Decision of the Complaints Committee 03105-14 Allen v Worcester News
Summary of complaint
1. Brendon Allen of the Communications Workers Union complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation on behalf of Terry Jones that the Worcester News had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply) and Clause 3 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Caught on camera: Rushing Royal Mail postman who doesn’t even attempt to deliver parcel”, published on 16 December 2014.
2. The article reported that a postman, who was not named in the coverage, had been recorded on CCTV delivering a missed delivery card for a package, without attempting delivery of the package to the addressee, who said he had been inside the house at the time. It was accompanied by two images from the CCTV footage which depicted the postman leaving a post van, apparently carrying a missed delivery card but not the package, and returning to the van, having dropped off the missed delivery card. The postman’s face was pixelated in the CCTV images which accompanied the article, but the complainant explained that the man depicted was Mr Jones.
3. The complainant said Mr Jones and another postman were working in pairs under the integrated delivery process, and that the other postman had initially attempted to deliver the parcel in question. After receiving no answer, having knocked on the door and rung the bell, he started to fill out a missed delivery card. However, his pen did not work, and so he continued to finish his loop of delivery. He then went back to the van and completed the missed delivery card with a different pen. Mr Jones, the driver of the van, then dropped the card off, as captured on CCTV. The complainant said that the delivery of this card took place within ten minutes of the original knock on the door, and that during this period, the address remained within the postman’s eyesight, and no one was seen leaving or entering the property. In relation to the householder’s claim that he had been in his house during the missed delivery, the complainant suggested that there are a number of reasons why recipients of parcels do not hear postmen knocking the door or ringing the doorbell.
4. The complainant said that whilst the Royal Mail was asked to respond to the story, the newspaper did not provide this opportunity to the Mr Jones, or the Communication Workers Union.
5. The complainant said that the publication of the photograph on the front page of the newspaper, and disclosing the area in which the incident took place, identified Mr Jones, in breach of his privacy.
6. The newspaper said that its source for the story was the householder, who had said that he had received a Royal Mail missed delivery card, even though he had been in his house at the time. The householder had said that he had not heard a knock on the door, or the doorbell. He had provided images from CCTV footage, which depicted the postman delivering the card, without attempting to deliver a parcel. The newspaper said that whilst the CCTV footage was sufficient to verify the householder’s account, it had also contacted the Royal Mail to give them an opportunity to respond. A spokeswoman for the Royal Mail had said that they believed that this was an “isolated incident”, and apologised to the customer for the inconvenience caused. The newspaper did not attempt to contact the postman concerned; it explained that it did not know who he was, and that the article did not identify him.
7. After receiving this complaint, the newspaper contacted its source for the story, who explained that he had heard a delivery of mail around ten minutes before the delivery depicted in the CCTV images, but that no attempt was made to knock on the door, or ring the bell. He said that a Royal Mail manager has subsequently visited his house, and acknowledged that the doorbell worked. The source said that he no longer had the full CCTV footage for the day concerned. The newspaper said that the Royal Mail have not challenged the householder’s account, having carried out an investigation of the incident.
8. In relation to the alleged intrusion into Mr Jones’ privacy, the newspaper said that he had been carrying out his duties in a public place. In addition, it said that he had not been named, that his features were masked in the CCTV images and that the article had therefore not identified him.
9. The newspaper offered to publish a response to the article from the complainant, either as a letter or a follow up article, but on the condition that this would fully resolve the complaint. The newspaper offered to publish a follow up article containing Mr Jones’ account of the incident, but also reporting the householder’s account and the Royal Mail’s response to the incident. It said that it would be willing to publish this article without requiring the complainant to resolve his complaint.
10. The complainant declined to accept either the offer to resolve the complaint, or the offer of an article reporting Mr Jones’ account of the incident.
Relevant Code Provisions
11. 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. In cases involving the Regulator, prominence should be agreed with the Regulator in advance.
iii) The Press, whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply)
i) A fair opportunity for reply to inaccuracies must be given when reasonably called for.
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.
iii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals in private places without their consent. Note - Private places are public or private property where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.
Findings of the Committee
12. In circumstances where the postman was not named in the article, the newspaper’s reliance on the CCTV images, the householder’s account of the incident and the response from the Royal Mail demonstrated sufficient care not to publish inaccurate information. Where the concerns raised by the source of the story related to an individual employee in the performance of his work, it was reasonable for the newspaper to contact his employer.
13. Whilst the Committee recognised that there may have been an earlier attempt to deliver the parcel in question, this matter was in dispute between the parties, and the article was an accurate account of the posting of a missed delivery card, as depicted in the CCTV images. The article was not significantly misleading, such as to require a correction under the terms of Clause 1 (ii).
14. In circumstances where the article was not established to be inaccurate, there was no requirement to provide Mr Jones with an opportunity to reply under Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply). Nevertheless, the Committee welcomed the newspaper’s offer to publish a follow up article, or a letter to the editor, in order to provide Mr Jones the opportunity to provide his account of the incident.
15. Turning to address the complaint under Clause 3 (Privacy), whilst the Committee recognised that public roads are part of a postman’s place of work, the CCTV photographs were not taken in a place where Mr Jones had a reasonable expectation of privacy, nor did they reveal private information. Furthermore, the Committee noted that the article did not contain Mr Jones’ name, and that his face was pixelated in the CCTV images. There was no breach of Clause 3.
16. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date of complaint: 20/12/2014Date decision issued: 12/03/2015 Back to ruling listing