Former Sun editor convicted of breaching victim anonymity law in Adam Johnson case
Former Sun editor David Dinsmore has been found guilty of breaching the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992 after the tabloid printed a pixelated photograph of convicted footballer Adam Johnson’s teenage victim. Mr Johnson is currently awaiting sentencing after being found guilty of sexual activity with a child.
Durham constabulary initiated a prosecution against Dinsmore when the photo, taken from the victim’s Facebook page, was published following Johnson’s arrest last year. District Judge Howard Riddle sitting at the Westminster Magistrates’ Court ruled that although The Sun had made some effort to disguise the girl’s identity by altering her photo, she might nevertheless have remained identifiable by people familiar with her on Facebook.
The Act grants victims of sexual offences lifelong anonymity and strictly prohibits the press from publishing any details that could lead to their identification.
In fact, The Sun had gone to considerable lengths to disguise the identity of the girl. In a statement that was read to the Court, the tabloid’s head of design described the many steps that had been taken to manipulate the image. This involved altering the girl’s hair, clothing and even photo-shopping an entirely different background. The end result, argued Dinsmore’s counsel Gavin Millar QC, amounted to a ‘bare outline’.
However, the original image had been posted on the girl’s Facebook profile for six weeks before The Sun published the altered version. The girl remained recognisable to those who had seen the original photograph of her or were familiar enough with her that they could identify her through mention of her age and relationship with the player.
Having heard Dinsmore’s evidence, Judge Riddle concluded that he and the staff at the tabloid genuinely believed that they had taken sufficient steps to conceal the girl’s identity. He was also satisfied Dinsmore did not know he was committing an offence. Whilst these factors did not amount to a defence, they mitigated the offending. Dinsmore was ordered to pay £1,300 costs and £1,000 in compensation to the girl for any distress.
It is understood that The Sun’s publisher News UK would have also been prosecuted, but according to the Crown Prosecution Serivce there was an error in the paperwork.
The decision is a warning to any publisher or editor who thinks that the photo-shopping photographs of victims of sexual offences is a safe practice. It is plainly not sufficient that a person may not be identifiable to the average man or woman in the street. The only sensible advice for publishers is to stay well away from images of a victim and indeed, more generally, refrain from publishing any information which may allow others (however few) to identify them. This is particularly so in the age of social media; where speculation and the “jigsaw identification” of anonymous litigants and witnesses is common.
Click here to read how Brett Wilson LLP Criminal Defence Solicitors can assist you if are the subject of proceedings in the magistrates’ court
Articles are intended as an introduction to the topic and do not constitute legal advice.