Case Number: 3304

Council Meeting: AUGUST 2022

Decision: No Grounds to Proceed

Publication: Stuff

Principle: Accuracy, Fairness and Balance

Ruling Categories: Defamation/Damaging To Reputation
False Accusation


  1. Stuff published an article on July 29, 2022, headlined Woman was forced to marry the son of the priest who raped her. This reported the story of “Barbara” a woman who made a complaint to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care that her Hokitika parish priest George Harrison raped her and forced her to marry his secret son who later went on to sexually abuse their children and grandchild.
  2. Ken Orr complained that the article breached Media Council Principle (1) accuracy, fairness, and balance.
  3. He said he accepted that this story of alleged abuse needed to be told, it was important to distinguish between proven fact and accusation. The article was written as though the accusations were proven though no evidence was produced.
  4.  “Our justice system demands that a person is innocent until proven guilty. As the accusations have not been subject of a complaint to the police with charges being heard in the courts the accusations are unproven. The defendant is now deceased and cannot defend himself.”
  5. He added “It is a serious matter to destroy a person’s good name and reputation. Are we now to be subject to trial by media? I believe that this article creates a very dangerous precedent. This article should cause alarm to every citizen as it reveals how vulnerable we all are to false accusation and the destruction of our good name and reputation.”
  6. The editor of The Press Kamala Hayman said Barbara had no reason to make such allegations up and to repeat them in numerous forums over many years.
  7. “She has lodged formal complaints with the church, which has sent them to the National Office for Professional Standards, and the Sisters of Mercy, but because of the deaths of the individuals involved she is unable to have her complaints property considered. This has led her to lay a complaint with the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care and eventually to tell her painful story to our journalist.
  8. “Given her determination to tell her story, and the details she has provided, we have no reason to doubt the veracity of what she has said. Her story is an important story to tell, and I believe should not be suppressed because Father Harrison is not alive. Unfortunately, his death means there can never by any justice for Barbara,” the editor said.
  9. The Media Council notes Barbara’s story is an important one and it has been reported in good faith. While her claims have not been tested in court it does not make them wrong. There was a basis for giving the story credence, and no information has been advanced by the complainant to challenge its veracity. No error has been shown or even alleged by the complainant.

 Decision: There were insufficient grounds to proceed.


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