Decision of the Complaints Committee 00457-18 Tabor-Thickett v Daily Mirror
Summary of complaint
1. Sarah Tabor-Thickett complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Mirror breached Clause 1(Accuracy) and Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors' Code of Practice in an article headlined "Debt help firm shut down by watchdog" published on 8 November 2018.
2. The article reported that a debt management company had been put into compulsory liquidation at the High Court in the public interest, after the court heard that substantial sums had been misappropriated and transferred illegitimately to companies in the US. It reported that the Financial Conduct Authority had brought the case against the company after initially issuing a warning earlier in 2018 that was followed by a "supervisory notice" which banned the company selling assets. The article claimed that the complainant, one of the Directors of the company, then resigned after being on the Board since 2015. The article reported an encounter between the journalist and the complainant at her home, in which she distanced herself from involvement in any wrongdoing. She accepted that she was a director when the warning notice was issued, but had already began separating from the company at that stage; she had spent most of the year away from the company as she was ill. The article featured a photograph of the complainant in the doorway of her residence.
3. The article also appeared online under the headline "It promised to help people in debt, but now Total Debt Relief has been shut down after customers' money was 'misappropriated'", and was published on 8 November 2018. The online article also featured other examples of misconduct involving debt management companies.
4. The complainant said that the encounter with the journalist constituted an intrusion into her privacy in breach of Clause 2. She said that the reporter arrived unannounced between 8 and 8:30am while she was asleep, and that she was in her pyjamas and visibly unwell during their encounter; she had told the reporter this, hoping he would politely leave, which he did not. The complainant said that the reporter did not take the photograph featured in the article, and that any photographs were taken secretly and without her consent by a second person obscured from her view, several metres from her front door. The complainant said she had an expectation of privacy in these circumstances.
5. The complainant said that the article featured private information about her, it reported her full name, age hometown and the type of house she lived in. Additionally, the photograph itself featured her on the doorstep of her home, in her pyjamas when she was recovering from surgery; she had an expectation of privacy in relation to the information displayed.
6. The complainant also said that the article inaccurately implicated her in the apparent misappropriation of funds, when she had already left the company at that stage. She said that the article inaccurately claimed that she was an owner or shareholder of the company. The complainant also said that the article inaccurately reported that her resignation left the company in the hands of the second director, when this individual was the first Director.
7. The publication said that the photograph, and the circumstances in which it was taken, did not represent an intrusion into the complainant's private life. It said that the complainant was photographed from a public street standing in her doorway, simply answering questions from a journalist; anyone passing by would have seen her, and she could have had no expectation of privacy in these circumstances. It said that the photograph itself did not reveal any private or personal information about her, only her likeness. The publication also emphasised that the reporter was not to know that she had been ill, and that when she had asked him to leave, he adhered to her request.
8. The publication denied that it
had inaccurately reported the complainant's involvement in the misappropriation
of funds and compulsory wind-up of the company. It said that it had accurately
reported her position: that she had resigned, that she was unaware of the
misappropriation and transfer of funds to US bank accounts, that she had begun
breaking away from the company when the warning from the FCA was issued, that
she had not benefitted, and that she sympathised with those affected. Further,
the article did not report that she was a shareholder or owner as alleged.
Relevant Code Provisions
9. Clause 1 (Accuracy)
i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.
ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and – where appropriate – an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator.
iii) A fair opportunity to reply to significant inaccuracies should be given, when reasonably called for.
iv) The Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
v) A publication must report fairly and accurately the outcome of an action for defamation to which it has been a party, unless an agreed settlement states otherwise, or an agreed statement is published.
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. In considering an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy, account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information and the extent to which the material complained about is already in the public domain or will become so.
iii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals, without their consent, in public or private places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.
Findings of the Committee
10. Firstly, the Committee would like to wish the complainant a swift recovery after her recent illness.
11. The published photograph had been taken without the complainant's knowledge and consent, by a photographer who was not visible to her, whilst she was standing in the doorway of her home. The Committee acknowledged the potential for photographs taken in such circumstances to be intrusive. However, the Committee considered that the intrusion in this instance was limited by the fact the complainant had been photographed knowingly interacting with a reporter for several minutes and that she would have been visible in her doorway from a public street. Further, the image itself did not disclose any private information about the complainant; it had only showed her likeness and her front door. Publication of the photograph, and the circumstances in which it was taken, did not breach Clause 2.
12. The article had reported the town and type of house the complainant lived in; it had not disclosed her full address, nor could it be established from the information featured in the article. The complainant's name and age does not constitute private information under the Code and, in any event, is information which will have been placed in the public domain in connection with the company by virtue of her position as a former Director of the company. There was no breach of Clause 2.
13. The article did not report that the complainant was an owner or shareholder of the company, it reported that she was a Director which was not in dispute. In circumstances where there was more than one Director of the company, and where another Director controlled the company following her resignation, it was not significantly misleading to report that the company was now in the hands of the second Director. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
14. The publication had put allegations of misconduct by the company to the complainant, which it was entitled to do. The article featured the complainant's comments on who was responsible and her denial of any wrongdoing. The Committee did not consider that the article misleadingly implicated her in the misconduct, and it had reported her position. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
15. The complaint was not upheld
Remedial action required 16. N/A
Date complaint received: 21/01/2019
Date decision issued: 01/05/2019
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