FOLLOWING an article published by the Argus on 22 September 2017 headlined “Man with one leg had child porn” (in print) and “Amputee Paul Evans from Peacehaven faces jail after being caught with child porn on his computer” (online), Paul Evans complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Argus (Brighton) breached Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice. IPSO upheld the complaint and has required The Argus to publish this decision as a remedy to the breach.

The article reported that the complainant had pleaded guilty to possessing indecent images of children.

The headline and text referred to the complainant’s physical disability.

The complainant said that the repeated references to his disability in the headline and body of the article were not justified or relevant to his crimes.

He said that the references were included in an attempt to shame and mock him, and to suggest a link between his offences and the fact that he is physically disabled.

The complainant said that, as a result of the article, he had received online abuse about his disability.

When contacted, the newspaper immediately accepted that the complainant’s disability was not relevant to the story, and should not have been referenced.

It said that the article had been written by a trainee reporter, who had made reference to the complainant’s disability because it was a visible in photographs taken outside court.

The newspaper said it was regrettable that the references to the complainant’s disability had been included in the article and said it had reminded all reporters of the obligation to comply with the terms of Clause 12.

The newspaper maintained that there was no intention to make prejudicial reference to the complainant on the basis of his disability.

As soon as the complaint was received, the newspaper offered to remove all references to the complainant’s disability from the online article, if this would fully resolve the complaint.

It also offered to either publish an apology or write a personal letter of apology to the complainant. Following further correspondence, and eight days after the complaint was received, the online article was amended to remove all reference to the complainant’s disability.

The terms of Clause 12 (ii) are particularly relevant to cases in which a person is accused or convicted of serious crime, where there is a danger that an unjustified link may be created in the mind of a reader between a person’s characteristics and their criminality, even if only by inference.

The complainant’s conviction for charges of possessing indecent images of children was plainly irrelevant to his physical disability, and referring to his condition in this context was discriminatory, notwithstanding the fact that the reference itself had not been pejorative.

This was a serious and unjustified breach of the Code, and the Committee was extremely concerned that by the newspaper’s account, it appeared that a trainee journalist had been unaware that the terms of Clause 12 applied in this situation, and had published an account of a criminal case on serious charges without appropriate oversight.

This represented a serious failure in relation to both staff training and editorial oversight of material published by the newspaper.

The Committee was also deeply concerned about the newspaper’s handling of the complaint. Editors are not obliged to remove online material on receipt of a complaint, and there may be very good reasons why they would decline to do so in a particular case.

Nor can the Committee compel the removal of online material.

In this case, however, the newspaper had immediately accepted that the article had breached the Code, and had been told by the complainant that he was receiving abuse related to his disability because of the continued publication of the reference to it online. In these circumstances, the newspaper’s decision to make its offer to remove the material conditional on the complainant agreeing not to pursue his complaint further, was not a suitable or satisfactory response.