Decision of the Complaints Committee 01566-14 Hall v Sunday Post
Summary of complaint
1. James Hall complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation, on behalf of himself and his son, that the Sunday Post had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 3 (Privacy) and Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Couple stung by ‘ransom texts’ scam”, published on 21 September 2014.
2. The newspaper had reported that the complainant’s son had had his mobile phone stolen while he was on holiday in Tunisia. The article said that the thieves had threatened to post “compromising photographs” of his girlfriend from the phone on the internet unless he paid a “ransom”.
3. The complainant said that the newspaper had published the article without his son’s consent. Raw Deal, the newspaper’s consumer advice feature, had been contacted for advice on how to deal with the problem; neither the complainant nor his son had intended to supply a story for publication. In the absence of consent, the complainant considered that publication of the article had breached Clause 3 (Privacy). There was a lack of clarity regarding who had said what to the publication, as it appeared that both the complainant and his son had corresponded independently with the newspaper regarding this matter.
4. The complainant stated initially that he had been sent a letter by the newspaper which confirmed that it would not print the article, but subsequently provided a copy of a letter from the newspaper which stated that, while Raw Deal were unable to assist with his concerns, the matter would be passed to the news desk. He also said that the photograph his son had supplied had not been provided for the purposes of publication.
5. The complainant said that the article had inaccurately referred to a threat to publish “nude photographs” of his son’s girlfriend and that it had reported that the thieves had contacted his wife; the photographs were not nude and his wife had died nine months previously. He considered that publication of these inaccurate details represented a breach of Clause 1. He also said that the reference to his wife represented an intrusion into his grief and a breach of Clause 5.
6. The newspaper said that its Raw Deal team received correspondence from the complainant’s son, seeking help after the incident. This was forwarded to a news reporter who interviewed the complainant’s son and arranged for him to provide photographs. The newspaper provided correspondence in which the reporter sent the draft to the complainant’s son for copy approval, along with the complainant’s son reply saying that the article was “fine”. It strongly denied that it had induced the complainant’s son to provide photographs by suggesting that they were not publication.
7. The newspaper said that the Raw Deal section is not a free advice service – the feature makes clear that “by requesting Raw Deal’s assistance you agree for your name, location and a photograph to be published”.
8. Although there had been a reference to “nude photographs” in the draft version of the article, the reference had not appeared in the published edition. While the newspaper did not consider the reference to the complainant’s wife to represent a significant inaccuracy, it apologised for any distress caused, removed the article from its website and offered to publish the following correction: “In a story headed “Couple stung by random texts scam” in the Sunday Post on September 21, it was stated that Ryan Hall’s mum was sent threatening texts messages by a thief who had stolen his mobile phone. This was inaccurate. We are happy to set the record straight and apologise for the error”.
Relevant Code Provisions
9. 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.
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.
Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock)
i) In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively. This should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings, such as inquests.
Findings of the Committee
10. The complainant’s son had provided details of the incident to the newspaper’s Raw Deal section, a feature which publishes articles based on concerns raised by readers. While there may have been some confusion regarding the intended purpose, the correspondence provided by the newspaper demonstrated that the complainant’s son had co-operated with the production of the article, and clearly agreed to the text of the draft – which included substantially similar material to the published article. Concerns had only been raised after publication, and the newspaper had been entitled to proceed with publication on the basis that the subject of the article had given his consent. There was no breach of Clause 3. While there appeared to be a dispute regarding the request for the photograph, there were no grounds to establish a breach of the Code on this point; the photograph simply showed the complainant’s son and his girlfriend in a public place.
11. In the context of the article about the theft of the phone and subsequent blackmail, the inaccurate reference to thieves having contacted the complainant’s wife was not significant so as to require correction under the terms of the Code. The Committee nevertheless welcomed the newspaper’s offer to publish a correction on this point as a positive response to the complaint. The published article had not included a reference to “nude photographs”. There was no breach of Clause 1.
12. The terms of Clause 5 relate to the conduct of journalists, and the sensitivity of articles, in cases involving grief or shock. While the Committee understood that the reference was upsetting, the inadvertent publication of the inaccuracy did not raise a breach of Clause 5.
13. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 30/10/2014
Date decision issued: 04/03/2015Back to ruling listing