02935-19 Hale and Sharp v Daily Record

Decision: No breach - after investigation

Decision of the Complaints Committee 02935-19 Hale and Sharp v Daily Record

Summary of complaint

1. Craig Hale and Jill Sharp complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the conduct of a reporter and a photographer from the Daily Record breached Clause 3 (Harassment) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.

2. The complainants attended Livingstone Sheriff Court on 1 April 2019 in relation to charges against Ms Sharp. On leaving court, they were approached by a reporter and a photographer from the Daily Record.

3. The complainants said that as they ran approximately 75 yards from the court to the car, a reporter and photographer from the Daily Record followed them. They said that the reporter shouted questions at them and pursued them, whilst the photographer tried to take a photograph of Ms Sharp’s face which was hidden under her hood. The complainants said that when they reached their car, the photographer was pressed up against the vehicle and forced his camera lens into the vehicle’s interior, preventing Ms Sharp from closing her car door, and then ran around the car taking more photographs. The complainants said that whilst this was going on, the reporter prevented Mr Hale from closing the front door of the car, saying that he was giving him “one last chance to defend yourself before this goes to print tomorrow”, which the complainants found threatening. The complainants said that they did not make any comment or say anything to the reporter or the photographer, but Ms Sharp did tell them to “go away, go away” as she was getting into the car. Mr Hale also noted that he was attending court as a private individual in order to support Ms Sharp; he said that there was no justification in him being photographed or approached in this way. The complainants said that the conduct of the reporter and the photographer during this approach left them feeling upset and amounted to harassment in breach of Clause 3.

4. The publication said that it was sorry to hear that the complainants had been upset by the encounter, but did not accept that its journalists had acted unprofessionally, or that there was any breach of the Code. The publication accepted that the reporter and photographer had approached the complainants; however it disputed the complainants’ version of events. It said that the encounter only lasted a number of seconds. The publication said that at no point did either the reporter or photographer shout at the couple; only the reporter spoke, and this was only to inform the complainants that the publication was intending to run a story about Mr Hale’s alleged conduct, and to give him a right of reply.

5. The publication denied that the photographer had tried to force the lens of the camera into the complainants’ car as they left. It said that the photographer used a long lens, and he estimated that he was stood approximately 10-20ft from the vehicle. The reporter confirmed that Ms Sharp did shout “go away, go away” as she was entering the car, which then drove away immediately. The publication said that there was no further contact from the journalists at this point.

6. The publication provided approximately 60 photographs which were taken by the photographer during the encounter. The photographs initially showed the complainants leaving the court building, with their hoods over their faces. The publication said that these photographs were taken from a distance of approximately 15ft away. The photographs tracked the complainants’ progress to their car; the publication said that these were all taken from a similar distance. The photographs also showed the reporter following the complainants approximately 6ft behind them. The publication said these images simply showed the reporter asking the complainants for comment, not shouting or intimidating them. The photographs then showed the complainants reaching their car and getting in. The publication said that whilst the photographer had clearly moved since taking the photographs of the complainants leaving the court building, the composition of these photographs demonstrated that he remained approximately 10ft away from the complainants at all times. The publication said that the composition of the final photograph provided by the publication showed that as the complainants entered the vehicle and prepared to shut the doors, the photographer was still several feet away. The publication said that he was simply speaking to the complainants, and the photographs did not show that he had blocked access to the car, or had blocked the car from leaving. The publication said that this was the last photograph taken by the photographer, and it clearly showed that there would not have been time for the photographer to get close to the car or put the lens of his camera into the car door, as alleged by the complainants, before the doors were closed and the car drove away. The publication said that having reviewed all the photographs taken by the photographer on that day, it was satisfied that this image was the last one taken by the photographer of this encounter.

7. The complainants disputed that this was the last photograph taken by the photographer. They said that after this image was taken, the photographer proceeded to run around the car, and try and force his camera lens into the vehicle.

Relevant Code Provisions

8. 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

9. It is common practice for journalists and photographers to attempt to photograph individuals as they enter or leave court. The Committee acknowledged that there is a public interest in identifying defendants who appear in court and taking photographs of defendants who may wish not to be photographed is not necessarily a breach of the Code. Furthermore, it is common practice for reporters to put allegations to the subjects of a news report, prior to publication, in order to give them an opportunity to comment. The question for the Committee was whether the conduct of the reporter and the photographer in this instance amounted to harassment under the terms of Clause 3 in all the circumstances.

10. It was accepted that the complainants did not speak to or otherwise engage with the reporter and the photographer during the period between them leaving the court and them reaching their car. Further, the Committee acknowledged that the complainants had used the hoods of their coats to obscure their faces from the photographer. However, the requirements of Clause 3 were not satisfied as this conduct did not amount to a request that the photographer desist from photographing them. However, the Committee considered that the complainants had made a request to the photographer that he desist from taking photographs of them when they reached their car by telling him to “go away, go away”. The Committee noted that the complainants disputed that this request to desist was respected and that they said that they continued to be photographed and were prevented from leaving. Based on the photographs which had been provided by the publication (which the publication said evidenced the full extent of the interaction with the complainants), the Committee considered that there was insufficient basis to find that the publication had failed to respect the request to desist and that photographs of the complainants had continued to be taken following the request. In these circumstances, there was no breach of Clause 3(ii).

11. The accounts of the incident given by the complainants and the publication were not consistent. The Committee acknowledged that the complainants did not accept that the publication had provided all the photographs which had been taken by the photographer as they reached the car. However, it was accepted that the interaction between the complainants and the photographer was brief, as the distance between the court and the complainants’ car was short. The Committee considered that whilst the reporter and photographer had followed the complainants to the car, given the distance and the length of time over which the complainants had been photographed, this could not be considered to be a “persistent pursuit”. Further, the complainants alleged that the reporter and photographer’s conduct was intimidating; however, the photographs provided by the publication showed that the photographer was consistently at least 10ft away from the complainants and the last photograph showed the photographer standing at a distance as the complainants were closing the car door. The photographs did not appear to show the reporter shouting, or any physical contact between the reporter and photographer and the complainants. In these circumstances, the Committee was satisfied that by photographing and approaching the complainants for comment, the reporter and photographer had not engaged in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit under the terms of the Code. There was no breach of Clause 3(i).

Conclusion

12. The complaint was not upheld

Remedial Action Required

13. N/A

Date complaint received: 01/04/2019

Date decision issued: 16/07/2019

Back to ruling listing