The editor of the Pembrokeshire Herald has told a court that an article in the newspaper’s sister title, the Ceredigion Herald, which allegedly identified the victim of a sex crime did not break the law because anyone interested in the case “probably already knew who she was”.
Thomas Hutton Sinclair, of Hamilton Terrace, Milford Haven, also claimed that the article could not be considered a breach of the Sexual Offences Act 1992 – which grants victims in such cases lifelong anonymity - because so few people read the Ceredigion Herald that it was unlikely anyone who knew her or the guilty man would have read it.
In the report, the newspaper named the guilty man and gave details of his age and occupation before detailing his “familial links” to the victim. The publishing of those links were, in the view of the Crown Prosecution Service, enough to identify the victim. The 1992 Act strictly forbids the detailing of personal and family relationships between the perpetrator of a sex crime and the victim.
Appearing before district judge David Parsons at Llanelli court, Sinclair, 37, admitted that the reporting of the case “sailed pretty close to the wind” in relation to breaching the Act but said that as only 0.68 per cent of the Ceredigion population – around 450 people - read the title there was little risk of the woman being identified.
The court was told that the report had been written by a trainee journalist, who, despite being in her first weeks in the job, had been sent to court without training, supervision or support.
Deputy editor John Coles had then read the report “to check for grammar and style” but Mr Coles had not considered “legal compliance” because, he said in a statement read to the court, he had "no legal training”.
The report was then forwarded to Sinclair, but he had not read it before printing it.
Sinclair said he was not a journalist and that his “background was in law”.
Prosecutor Emma Myles told the court: “The case is clearly that in publishing the details he did, he has breached the legislation set out in Statute.
“The Act is to protect the privacy and dignity of the victim.
“He has put enough information into the public domain that provides a link between the guilty man and the victim, and in expressing that familial link he makes reference to ‘sailing close to the wind’, but the defence case is that the Act has not been breached.
“This is a case about jigsaw identification where if you put enough of the pieces together you can identify the victim even if she is not named.
“By publishing details of the familial link he has published enough of the pieces.”
Defending Sinclair, Matthew Paul said: “It is not asserted that this is a model article, it isn’t.”
He said however that it was for the court to consider whether the information printed provided a “material risk rather than a hypothetical risk” that the victim could be identified.
“Is there a real risk that someone not acquainted with the parties involved could identify the complainant?
“Someone with the will to find out could find out, but someone without that will would not.”
Judge Parsons deferred passing judgement on the case until May 12 to consider the legal arguments put forward by the defence.