Decision of the Complaints Committee – 01129-20 Freeley v ilkleygazette.co.uk
Summary of Complaint
1. Rosemary Freeley, represented by Andrew Freeley (who also represented the complainant’s daughter, Catherine Freeley) complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the ilkleygazette.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Bradford Council 'lack compassion' says daughter of pensioner suffering from rare dementia”, published on 10 February 2020.
2. The article reported claims made by the complainant’s daughter that the complainant’s local council had failed to take account of her “rare” medical condition in applying its recycling and bin policy. The article named the complainant and included comments from her daughter about her condition and how it affected the complainant. The article included more general information about the nature and symptoms of the condition, which it attributed to the NHS, and reported that the complainant had moved into her home in March 2017.
3. Mr Freeley said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. He explained that the surnames of the complainant and her daughter had been spelt incorrectly and that the complainant had not moved into her home in March 2017, as reported. He also said it was misleading to describe the condition from which the complainant suffered as “rare”, as it affected an estimated 40,000 people in the UK.
4. Whilst Mr Freeley accepted that the quotes included in the article accurately reflected what the complainant’s daughter had told the journalist, he said that the complainant’s description of the impact of the condition on the complainant did not reflect the actual position; the effect of the condition on the complainant was not as severe as the complainant’s daughter’s comments indicated. Mr Freeley also said that the complainant’s daughter’s comment, quoted in the article, that she “won’t be here next year” due to the aggressiveness of “this… illness” was inaccurate; the condition was not particularly aggressive in comparison with similar conditions, and the complainant was in good physical health.
5. Mr Freeley also complained that by including information about the complainant’s medical condition and its effect on her, and the complainant’s address, name and age, the article had breached her right to privacy under Clause 2. He said that when the complainant's daughter had spoken to the journalist, she had provided the information in order to help the journalist to understand the situation better. She had not thought that details of her mother’s medical condition would be published in the article or that she would be directly quoted.
6. The publication explained that the complainant’s daughter had contacted the newspaper on the complainant’s behalf in order to get their help with a dispute with the local council. She did not ask for the conversation to be “off the record” or ask that some of the information provided in the interview would not to be included in an article. Further, the reporter had read the article back to her prior to publication and she had not raised any objections about the inclusion of the information. On this basis, the publication maintained that the complainant had no reasonable expectation of privacy regarding the information which had been published. It also said that the fact that the complainant suffered from the condition, and that this led to her not being able to comply with the council’s bin policy, was central to the subject of the article. The publication said that the story was a matter of public interest, and therefore that including information about the complainant’s condition was justified in the public interest. During IPSO’s investigation it did, however, remove the more general information about the nature and symptoms of the condition which had been included in the article and the reference to the specific form of the condition from which the complainant suffered.
7. The publication accepted that there were errors regarding the spelling of the complainant and her daughter’s surname and the date that the complainant had moved into the house. It did not believe that these were significant inaccuracies, however it corrected the spelling error and the concerns about accuracy were raised with the journalist. It also said that prior to Mr Freeley contacting IPSO, the complainant’s daughter had contacted the publication directly, and that she had not raised any concerns about inaccuracies in the article at this time.
Relevant Code Provisions
8. 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.
9. 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.
*The Public Interest
There may be exceptions to the clauses marked * where they can be demonstrated to be in the public interest.
1. The public interest includes, but is not confined to:
2. There is a public interest in freedom of expression itself.
3. The regulator will consider the extent to which material is already in the public domain or will become so.
4. Editors invoking the public interest will need to demonstrate that they reasonably believed publication - or journalistic activity taken with a view to publication – would both serve, and be proportionate to, the public interest and explain how they reached that decision at the time.
5. An exceptional public interest would need to be demonstrated to over-ride the normally paramount interests of children under 16.
Findings of the Committee
10. The article disclosed information about the complainant’s mother’s health, including the name of the medical condition from which she suffered and details about how it was affecting her. This was clearly information that related to the complainant’s private life. Whilst reporting that the local council may not have been taking a relevant medical condition into account when applying its bin policy was a story on a matter of public interest, the publication had not sought to argue that it had considered, prior to publication, that publishing information about the complainant’s health was justified in the public interest. Absent a public interest in publishing the information, consent was required in order to avoid a breach of Clause 2.
11. The complainant’s daughter had contacted the publication to seek publicity for her concerns about the council’s actions. During an interview with the journalist, she had disclosed information relating to the complainant’s medical condition and her age without reaching an agreement with the publication that this information would not be included in the article. The Committee was concerned that, prior to publication, the newspaper had not taken adequate steps to establish that the complainant’s daughter had the legal right to act on the complainant’s behalf. However, this had been established during IPSO’s investigation of the complaint. Accordingly, in all the circumstances, consent for publication of the information had been provided by the complainant’s daughter on the complainant’s behalf. There was no breach of Clause 2.
12. The complainant’s street address was not information about which the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy as this information did not disclose anything private about her. There was no breach of Clause 2.
13. Mr Freeley also said that it was inaccurate to report that the form of dementia from which the complainant suffered was “rare”. However, where it was accepted that this form affected only 5% of dementia sufferers it was not inaccurate to describe it as “rare” and there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point. The Committee nevertheless welcomed the amendments the newspaper had made to the article in response to the complaint.
Mr Freeley accepted that the quotes from the complainant’s daughter had been reported accurately, although he contested the accuracy of what had she had said. The article had made clear that these comments had been made by the complainant's daughter; they were in quotation marks and were clearly attributed to her rather than being presented as established fact. As the article had clearly distinguished between comment and fact, and had accurately reported what had been said, there was no breach of Clause 1.
14. The newspaper had accepted that the spelling of the surnames and the date the complainant had moved into her home were incorrect, and it had amended the article accordingly. Whilst these were errors, they would not mislead readers and were not significant inaccuracies that warranted the publication of a correction under Clause 1(ii).
15. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 22/02/2020
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 30/06/2020Back to ruling listing