A newspaper editor who “skim read at best” an article containing information likely to identify a sex offence victim has been ordered to pay £3,650 in fines and compensation.
Thomas Sinclair, 37, who owns and edits the Ceredigion Herald, said he will appeal against his conviction for breaching the law giving victims anonymity for life – an offence which the judge said had “enormous” potential to deter other victims from coming forward.
The prosecution claimed during his trial last month that by including details of the relationship between the victim and defendant in a court report about a man convicted of voyeurism, along with other details, the article contained enough information to allow the public to make a jigsaw identification of the woman.
Under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 victims have a right to anonymity for life, meaning any information likely to lead to their identification in a news story is a breach of the law.
Handing down his ruling at Haverfordwest Magistrates’ Court, District Judge David Parsons said the defendant in the case lived in a small village and when “coupled with local knowledge”, work colleagues, friends, relatives and acquaintances, could have identified her after reading the article.
Finding Sinclair guilty, Judge Parsons said: “The protection of victims of sexual offences is a matter of considerable concern.
“This court must be mindful of the real psychological harm to the victim, confirmed in her victim impact statement.
“This offence has enormous potential to undermine the confidence of victims reporting sexual offences.”
The court heard that Sinclair accepted publishing the story but denied it was likely to lead to the woman’s identification and said she would not have known about the article had it not been for his prosecution.
In a statement read out in court, the victim said she had been told before the sex offence trial that her details would not be made public.
She said: “Finding out about the article has set me back and means the stress of this case is not over as it means there is now another court case involving me.”
During his trial in April, Matthew Paul, defending Sinclair, said there was little risk of the victim being identified because only around 0.68 per cent of the county’s population – or around 450 people – read the paper.
At Friday’s sentencing hearing, he said circulation had increased to 3,200 but advertising revenue had been “dented” by “the running of the defence in this case”.
Paul added: “It is regretted by Mr Sinclair that this slipped through the net. He did not himself have any particular role in reading it … he skim read it at best.”
Sinclair was fined £1,500 and ordered to pay the victim £1,500 compensation, costs of £500 and a surcharge of £150.
After the hearing, he vowed to appeal, saying: “District Judge Parsons’ decision was badly wrong and the district judge reached factual conclusions that were not reasonably available to him and made serious errors of law.
“I maintain that there was no likelihood of the information in the report leading members of the public to identify the complainant.
“I will be appealing against both the conviction and sentence and fully expect that the district judge’s decision will be overturned.”
Picture: Johanna Carr/PA Wire