THE EDITOR of The Ceredigion Herald appeared in court today (Apr 20) charged with breaching a statutory reporting restriction.
Thomas Hutton Sinclair, the 37-year-old editor of the Herald titles, was on trial for allegedly identifying the complainant in a sexual offence case.
Appearing in Llanelli Magistrates’ Court, Mr Sinclair maintained his not guilty plea.
Prosecuting, Emma Myles told the court that the allegation related to an article published in the Ceredigion Herald in 2016.
“The court will be aware that under the provision of the 1992 sexual offences act the complainant has a right to anonymity,” Ms Myles said.
“It is the Crown’s submission that this falls foul of the wording of this act.”
All written statements were accepted by the defence, and the case hinged on whether the article in question breached the Act in question or not.
The court heard from the record of a police interview with Herald deputy editor Jon Coles, in which he stated that he had received the court report in question from a Herald court reporter, and changed the tense from present to past, as well as fixing some errors.
Describing Mr Sinclair as ‘a hands-on editor’, he added that Mr Sinclair had the final word over what was published. Mr Coles stated that in this instance he had not been instructed to check whether the content complied with the law, though on some occasions he carried out this task when asked.
In an informal interview last year, Mr Sinclair told police that he had held the role of editor since 2013, although his training was in law not journalism.
He added that as a total of around 1,200 articles were published over the four titles each week, it was ‘impossible’ to edit all of them, and some of this work was referred to the deputy editor. In this case he had not seen the article until it was brought to his attention by the police.
When asked his opinion on whether the article breached reporting restrictions, Mr Sinclair replied that it ‘sailed close to the wind’ but would not allow members of the public in general to identify the complainant.
He pointed out that the defendant in the original case had ‘a common surname’ and that The Herald had not reproduced his address.
When asked if he would have changed anything had he edited the article himself, Mr Sinclair suggested that he may have taken out details of the defendant’s occupation.
However, he maintained that ‘any member of the general public would not be able to piece together who the complainant is’.
He also noted that the reporter who wrote the article had just been coming to the end of a probationary period at the time, and that his staff had already been booked onto a media law course.
Summing up, Ms Myles said that it was the Crown’s submission that by publishing this article, Mr Sinclair had breached legislation specifically aimed at that type of case.
“I respectfully submit that the legislation must be stringently applied,” she added, stating that details of the relationship between the complainant and the defendant in the original case which were published breached the legislation.
Representing Mr Sinclair, Matthew Paul set out the information revealed in the article – the name, age and former occupation of the convicted party, along with the date of conviction and a familial relationship which had existed at some point between him and the complainant. However, he noted that the date of the offence and the defendant’s address had not been included, and no indication had been given as to the age of the complainant.
His argument was that in this case there was nothing in the article which would allow any member of the public not closely connected with the convicted party or the complainant to make any identification.
Mr Paul stressed that for a conviction, it had to be demonstrated that there was a real, rather than a hypothetical risk of identification.
Referring to the case of the Attorney General vs Greater Manchester Newspaper Group he noted that it had been found that the risk of identification was not based on relative statistical probability but ‘a real risk’.
“The Crown has to establish more than a hypothetical, but a material risk,” he added.
Mr Paul noted that the Crown appeared to be of the position that placing the complainant in a ‘pool of potential victims’ was the same as identifying them.
“Identifying, in my submission, must mean only one thing; it must lead to one person.”
Mr Paul added that the familial relationship mentioned could apply to more than one person, and that there was nothing in the report which suggested whether it was an historical or recent offence.
He suggested that the most the article could lead to, if read by someone familiar with the convicted party and/ or complainant, would be to place them in a ‘small pool’ of potential people.
He also noted that this small risk of identification was made even smaller by the Ceredigion Herald’s circulation figures at this time, which amounted to a relatively small percentage of the county buying a copy, and the fact that the story was not placed online.
