The editor of a weekly newspaper in Wales is awaiting judgment on whether he broke the law by identifying a sex attack victim in a court report.
Thomas Hutton Sinclair, 37, pleaded not guilty at Llanelli Magistrates’ Court after he was charged with breaching the Sexual Offences Act over the article published in The Ceredigion Herald last year.
The court heard that the piece was written by one of the paper’s reporters and checked by deputy editor Jon Coles.
Prior to the court hearing last week, Coles told police that he had not been asked to check if the article was legally sound because he had “no legal training”.
He said Sinclair had the final word over what was published but had not read the article before printing it, according to the Western Telegraph.
The article included the name, age and former occupation of the convicted man as well as the “familial link” between him and his victim, although the man’s address was withheld.
Sinclair, of Hamilton Terrace, Milford Haven, has edited the Herald since 2013 and also oversees the Pembrokeshire Herald, The Carmarthenshire Herald and The Llanelli Herald.
He told police his training was in law, not journalism, and that about 1,200 articles were published over the four titles each week, meaning it was “impossible” to edit all of them, according to the Ceredigion Herald’s report. He said he had not seen the offending article until it was brought to his attention by police.
Asked in court whether he thought the story breached the Sexual Offences Act, Sinclair said it “sailed close to the wind” but that because only 0.68 per cent of the Ceredigion population (about 450 people) read the paper there was small risk of the victim being identified.
The Telegraph said Prosecutor Emma Myles told the court: “The case is clearly that in publishing the details he did, he has breached the legislation set out in statute. The Act is to protect the privacy and dignity of the victim.
“He has put enough information into the public domain that provides a link between the guilty man and the victim, and in expressing that familial link he makes reference to ‘sailing close to the wind’, but the defence case is that the Act has not been breached.
“This is a case about jigsaw identification where if you put enough of the pieces together you can identify the victim even if she is not named. By publishing details of the familial link he has published enough of the pieces.”
Defending Sinclair, Matthew Paul said the story had not been a “model article” but it was for the court to consider whether the information printed provided a “material risk rather than a hypothetical risk” that the victim could be identified, the Telegraph reported.
He said: “Is there a real risk that someone not acquainted with the parties involved could identify the complainant? Someone with the will to find out could find out, but someone without that will would not.”
District Judge David Parsons deferred judgment on the case until 12 May.