PCC makes first ruling on firmer child witness clause

The Argus article breached Clause 10 of the Editors’ Code of Practice

For the first time in nearly four years, the Press Complaints Commission has upheld a complaint relating to child witnesses.

The Editors’ Code of Practice was revised in 1999 to include a clause on protection of child witnesses to counter a restrictive Government proposal, in the Youth Justice Bill, to impose a complete ban on interviews with child witnesses of crime, however trivial.

But in this case, the Eastbourne edition of The Argus had published the name and partial address of a 12-year-old girl who had been witness to a kidnap attempt. Her father had complained to the commission that this potentially put her in danger.

He said the Argus article headlined "Terror of girl in kidnap bid" published on 10 May, identified his daughter, in breach of Clause 10 (Reporting of Crime).

The girl had been witness to an attempted kidnap of her friend by a man who had not been caught and who had warned the girls that if they went to the police he would come and "get them".

The newspaper said that it had only published the details after a reporter spoke to the complainant’s wife on the phone.

She said she knew an article was to be written but had not realised that she was being "interviewed" and had not been told that her family address would be included in any article. She would not have agreed to such details being published due to the seriousness of the situation, she said.

In its adjudication, the commission said that although the newspaper acted properly in speaking to the complainant’s wife, it did not appear that she had been told exactly what was to be published.

Clause 10, it noted, said that "particular regard should be paid to the potentially vulnerable position of children who are witnesses to, or victims of, crime", and the commission emphasised that the protection of children is an essential part of the code.

"In this case while the complainant’s wife had spoken to the journalist, the inclusion of the daughter’s full name and partial address potentially put her in danger," ruled the commission. It did not consider that the newspaper had paid sufficient regard to her position as required by the code.

Guy Black, the commission’s director, said: "This is the first complaint in four years, which underlines as far as newspapers are concerned that they pay huge attention to the needs of young victims and witnesses. That’s a massive tribute to all newspapers.

"But when we get an issue, which is hard and clear-cut, then the commission is well able to deal with it within the terms of the revised code."

By Jean Morgan

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