Newsquest North East has been fined £2,400 and ordered to pay another £7,000 in costs after the Northern Echo named an alleged sexual assault victim during a “highly unusual” case.
The incident happened during a physical assault case in which the defendant’s barrister referred to an alleged sexual assault involving the complainant that ended up playing no further part in the case, Hold The Front Page reports.
Believing the paper was immune from any breach of the Sexual Offences Act because the case did not directly concern the alleged sexual assault, the Northern Echo identified the alleged victim by her surname.
Having pleaded not guilty to a breach of the Sexual Offences Act and earlier hearing, the paper changed its plea to guilty and was handed a £2,400 fine. In addition, the paper will pay £4,500 in compensation, £2,003 in costs and a £480 victim surcharge.
In minitigation at Teeside Magistrates Court, Guy Wassall-Adams said it was a “highly unusual” case, and District Judge Martin Walker accepted that “a real legal potential argument” would have been up for consideration had the paper proceeded with the not guilty plea.
However, he concluded that the Northern Echo should have pleaded guilty sooner and described the incident as a “serious breach” of the Sexual Offences Act. He said it was not in the public interest to identify the woman, who told the court in a victim impact statement that she felt her privacy and dignity had been “destroyed”.
A separate charge against Northern Echo editor Peter Barron was dropped, and a spokesperson for Newsquest North East said the company was “sincerely sorry” for any distress caused.