THE EDITOR of the Ceredigion Herald was today (May 12) found guilty of breaching the Sexual Offences Amendment Act (1992) after a judge ruled that a story published last year ‘includes matters likely to lead members of the public to identify [the complainant] as the person against whom the offence is alleged to have been committed’.
Thomas Hutton Sinclair, 37, had pleaded not guilty to the offence, which was tried at Llanelli Magistrates’ Court last month.
A skeleton argument was put forward by his legal representative, Matthew Paul, which attempted to demonstrate that the information put forward in the article was not sufficient to lead to members of the public identifying the complainant.
However, after reserving judgement, District Judge David Parsons found that the relevant information provided in the article was sufficient to provide a ‘real risk’ of identification.
“The purpose of S1 (2) of the Act is to preserve the dignity and privacy of victims of sexual offences,” he said. “Without this provision victims may well not report crimes for fear of publication of their identity. In my judgement likely in this case includes probable or might well happen. However on the facts of this case I am satisfied that there was a real risk, a real danger, a real chance that members of the public would identify the victim.”
The judgement stated that the CPS did not contend that any identification of the complainant had taken place as a result of the article’s publication.
Speaking in mitigation, Mr Paul noted that in a similar case in 2013, Trinity Mirror had been fined £1,200. He added that The Herald was an independent paper, from which Sinclair did not draw a salary.
“It is regretted by Thomas Sinclair that it ‘slipped through the net’ but there was no considered decision to print,” he added.
Mr Paul noted that this offence pre-dated another matter which came before court last year, and that staff had received training before this matter came to court.
He also added that the ‘gleeful’ reporting of the Ceredigion Herald’s circulation figures as of last June by rival titles had adversely affected advertising revenue, pointing out that the current weekly sales were in the region of 3,300.
Sinclair was fined £1,500, and ordered to pay compensation of £1,500, costs of £500 and a surcharge of £150.
Speaking after the verdict, he said: “District Judge Parsons’ decision was badly wrong. The District Judge reached factual conclusions that were not reasonably available to him, and made errors of law.
“I maintain that there was no likelihood of the information in the report leading members of the public to identify the complainant. I will be appealing against both the conviction and sentence, and fully expect that the District Judge’s decision will be overturned by the higher Courts.”