Agency absolved as PCC raps Metro over rape story

Hyde: complaint "driven" by police

The Press Complaints Commission has upheld a police complaint against a newspaper for publishing details that could have identified a rape victim – but has cleared the news agency that supplied the story.

Thames Valley Police complained about an article published in the London Metro in May, headlined "Rapist cuts off cancer woman’s hair", which was supplied by Reading-based INS news agency.

The article reported that a young woman had been raped. It named the town in which the attack took place and gave details about the nature of the assault, the victim’s age, recent health problems and the family home where the attack happened.

Although Thames Valley Police complained about Metro and INS, the commission said it could not make a ruling against the agency because it was not a publisher.

This is seen as an important ruling for news agencies, which are often told by customers to supply all the material they can on a story.

The police complained under clause 12 of the Code of Practice, which prohibits the publication of material that would identify victims of sex crimes.

However, the PCC has stressed that agencies are subject to the code in general terms.

INS editor Neil Hyde told the PCC he was very aware of the code and the need to protect victims of sexual assault. He said there was no evidence the victim was made identifiable by the newspaper reports.

Hyde argued that publicity about the incident could assist the police in their hunt for the attacker.

He also claimed there was a campaign "within Thames Valley Police and specifically its external communications department, to discover the identities of members of the force who are believed to provide information to our agency". He suggested the complaint had been "driven" by the police.

Metro pointed out that it had not named the specific residential area where the assault took place and said it was not clear from the story whether the victim lived in the same area or town.

In its adjudication, the PCC ruled that sufficient information was contained in the report to contribute to potential identification and the code had therefore been breached.

In upholding the complaint, the commission said it wished to underline the extreme importance it attaches to the scrupulous manner in which reports about sex crimes should be constructed.

"The purpose of the code – breaches of which in this area are very rare thanks to the generally high standards of reporting – is to ensure that this cannot happen and that victims maintain the anonymity they deserve."

By Jon Slattery

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