Decision of the Complaints Committee 01693-17 Banner v Get Surrey
Summary of Complaint
1. Stacy Banner complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Get Surrey breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 3 (Harassment) and Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “£100k fraud accused 'offered to pay for boob job and hen party to Benidorm', court heard”, published online on 18 June 2016, and an article headlined “Relative of Tilford puppy farm double murder victims convicted of defrauding callous killer John Lowe's dying partner”, published online on 2 March 2017.
2. The articles reported on the complainant’s trial and conviction for five counts of fraud, spanning the period between December 2012 and March 2013.
3. The 2 March article said that the “full details of Banner's conviction can only now be revealed after the Crown decided that it was not in the public interest to prosecute Banner’s accomplice John Lowe”, who was serving a life sentence, having been previously convicted of the murder of the complainant’s mother and sister, in February 2014.
4. The article also contained a gallery of 31 images, entitled “John Lowe GUILTY of double murder at Tilford puppy farm”. The photographs had shown the police and forensic teams outside of the property where the complainant’s mother and sister had died. It also contained a number of photographs of John Lowe, as well as earlier photographs of the complainant’s mother and sister.
5. The complainant said that the article had made a number of references to Mr Lowe’s previous conviction and the circumstances surrounding her mother and sister’s deaths. She said that in an article which reported on her trial and conviction for fraud, the publication of this information, had been handled insensitively. She expressed particular concern about the publication of images of her mother and sister, alongside images of Mr Lowe, which she said was disrespectful.
6. The complainant also said that the publication of details relating to the murder of her mother and sister, had intruded into her privacy, and had amounted to harassment.
7. The complainant said that the articles had inaccurately reported that she had been convicted of charges of fraud totalling £107,950; she said she had been found guilty of charges of fraud totalling £7,000. She also said that the article had inaccurately reported that the victim in the fraud had been suffering from dementia.
8. The newspaper did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that the circumstances surrounding the death of the complainant’s mother and sister had been genuinely relevant to the report, given the connection between the complainant, Mr Lowe, and his victims. It also said that Mr Lowe's previous conviction had been referred to in the fraud case, when he had been described as "the man who has been convicted of murdering Mrs Banner's mother and sister."
9. It provided shorthand notes taken by the reporter during the complainant’s trial which recorded that she had been found guilty of five counts of fraud, totalling £107,950. The notes further recorded that the court had heard that the victim in the fraud had been "formally diagnosed as suffering from dementia".
Relevant Code Provisions
10. 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.
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. Account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information.
iii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals, without their consent, in public or private places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.
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.
Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock)
In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively. These provisions should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings.
Findings of the Committee
11. The Committee acknowledged that the complainant had found the publication of information, which had related to the circumstances surrounding her mother and sister’s deaths, distressing. However, the article did not report gratuitous details of Mr Lowe’s crimes, and, given the connection between his victims and the complainant, this information had been relevant to the report. The Committee carefully scrutinised the images which were contained in the 2 March article. The photographs had largely been of Mr Lowe, and the outside of the property where the complainant’s mother and sister had died, and whilst the Committee acknowledged that the complainant had found the publication of these images to be disrespectful, they did not disclose excessive detail relating to the circumstances surrounding their death. In those circumstances, the Committee did not conclude that publication had been handled insensitively. There was no breach of Clause 4.
12. The newspaper had provided reporters notes, which provided a detailed contemporaneous breakdown in relation to the value of each of the complainant’s convictions, totalling £107,950; the Committee noted that the complainant did not provide any information which disputed this breakdown. The notes also recorded that the victim in the fraud had been suffering from dementia. There was no failure to take care over the accuracy of the article on these points, and the Committee did not conclude that the article contained significantly inaccurate information, such as to warrant a correction. There was no breach of Clause 1.
13. The newspaper had been entitled to report on the complainant’s trial and conviction for fraud, in circumstances where reporting restrictions had been lifted. The publication of this information, did not represent a failure to respect the complainant’s private life, nor did it represent harassment under the terms of the Code. There was no breach of Clause 2 or Clause 3.
14. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial action required
Date complaint received: 04/03/2017
Date decision issued: 23/06/2017Back to ruling listing