Published: 12:16, 02 February 2007
THE Kent Messenger Group has been fined £1,000 and ordered to pay £2,500 compensation to a victim of childhood sexual abuse.
The company was fined as a result of the publication of a court report which, it was alleged, was likely to lead to the identification of the victim of the abuse, contrary to the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992.
The victim, now an adult, was identified after the report appeared in the Medway Messenger.
Barrister Joanne Cash, representing the Kent Messenger Group, pleaded guilty on behalf of the company at Medway Magistrates' Court on Thursday.
The man accused of the abuse was jailed after being found guilty of a string of sexual offences.
The court report, published last year, did not identify the victim, but Ms Cash said that an old friend of the victim linked events after some "detective work" and had questioned the woman.
Ms Cash added: "My clients have apologised profusely for publishing something which led to her identification. There was no intention for any identification to take place and it is a matter of deep regret that they find themselves in this position.
"This was a very difficult case. They have followed good practice guidelines set down by the Press Complaints Commission. They take very seriously their responsibility.
"All reasonable steps had been taken to make sure identification would not occur and credit should be given for a guilty plea. They have put first and foremost their concerns for the woman.
"It is accepted that newspapers are the eyes and ears of the public. They have a duty to publish details of cases that could affect the public."
The Kent Messenger Group was given 28 days to pay the fine and compensation.
Speaking after the case, Kent Messenger Group editorial director Simon Irwin said: "The decision to plead guilty was not one taken lightly because, in my opinion, we adhered to the Press Complaints Commission Editors' Code of Practice in respect of the identification of victims." He stressed: "We took the decision primarily to spare the victim of the horrible crime in the report the ordeal of giving evidence in court.
"We had offered to take her evidence 'as read' but it became clear to me that there was still a risk that the Crown Prosecution Service might have called her to the stand.
"We decided immediately then that the best option in this case would be to plead guilty to stop this happening.
"It is far from clear that we would have lost this case if we had chosen to contest it since the identification of the victim involved some 'detective' work by a friend after our initial publication of the facts of the case. We did not directly identify the victim in any way.
"I will be writing to the Director of Public Prosecutions to question the public policy implications the decision to prosecute us over this case has raised.
"We will still be performing our public duty by covering sex cases in court and will continue to follow the Press Complaints Commission Editors' Code of Practice in respect of the identification of victims, as I believe we did in this case."