Thanet Extra breached Editors' Code with report that naked drink driver was also masturbating

The Thanet Extra has been censured by press regulator IPSO after it reported that a naked drink driver convicted of outraging public decency had also been pleasuring himself.

The article, headlined “High Street drink-driver was naked”, was published on 9 September 2015.

The article reported that the complainant had been convicted of outraging public decency and drink driving after he was seen driving his car erratically on Whitstable High Street while naked. The story included quotes from a witness, read out in court, who said he had seen the complainant masturbating in his car.

The newspaper reported in print that the complainant had admitted outraging public decency and drink driving but denied masturbation, an accusation that was not made in the online version of the article published five days later.

The complainant companied to IPSO under clause 1 (accuracy) of the Editors' Code.

The complainant admitted in court to the drink driving charge and admitted he was naked at the time but he denied masturbation. He told the court that he would agree to plead guilty to the charge of outraging public decency if the charge of masturbation was dropped.

He said his offer was accepted by the prosecution and that the court, including the reporter, were told that the allegation of masturbation should be disregarded.

However, the newspaper disputed this and said there was no order telling its reporter not to repeat all the details of the victim impact statement, including the allegation of masturbation.

The newspaper subsequently published a clarification in the paper, which reflected the complainant’s version of the events.

IPSO said in its ruling: "In the absence of any reporting restrictions at the sentencing hearing, the newspaper was entitled to report what had been said in open court; this remained the case even though a portion of the victim impact statement had been read in error.

"The reporter’s notes, however, showed that the court’s legal advisor had explained that the complainant had pleaded guilty to outraging public decency on the basis that he was naked in public, not because he had been masturbating; the legal advisor made clear that he was being sentenced by the magistrates on that basis.

"This information was not reported in the article, which created the misleading impression that the complainant had been prosecuted and convicted in relation to the allegation of masturbation.

"This was significantly misleading: it was a more serious offence than those to which he pleaded guilty, and the reporting of it ignored the prosecution’s acceptance that this allegation should not form part of the case against him."

The paper had  already published a clarification. IPSO ordered it to republish this on page three, which was where the original article appeared.

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