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Judgement reserved on Herald ​editor

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Barrister Matthew Paul: Pictured with Herald editor Thomas Sinclair​

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 M​r​ 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.

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Otter advice given after recent sightings

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SIGNS advising members of the public about how to treat otters have been given to the Discovery Centre at North Dock after recent sightings in the area.

It is thought that the signs are a response to a group of swimmers approaching an otter in North Dock.

Darren Harries, Vice Chair of the UK Wild Otter Trust (UKWOT), said: “Part of our role lies in educating organisations and the public in the importance of having otters in the area. They also attract visitors to the area, so it is very important that both are able to coexist.”

Dave Webb, Founder and Chair of the Trust added: “We are seeing an upturn in facility use particularly in this area. We are aware of several otters being killed on the roads there and it is very important that any disturbance is kept to an absolute minimum.

“As a result of this, we have produced and supplied some helpful advice signs that will be placed at strategic points by Darren once they are ready for use.”

Dave has recently been awarded with the IFAW Conservation in Action award at the House of Lords and the welfare of the species is paramount to anything that the trust does.

Ian Humphries, Education officer for UKWOT said: “Education about the species is key to its success at breeding and ongoing welfare so we strive to give the information and help to those areas that may be lacking in knowing what to do if and when they do see an otter. Hopefully, the signs will help with that.”

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Nurses assaulted by patient

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A CARMARTHEN woman who assaulted two nurses after she was hospitalised following concerns for her wellbeing appeared before magistrates at Llanelli Law Courts on Thursday (Oct 19).

Appearing in court via videolink from HMP Eastwood Park, Francesca Stokes, 35, of Bronwydd Road, pleaded guilty to two charges of assault by beating and a public order offence​.​

Prosecuting, Emma Myles told the court that on August 5 emergency services were called to Stokes’ home address following concerns for her wellbeing, and found her in her room in an unresponsive state, smelling of intoxicants.

When they managed to rouse her, Stokes became abusive, and paramedics decided that she should be taken to hospital. When she arrived, she became more aggressive.

Two members of staff attended to Stokes, and searched her handbag as part of the process. They found a lighter which Stokes grabbed, claiming she wanted to go for a cigarette. When she was told this was not possible, she lashed out at the nurses kicking both in the legs and causing immediate discomfort.

“This was an assault on medical staff who were trying to assist her,” Ms Myles remarked.

On August 13, emergency services were again called to Stokes’ house, where she was found ​i​n her bed smelling of intoxicants. When she was told that she had to go to the emergency ward, Stokes became abusive calling police officers ‘f***ing t***s’, and telling them not to talk to her.

She continued in a similar vein when taken out of her properties and continued her abusive tirade within earshot of her neighbours.

During the ambulance journey, Stokes asked if she could smoke and when told she couldn’t repeatedly cast aspersions on the paramedics’ abilities.

When waiting to be treated at the hospital, she continued to be abusive.

Representing Stokes, Laura Sherwood asked that credit be given for her early guilty pleas. She explained that Stokes, who had no previous convictions, was currently on remand for a matter which was being dealt with by Swansea Crown Court.

“She accepts that she carried out reckless acts, and should have let hospital staff continue searching her handbag,” Ms Sherwood added. “Fortunately there were no injuries caused.”

The court heard that Stokes had been suffering with mental health issues which had been the root cause of all her recent offending.

Magistrates fined Stokes £50 for the public order offence, which was written off for one day in custody.

She was given a 12​-​month conditional discharge for the assaults, and ordered to pay compensation of £50 to each complainant, costs of £85, and a victim surcharge of £20.

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Firefighters attend blaze at nursery

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FIREFIGHTERS tackled a blaze in Lampeter at Meithrinfa Y Dyfodol nursery on Wednesday night (Oct 18) and stayed until the early hours of yesterday morning (Oct 19).

Dyfed-Powys Police and Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service attended the scene.

Nobody was injured.

A spokesperson for the fire service said: “We were called to reports of a fire at a property in Cellan, outside Lampeter, at 11.42pm on Wednesday.

“Fire crews from Lampeter, Tregaron, Tumble, and an Hydraulic Platform from Aberystwyth were sent to the scene.

“Crews, wearing breathing apparatus, used two hose reel jets, an aerial platform and thermal imaging cameras to extinguish the fire.

“Crews were in attendance until 3.03am on Thursday.”

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