News Corp’s Sunday Times censured over abuse allegations story

News Corp’s The Sunday Times and online counterpart Perth Now have been criticised by the Australian Press Council for failing to ensure its articles around allegations of abuse headlined “Swan Homes hired killer” and “Church calls cops over Swan Homes” were accurate.

australian press council

The articles, which were published on September 20, reported on allegations by former child residents of the Swan Homes orphanage of abuse by a former house master, Leonard Darcey, and children’s home director Angus Peterkin.

Peterkin’s daughter, Margaret Masters, complained to the Press Council that statements about her father in the articles were inaccurate and misleading.

She said the statement in the first article that “the Anglican Archdiocese…confirmed at least four children were abused…” was inaccurate and misleading because the Archdiocese’s September 4 statement acknowledged receiving four complaints and compensating three but did not confirm that abuse had occurred.

Masters argued that the articles reported allegations of physical and sexual abuse against her father as fact when she claimed no such claims had been made previously nor had they been established as fact.

She also said the statement in the first article that Darcey “served 22 months before he was released and employed at the orphanage after receiving favourable character evidence from Angus Peterkin”, implied her father had facilitated Darcey’s release to employ him when in fact the evidence was given earlier at his trial.

The Sunday Times defended its article saying the articles were based on the recollections of seven former residents which included allegations of sexual and physical abuse by Peterkin.

The newspaper said it reported the experiences of the two brothers on the basis of compelling and believable first-hand accounts, and also took into account the statement made by the Anglican Archdiocese of Perth confirming it had assessed four cases of abuse.

It said that on considering the complaint from Masters it had changed the online article to refer to confirmation of complaints instead of confirmation of abuse.

It was the Press Council’s view that the Archdiocese’s statement in acknowledgement of the complaints received was not a definitive finding that abuse had occurred and that The Sunday Times’ report of the allegations as fact saw the publication fail to ensure the article was accurate.

The Council also viewed that the article’s sequence of events surrounding Darcey’s release from goal which misleadingly suggested that Peterkin’s giving of the favourable character evidence caused his early release from goal.


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