Telegraph fined £80,000 for publishing 'modified' photo of Adam Johnson sex crime victim

Former Sunderland soccer player Adam Johnson arrives at  Bradford Crown Court in Bradford, Britain February 29, 2016. Picture: Reuters/Phil Noble

The publisher of the Daily Telegraph has been fined £80,000 for publishing a photograph of sex offence footballer Adam Johnson that could have allowed people to identify his teenage victim.

Telegraph Media Group (TMG), which admitted a charge under sections section 1 (2) and 5 (1) of the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992, was also ordered to pay the teenager £10,000 in compensation, as well as £1,473.00 in prosecution costs and a victim surcharge of £120.

A similar charge against Daily Telegraph editor Chris Evans was withdrawn when TMG pleaded guilty at a hearing at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Friday last week, a Crown Prosecution Service spokesman said.

The prosecution was brought over a story and picture which appeared in the Daily Telegraph on March 3, the day after former England and Sunderland player Johnson (pictured) was convicted at Bradford Crown Court of one charge of sexual touching with a girl aged 15.

He had admitted grooming the teenager as well as one charge of sexual activity.

The article was accompanied by a photograph taken from a Facebook page. The same picture was used by The Sun in March 2015, leading to the newspaper’s then editor, David Dinsmore, appearing in court on a similar charge earlier this year.

The Daily Telegraph is understand to have “significantly modified” the picture before publication.

The court heard the Telegraph sold only four copies of the March 3, 2016, edition in the area where the girl lived, and that there was no evidence that anyone had actually seen the picture and been able to identify her as a result.

But it accepted that publication of the photograph was likely to identify her.

Gavin Millar QC, representing TMG, publisher of the Daily and Sunday Telegraphs, told the court that the newspapers would no longer use such pictures with reports of sex offence cases in future.

TMG, said in a statement after the hearing: “As we made clear in Court, we have apologised unreservedly to the victim for the distress she has been caused.

“The picture should not have been published and we have put in place robust procedures to ensure that such an error can never happen again.”

The fine imposed on TMG is in sharp contrast to the £1,000 compensation Mr Dinsmore was ordered to pay in March, which related to a publication which took place in March 2015, when Adam Johnson was first arrested.

The £5,000 limit on fines which magistrates could impose was lifted when relevant parts of section 85 of the Legal Aid, Punishment and Sentencing of Offenders Act 2012 were brought into effect from March 12, 2015 – after the Sun’s publication.

So while the maximum fine Mr Dinsmore could have faced was £5,000, TMG faced a court which had power to fine it an unlimited amount.

In the case of The Sun, the image of Johnson and the girl was cut out from the original photo on Facebook and put on to a white background before photoshopping and airbrushing were used to leave the girl with a blank egg-shaped face.

The Sun team then took a photograph of Irish President Michael Higgins at a tree-planting ceremony in a Dublin park and photoshopped all of the people out of it so that the remainder could be used as the background in the picture of Johnson and the girl.

The Sun’s article also included a warning that anyone who identified the child online would face prosecution, and referred to a case in which people were convicted of identifying a sexual offence victim on social media.

But it is understood that use of the picture has caused problems for the teenager at the centre of the case, and that she has suffered a backlash, especially on social media.

She is already thought to be known as the victim to a number of people.

A Crown Prosecution Service source said that since it became known that she was awarded compensation, many people, especially on social media, had claimed that she was merely interested in making money.

“But that is actually very far from the truth – we know that compensation was definitively not a significant factor in the pursuit of this case,” he said.

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