“Right from the start you are dealing with a low-level risk, made even smaller by the fact that the date of the offence was not mentioned,” he added.
“Overall, you are looking at whether this report would lead members of the public to identify the complainant – it is my submission that it would not.”
District Judge David Parsons reserved judgement until May 12 at Llanelli Magistrates’ Court.
Appeal for information about burglaries
DYFED-POWYS POLICE is investigating a number of burglaries that occurred during the afternoon and evening of Sunday, October 8, in the Llanelli and Five Roads areas.
Sometime between 1pm and 8:30pm there was a burglary to a cottage on the main road through Five Roads; the intruder searched the property but no items were stolen. Sometime between 5:15pm and 7:30pm a similar incident happened at Trinity Road, Llanelli.
An attempted burglary to a property at Heol Hen, Five Roads, happened between 8:50pm and 9:30pm on the same evening. It appears someone has attempted entry by forcing the window with a tool.
Police are treating the three incidents as linked.
Anyone with information is asked to contact Dyfed-Powys Police by calling 101, or speaking to a local officer by visiting Llanelli Police Station. If you are deaf, hard of hearing or speech impaired text the non-emergency number: 07811 311 908. Alternatively, contact the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously by calling 0800 555111, or visiting crimestoppers-uk.org.
Storm Ophelia warnings issued
WINDS of up to 80mph are expected to batter Carmarthenshire and cause ‘significant impact’ as Storm Ophelia hits later today (Oct 16).
The Met Office has warned that there could be a danger to life due to flying debris in the high wind.
There could also be disruption to travel as roads could be flooded and fallen trees could cause obstruction.
The Cleddau Bridge may also close high-sided or all vehicles.
Those living by the coast have been told to stay away from the water to avoid risk of being blown or swept into the sea.
1,200 soldiers are on standby across the UK to respond to any significant incidents caused by the storm.
Police support Hate Crime Awareness Week
DYFED-POWYS POLICE will show its support and commitment to the National Hate Crime Awareness Week by raising awareness within communities as to what a hate crime or incident is.
Additionally, they will be encouraging members of the public to ‘Make Hate History’ and to report hate crime as ‘reporting works’.
Chief inspector Rhiannon Ivens said “Hate crimes and incidents have a significant impact on victims and can cause serious distress, confusion and fear. By their very nature they are hostile and prejudice, targeting a person or people merely due to their disability, religion or belief, race or ethnicity, sexual orientation or transgender identity. We have to unite to stop this – together.
“By reporting these crimes and incidents when they occur, our residents and communities are joining us in the fight against crime, supporting us to investigate, identify offenders and bring them to justice and to stop this from happening to someone else.
“I want to encourage anyone who is a victim of hate crime to report it to us at Dyfed-Powys Police so we can investigate and offer as much support as possible. We also need to know where it is happening so we can understand the extent of hate crime in the area and be better equipped to diffuse community tension before it can escalate.
“We all share the responsibility to stop hate crime. Challenging perceptions and attitudes and encouraging others to ‘think for themselves’ is something we must all do consistently to drive out Hate and positively influence our environment.
“Whether you are a victim or a witness to hate crime, adult or child, please report it to us, we want to hear from you and stop this – together.”
Police and Crime Commissioner Dafydd Llywelyn said “Hate crime can destroy lives, instil fear and can break down the fabric of our communities and neighbourhoods. Hate crime affects all communities and if not tackled can lead to the isolation and victimisation of individuals and vulnerable groups along with the polarisation of communities.
“I would like to see everyone challenging the underlying attitudes and behaviours in society that lead to hate crime being committed.”
During the week, officers will be out and about in the community and speaking to the public to raise awareness of hate crime.
Victims are encouraged not to suffer in silence but to report hate crime by speaking to Neighbourhood Policing teams or via the 101 non-emergency number or 999 during an emergency.
Victims can also report electronically on the True Vision reporting system – www.report-it.org.uk
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