· Decision of the Complaints Committee 00976-15 Turnbull v Sunderland Echo
Summary of complaint
1. Catherine Robson, acting on behalf of her daughter Helen Turnbull, complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Sunderland Echo had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 3 (Privacy), Clause 4 (Harassment), Clause 6 (Children), Clause 9 (Reporting of crime) and Clause 10 (Clandestine devices and subterfuge) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Ex-husband of shamed teaching assistant speaks out after sex trial”, published on 23 November 2014.
2. The article reported that Ms Turnbull, a former teaching assistant, had pleaded guilty to an offence of sexual activity with a child by a person in a position of trust. She had kissed and sent an explicit text message to a child. The article reported the claim of her ex-husband, Ben Turnbull, that she had shown a “longstanding interest in teenage boys”.
3. The complainant said the article contained a number of inaccuracies: Ms Turnbull had not shown a “longstanding interest in teenage boys”; she had not spent all her spare money on clothes; she had not taken two hours to get ready for work; and she had not bragged about the effect her appearance had on male pupils.
4. The complainant expressed concern that the newspaper, Ms Turnbull’s former employer, had supplied a photograph of Ms Turnbull to a national newspaper that it had taken from a confidential personnel file, in breach of Clause 3 (Privacy).
5. The complainant said reporters had persistently questioned Ms Turnbull outside court, and photographers had taken her photograph without permission in breach of Clause 4 (Harassment). She expressed particular concern that one photographer had attempted an “up-skirt” shot and had been warned by a police officer that his behaviour constituted harassment. The complainant did not know if the photographer had represented the newspaper under complaint.
6. The complainant considered that a reference to Ms Turnbull losing custody of her children represented a breach of Clause 6 (Children) and Clause 9 (Reporting of crime), and said the newspaper had published a video of Ms Turnbull walking to court that had been filmed by a camera that had been hidden inside a bus stop, in breach of Clause 10 (Clandestine devices and subterfuge).
7. The newspaper said it had published photographs and a video of Ms Turnbull outside court where she had no reasonable expectation of privacy.
8. It said it had investigated the complainant’s concerns that Ms Turnbull had been harassed by the press outside court, and its staff had confirmed that they had not harassed her or any other party. The agency that had supplied the published photographs provided a selection of images taken by its photographer on the three days they had attended court.
9. The newspaper said that the photograph Ms Turnbull believed had come from a private personnel file had been taken by the newspaper’s staff photographer; it was not private and its publication was not intrusive.
10. The newspaper did not believe that the article had identified the children.
11. The complainant said her daughter had been harassed every day of the eight days of court proceedings, but none of the photographs supplied were taken the day that a photographer attempted to take a photograph up her daughter’s skirt.
Relevant Code Provisions
12. Clause 1 (Accuracy)
i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures.
ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and - where appropriate - an apology published. In cases involving the Regulator, prominence should be agreed with the Regulator in advance.
Clause 3 (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 in private places without their consent. Note - Private places are public or private property where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.
Clause 4 (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 their 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) Young people should be free to complete their time at school without unnecessary intrusion.
iv) Minors must not be paid for material involving children's welfare, nor parents or guardians for material about their children or wards, unless it is clearly in the child's interest.
Clause 9 (Reporting of crime)
i) Relatives or friends of persons convicted or accused of crime should not generally be identified without their consent, unless they are genuinely relevant to the story.
Clause 10 (Clandestine devices and subterfuge)
i) The press must not seek to obtain or publish material acquired by using hidden cameras or clandestine listening devices; or by intercepting private or mobile telephone calls, messages or emails; or by the unauthorised removal of documents or photographs; or by accessing digitally-held private information without consent.
Findings of the Committee
13. The complainant’s concerns regarding the article’s accuracy related directly to her former husband’s account of his ex-wife’s conduct. The account had been attributed to him and clearly represented his position alone. It made clear that it was his “claim” that Ms Turnbull had shown a “long-standing interest in teenage boys”. Although Mr Turnbull’s comments had been ruled inadmissible by the judge, the Committee noted that these claims had been heard in court. The article had also made clear that Ms Turnbull had admitted to one offence involving kissing and texting one boy. Given Ms Turnbull’s admissions, the publication of Mr Turnbull’s comments did not represent a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article. The article had not given the significantly misleading impression that Mr Turnbull’s comments were definitive. The complaint under Clause 1 was not upheld.
14. The Committee noted the complainant’s concern that the newspaper had released a photograph that it had held on Ms Turnbull’s private personnel file. The photograph, however, had been taken by the newspaper’s staff photographer and it had shown Ms Turnbull’s face. The image had not disclosed any private information in breach of Clause 3.
15. The Committee was concerned to hear the complainant’s contention that Ms Turnbull had been harassed outside court. The Committee’s task was to establish whether the newspaper under complaint had been responsible for the harassment. The newspaper would be responsible if the harassment had been carried out by a member of its staff or by an external contributor, such as an agency.
16. The newspaper had purchased photographs supplied by a press agency, which had been present on only three days of the proceedings, and the complainant had confirmed that none of the images had been taken on the day that an “up-skirt” shot had allegedly been attempted. The images did not appear to have been taken in circumstances of harassment. As there were no grounds to suggest that individuals representing the newspaper had behaved in a manner that constituted harassment, the complaint under Clause 4 was not upheld.
17. The newspaper had not identified Ms Turnbull’s children. It had reported that Ms Turnbull’s conviction had led to her losing custody of the children to their father. The brief reference to the children in the context of a discussion of the impact of her crime on her family did not constitute an intrusion into the children’s time at school in breach of Clause 6. Nor had a relative or friend been identified in breach of Clause 9. There was also no evidence to suggest that the newspaper had sought to obtain or publish material that had been acquired by using a hidden camera in breach of Clause 10.
18. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 18/02/2015Date decision issued: 24/07/2015 Back to ruling listing