Decision of the Complaints Committee – 01119-20 Dickinson v thenorthernecho.co.uk
Summary of Complaint
1. Sharon Dickinson complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that thenorthernecho.co.uk breached Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 3 (Harassment) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined "Sentence suspended for thieving Bishop Middleham school secretary”, published on 22 February 2020.
2. The article reported on a court case at Durham Crown Court in which the complainant stood accused of theft and fraud. The article reported that the complainant had changed her plea to guilty on day two of the trial. The article also contained a picture of the complainant entering the court building.
3. The complainant said that the picture of her entering the court building was taken without her consent. She said that the photographer who took it was hiding behind a pillar and was obscured by a bush. The complainant provided photos of the photographer and of the location from which the photo was taken. The complainant said that this behaviour had unnerved her and was therefore harassment. She also said that, because she was not aware of the photographer at first, she had not had the opportunity to disguise or cover her face. She was therefore identifiable, which she said breached Clause 2.
4. The publication did not accept it had breached the Code. It stated that the photographer was not hiding or disguised. Rather, as photographers are not allowed within court property, there was nowhere else for the photographer to wait, other than behind the wall, pillars or foliage. It stated that as court proceedings are public, a defendant in a court case has no reasonable expectation of privacy over their identity or a picture merely revealing it. It did not accept that the taking of a photograph constituted harassment; as part of the principle of open justice, defendants should expect to be identified or photographed when visiting court.
Relevant Code Provisions
5. 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.
6. 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.
Findings of the Committee
7. The photograph was taken of the complainant entering court; this is a venue which is generally open to, and accessible by, members of the public. Additionally, the court proceedings reported on were open to the public. The complainant was not engaged in any private activity and the photograph only revealed her likeness. The complainant did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in these circumstances. As such, the complainant did not need to give her consent to be photographed. There was no breach of Clause 2.
8. There had not been any exchange between the complainant and the photographer. There was no basis to find that a request to desist had been made. While the complainant had been startled by the presence of the photographer in the vicinity of the court, this did not constitute “intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit” in these circumstances. Clause 3 was not engaged.
9. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 21/02/2020
Date decision issued: 11/05/2020
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