Decision of the Complaints Committee 00349-17 Trotman v The Times
Summary of complaint
1. Darren Trotman, also acting on behalf of his wife, complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the conduct of a journalist acting for The Times breached Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 3 (Harassment) and Clause 6 (Children) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.
2. The complainant, a tram driver, expressed concern that a reporter representing the newspaper had visited his house while he was at work, and had questioned his wife in a manner that had been “pushy” and “alarming”.
3. He said the reporter had failed to use the intercom security system, and had arrived at his front door inside the block of flats without permission. The reporter had then proceeded to ask his wife whether he was the driver involved in the tram crash in Croydon. When his wife confirmed that he was not the driver, and that she could not help the reporter with her inquiries, the reporter had continued to ask questions and had said words to the effect of “I hope you’re not lying”.
4. The complainant said that the reporter had looked through the crack in his front door and had commented that she could see his child watching television. The complainant said that this conduct was shocking, and considered that the safety and security of his child had been compromised.
5. The newspaper did not accept the complainant’s account. It said that the reporter had been admitted to the block of flats by workmen who were painting downstairs; she had knocked at the complainant’s front door, had introduced herself and had politely asked some questions of his wife for up to five minutes. The newspaper denied that the reporter had been “pushy” or that her conduct had been intimidating, but it apologised if this had been the impression created.
6. Due to the fact that the complaint was lodged more than two months after the encounter, the reporter said that she was unable to recall the exact questions she had asked, but that her standard approach was to begin by introducing herself and the newspaper. She recalled that she had then asked general questions about the tram crash, whether the woman’s husband had been involved, and for information on where tram drivers go to socialise. She denied that she had ever suggested that the woman might have been lying, and said that the woman had appeared relaxed, pleasant and helpful; had she asked her to stop asking questions, she would have done so.
7. The reporter did not recall making a comment about the child, but she said that she may have enquired as to whether she was disrupting the child’s routine as she usually would when she approached people with children in the early evening. She said that nothing malicious had been intended by the comment, and considered that the woman had not appeared to be perturbed.
Relevant Code provisions
8. Clause 2 (Privacy)
i) Everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence, including digital communications.
ii) Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual's private life without consent. Account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information.
iii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals, without their consent, in public or private places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.
Clause 3 (Harassment)
i) Journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit.
ii) They must not persist in questioning, telephoning, pursuing or photographing individuals once asked to desist; nor remain on property when asked to leave and must not follow them. If requested, they must identify themselves and whom they represent.
iii) Editors must ensure these principles are observed by those working for them and take care not to use non-compliant material from other sources.
Clause 6 (Children)
i) All pupils should be free to complete their time at school without unnecessary intrusion.
Findings of the Committee
9. The Committee acknowledged that the complainant and his wife had found the reporter’s visit to their home alarming. The question for the Committee to consider was whether the reporter’s conduct had amounted to harassment.
10. While the Committee understood the complainant’s discomfort at the reporter accessing the building without using the intercom, it was accepted that when his wife opened the door to the reporter, the reporter had immediately introduced herself as a journalist and had named the newspaper she worked for.
11. The Committee noted the complainant’s position that the reporter had been “pushy” and had intimidated his wife by asserting that she hoped she was not lying to her. However, the reporter strongly denied suggesting that the complainant’s wife may have been lying, and considered that she had acted professionally and politely throughout. The Committee was unable to reconcile these differing accounts. Furthermore, while the complainant’s wife had found the reporter’s remark about her child threatening, the reporter’s intention had been to make a friendly comment. This did not amount to harassment under the terms of Clause 3.
12. It was accepted that although the complainant’s wife had said that she was unable to assist the reporter with her inquiries, she had not told the reporter to stop asking questions, and she had not asked her to leave the property. As such, the Committee was satisfied that the reporter had not failed to respect a request to desist in breach of Clause
13. The reporter had visited the complainant’s home in order
to research an article about the Croydon tram crash. While the complainant and
his wife had found the reporter’s visit – and in particular her failure to use
the intercom – intrusive, there was no suggestion that anything private about
the complainant or his wife had been published. The reporter’s visit to their
home did not represent a breach of Clause 2. Furthermore, the comment the
reporter made in relation to the complainant’s child did not represent an
intrusion into the child’s time at school in breach of Clause 6.
14. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 18/01/2017
Date decision issued: 21/04/2017
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