The Sun has been rapped by the press watchdog after speculating that a woman was in a relationship with disgraced footballer Adam Johnson because she was repeatedly seen visiting him in prison.
An article published in print on 22 October last year, headlined: “Got a new madam, Johnson?”, named and pictured the woman and speculated on her reasons for visiting him on “at least three occasions” in jail.
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Ex-England footballer Johnson (pictured) was jailed in March 2016 for sexual activity with an underage girl. He was given a six-year prison sentence, but was released earlier this year.
The article, which also appeared online, reported that the woman had “failed to deny that she and Johnson were an item” when approached by a journalist at her home.
The woman reportedly said: “I don’t want to comment. I hope this isn’t going to be in the paper,” according to IPSO.
She subsequently said in an email to the reporter: “I can categorically say I am not in a relationship with Adam.
“The fact you’re basing your assumptions on how many times I’ve visited him and nothing more is ridiculous.”
The woman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation under Clause 9 (reporting of crime) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.
The clause states relatives or friends of someone convicted of a crime should not generally be identified without their consent unless they are genuinely relevant to the story.
The woman said the disclosure of her association with Johnson was intrusive because the fact she visited him was known only to prison staff, she was not involved in his court case, and she had not publicly commented on it.
She added that she had been friends with Johnson for around nine years and there was no justification for the article’s speculation given she had denied they were in a relationship to the reporter.
The Sun pointed out that it was not in dispute the woman had visited Johnson on several occasions, and said the story had “merely speculated” on their relationship.
“It did not state conclusively that she was, and the article had included her denial,” it said.
The newspaper told IPSO the woman’s relationship to Johnson, her identity and the fact she visited him was the “entire basis” of the story, and therefore it could not be argued she was not “genuinely relevant” to it.
In response, IPSO said: “…conjecture on the existence of a possible relationship with a person convicted of crime is not enough to show relevance.
“The newspaper had not demonstrated that the complainant was genuinely relevant to a story which in part related to the crime for which Adam Johnson had been convicted.”
IPSO’s Complaints Committee said the context in which the woman was identified “was distinct from a situation where, for example, she had chosen to associate herself publicly to Mr Johnson in the context of the legal proceedings against him”.
Upholding the complaint, IPSO ordered the Sun to publish a correction on page 17, where the original story ran, or further forward. It also had to appear online, including on the top half of the Sun homepage, for 24 hours.
IPSO cleared the Sun of further complaints made by the woman under Clause 1 (accuracy), Clause 2 (privacy) and Clause 10 (clandestine devices or subterfuge).
Picture: Reuters/Phil Noble