Epsom weekly faces fine for identifying rape complainant

A sub and the editor failed to spot the mistake

The Epsom Guardian is facing a possible fine under the Sexual Offences Act after accidentally naming the complainant in a rape case.

The paper, which is part of the Newsquest-owned South London Guardian, is being investigated by police for a possible contempt of court offence.

The court report is understood to have been written by a trainee reporter, who correctly stated that the rape complainant could not be named for legal reasons.

But later in the story, in a quote from the complainant’s lawyer, the woman’s surname was given.

It was not spotted by either the sub-editor or the editor and ended up appearing in the free weekly.

Under the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1976, women who make a complaint of rape are granted lifetime anonymity and newspapers cannot publish anything that would identify them.

Section 12 of the Editors’ Code of Practice, which underpins the work of the Press Complaints Commission, also states that the press may not identify victims of sexual assault.

It is understood the mistake was noticed on the day of publication when a friend of the complainant rang the paper.

According to a source, the Friday edition of paidfor sister newspaper the Epsom Comet was pulled as a result.

Group editor Sean Duggan declined to comment to Press Gazette. An e-mail, sent by Duggan, urged staff not to speak to outside media organisations about the error.

In it he said: “No one is authorised to speak to other newspapers or news organisations about anything to do with our stories, the way we operate, or any other aspect relating to our work… This is extremely important and failure to follow correct procedures could result in disciplinary action.”

Niri Shan, from media law firm Taylor Wessing, said the paper could face a fine of up to £2,000 and an additional fine for contempt of court.

He said: “I would be grovelling a heck of a lot at this time if I was them. They need to make sure they recover as many copies of this paper as possible and bend over backwards to hold their hands up to it.

“After the journalist wrote the article a sub-editor and the editor should have checked it. There should be procedures in place to make sure this doesn’t happen.”

A Surrey Police spokesman said: “The matter is now in the hands of the complainant’s solicitors and police have been called to investigate an allegation of contempt of court.”

By Dominic Ponsford

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