations of violence and the assertion he had been expelled from a string of schools – could not be substantiated.
This was a serious matter, the PCC ruled, because of the boy’s young age.
The PCC ruled: “The commission was also persuaded that there was sufficient information in the article and pixellated photograph to identify the complainant’s son to those in the community.
“In the context of unsubstantiated assertions about his behaviour, the justification for publication of the photograph was insufficient.”
The newspaper stood by its article, however it offered to publish a text in which the family’s denial of the allegations could be made public.