Footballer files complaint over rape claim coverage

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The Independent Online

The Attorney General is to investigate a complaint that a national newspaper deliberately identified one of the Premiership footballers said to have raped a 17-year-old girl.

Lawyers representing the player, one of seven who allegedly took part in a sexual assault against the teenager at a hotel in London on Saturday, made an official complaint to Lord Goldsmith QC yesterday.

Aston Villa became the first Premiership club to make a public statement on the alleged gang rape, when it denied today that any of its players were involved.

The Birmingham club was one of six Premiership clubs playing in London last weekend when the girl alleges she was attacked at a West End hotel.

A Villa spokesman said: "We can categorically confirm that neither Aston Villa nor any of its players are being investigated in relation to the alleged incident in London at the weekend."

The complaint to the Attorney General follows the publication on Tuesday of a two-page report in the Daily Sport that named the club thought to be at the centre of the rape allegation. The solicitors representing one of the accused is understood to be concerned their client would become known through jigsaw identification.

If the Attorney General decides to prosecute the Daily Sport for contempt it could receive a hefty fine.

Lawyers are also considering taking legal action against television and radio companies that accidentally broadcast soccer fans chanting the names of suspects or identifying them during live matches.

Since the publication on Monday of the allegations, in which the teenager claims to have been raped by three or four men in a hotel room while another three or four watched, newspapers have provided a wealth of detail on the suspects but not named them.

But on Tuesday, under the headline "Premiership sex scandal ­ club at centre of gang-bang police quiz" the Daily Sport named the club it claims is at the centre of the case.

Under the Contempt of Court Act 1981 if a person or publication creates a substantial risk of seriously prejudicing a forthcoming trial, either deliberately or by accident, they can be jailed for up to two years and also be given an unlimited fine. But because the current Metropolitan Police investigation is not considered active ­ no one has been arrested or charged ­ then the Act does not apply. However, under common law the Attorney General can prosecute a publication if he believes it published material that it knows might prejudice a case. The maximum penalty is an unlimited fine.

A spokeswoman for the Attorney General said yesterday: "We have received a complaint about the Daily Sport article which will be considered. The Attorney General will also continue to monitor the media coverage to see whether there is a contempt of court."

Meanwhile there are concerns that football supporters attending live matches could chant the names of suspects published on soccer websites.

Rumours on the identity of the men thought to be accused have flooded the internet and circulated among fans. Televi-sion and radio broadcasters could inadvertently open themselves to legal action if chants naming players are picked up on microphones.

Sky and ITV, who have the broadcasting rights of Premiership games, already have a wide range of security measures to ensure abusive or offensive material is not repeated on television. They will be on heightened alert when covering matches in the next few weeks.

The teenager who made the allegations, a sixth-former at a Catholic school, claims she consented to sex with one player after meeting him at a bar, but was then attacked by a group of up to seven others.

She has given a statement to police and may now be shown pictures of footballers to see if she can identify them.

One of the players who is thought to be accused is understood to be claiming he was with another woman at the time of the alleged attack.