Times Scotland edition censured by IPSO after naming sexual assault complainant

The Times has been censured by the Independent Press Standards Organisation after naming the complainant in an alleged case of sexual assault.

A man complained to IPSO that a piece which appeared in Scottish edition of the paper breached clauses in the Editors’ Code covering accuracy, right to reply, privacy, harassment and identifying victims of sexual assault.

The article reported that a woman had been found not guilty of sexual assault after being accused of rubbing her breasts against the complainant (who was named in the report) at a party.

The man said that he had been assured by the police in advance that he would not be identified by the media and said that the article had caused him significant upset.

He said it was humiliating to be identified in this way and that his family and friends had found out about the incident through reading it in the newspaper.

He also said the article had been biased towards the defendant and included claims the defendant had made in evidence which the complainant said were inaccurate, adding that he was not offered a right to reply to the allegations and that the story constituted harassment.

When The Times was contacted over the piece it removed the article, deleted it from its database and circulated a note to all staff reminding them of their obligations under both the law and the Editors’ Code.

The Times told IPSO that under Scots law it was not prohibited from identifying the man but conceded that it was in breach of the Editors’ Code.

IPSO said: “The newspaper had been legally free to name the complainant. However, the Code sets out a more stringent test than the law in that, regardless of the legal position, publications may not name victims of sexual assault unless there is ‘adequate justification’ to do so. This justification must be a compelling one in order to outweigh the general public interest in preserving victims’ anonymity.

“The committee did not accept the newspaper’s argument that the remarks made by the sheriff could justify identification of the complainant. The fact remained that the case had been taken forward to trial by the prosecuting authorities, and there was no finding that the complainant had acted improperly in making the accusation.
“Neither the acquittal nor the sheriff’s comments affected the complainant’s status as a self-identified victim of sexual assault.”

IPSO held that the piece was also a breach of privacy.

The paper was ordered to publish the terms of its adjudication in the Scottish edition on page 21 or further forward, where the original piece was placed.

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