Decision of the Complaints Committee – 03134-21 Price v
Summary of Complaint
1. Connor Price complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Hereford Times breached Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief and shock) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Helicopter crash in Herefordshire”, published on 2 April 2021.
2. The print version of the article reported on a helicopter crash, in which two individuals suffered “minor injuries”. The article described the location of the crash, and contained a quote from the spokesperson of the ambulance service which stated that a man and a woman “were already out of the helicopter” when the ambulance arrived, and “were treated for injuries not believed to be serious at the scene” before being taken to hospital for further assessment. The article contained an image of the helicopter lying on its side in the field, and a group of seven people seen at a distance next to it.
3. The article also appeared online under the headline “Latest updates: Helicopter crash in Herefordshire”. It was a live article, which was updated on nine occasions between 3.29pm and 6.02pm. The first version stated that there had been “reports of a helicopter crash near Ledbury”. At 3.46pm the newspaper gave the approximate location of the crash. At 3.50pm the article was updated with a statement from a police spokesperson which stated that “[t]wo people were on board the helicopter and while the extent of injuries is not yet known, they are not believed to be serious”. At 5.10pm the image that was published in the print newspaper was released online. At 5.29pm a second image was released, this time closer to the helicopter, which showed the scene including police, paramedics, a group of onlookers, and a man walking away from the crash.
4. The article was also shared on Facebook. The second image, including the man walking away from the helicopter, was shared along with the headline “Latest updates: Helicopter crash in Herefordshire” and had the caption “News just in. We’ll bring you updates when we get them”.
5. The complainant was the son of the man involved in the helicopter crash, and the woman involved was his step-mother. He said he was not making his complaint on their behalf, but as a third party family member in the aftermath of the accident. He said that the article breached Clause 2 as it intruded into his private and family life. He said that the helicopter was clearly identifiable from its markings, which were unique within the local area. He said that the man walking away from the helicopter was his father, who had been photographed just minutes after leaving the crash. He said both his father and step-mother were in shock and his step-mother was being treated by paramedics at the time the images were taken.
6. The complainant also said that the timing of the article intruded into his grief and shock as the post was published on Facebook with the photograph of the helicopter whilst he and his brother were at the crash site, between 3.50pm and 5.45pm, and his family members were still in hospital. He said his father and step-mother were in hospital when he arrived at the crash site, and this did not give enough time for all members of his family to be informed of the crash, which led to his grandmother seeing this image before she had been told of the crash and the status of those involved. He also said that as the image showed his father walking away from the crash in a state of shock, it was a breach of Clause 4.
7. The complainant said there were also multiple photographers at the scene who were rude and unsympathetic to him and did not leave when asked by his brother, whilst his father and step-mother were at the hospital. He said that these approaches were not enquiries or approaches made sensitively. The complainant originally said he believed that the person who was rude to him was a representative of the newspaper; however, he later accepted he had assumed this and could not verify this; the person had not been wearing identification and had not otherwise identified themselves as representing the publication. He believed it may have been the same person who sent the photographs to the newspaper as the direction and distance from which the photos were taken in relation to the site were similar.
8. The publication apologised for any distress caused by the publication of the article, but did not accept a breach of the Code. It noted that the complainant was not in any of the photographs nor was he mentioned in the text of the article; it did not consider that he had a reasonable expectation of privacy over the information published. It said that, in any case, the complainant’s father and step-mother also did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy, as the crash was in a public place and the photographs had been taken from a public highway. The publication said neither the helicopter, nor the people within the image, were identifiable in the photographs. In addition it said that, as the incident was public, the information in the article, which reported only bare facts and did not identify the victims, could not be considered to be private. The publication also said that the incident was of great public interest, which had been considered in advance of publication. It noted that a significant number of people would have seen the aircraft come down near the town, and would have questions about what had happened, which the article answered by confirming there were no deaths or serious injuries.
9. The publication said that the timing of the article did not represent a breach of Clause 4. It noted that at 3.50pm the police issued a formal notification on Twitter, which had stated that the injuries were not believed to be serious and identified the precise location of the crash. It said prior to this Tweet the article had only stated that there had been a crash near Ledbury, and it was subsequently updated to reflect that those involved were not considered to be seriously injured. It was only over an hour later that the photographs were added to the online article, when the information was in the public domain and had been published by multiple outlets. The publication also said that the article had been uploaded to Facebook at 3.30pm with a stock image, and this was refreshed at around 5.30pm with a photograph of the crash. The publication included a screenshot of the Facebook post with the “remove preview” button having a timestamp of 17.27 on the date of publication. The publication said that it had not made any enquiries or approaches to anyone connected to the incident and had only reported the bare facts of the incident, and therefore could not breach Clause 4.
10. The publication also said that it had not sent any photographers to the scene. It said the images it published had been supplied by a member of the public without the newspaper’s solicitation. The newspaper provided messages from the person who had supplied them with images. It had contacted the person after receiving the complaint in order to determine whether they had indicated they were from the newspaper. The person had said they had not left their car, which was in heavy traffic, or interacted with anyone, but had seen members of the public at the scene. The newspaper said that this, therefore, could not be a breach of Clause 4.
Relevant Code Provisions
Clause 2 (Privacy)*
i) Everyone is entitled to respect for their private and family life, home, physical and mental 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.
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 considers matters raised under Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock) to the extent that they relate to the position of the complainant; it does not consider third-party complaints under these clauses. The complainant had confirmed that he was complaining on his own behalf, as part of the family, not on behalf of those photographed. The Committee emphasised that for this reason it was not considering a complaint about potential intrusion into the privacy or shock of those directly involved in the incident, and its decision on this complaint did not affect their ability to complain in future.
12. The Committee considered whether the article included any information which intruded into the complainant’s private life. It noted that the complainant did not appear in the photographs, and was not referenced in the article. The article was a report of an incident in the local community based in part on information put into the public domain by emergency services and disclosed no information about the complainant, either in the photograph or text of the article. In these circumstances, there was no intrusion into his private life and no breach of Clause 2.
13. The timing of the publication of an article that involves personal grief and shock can lead to a breach of Clause 4 in certain circumstances; for instance, immediate family members should not be made aware of a death by the publication of an article. The Committee noted the difference between the online and print article. The print article had been published in the evening, with a complete summary, whereas the online article had been a live article that was updated as the situation developed. With regards to the timing, the complainant said that the information under complaint was that which was published online and on Facebook. He said the publication of the photograph of the distinctive helicopter in the online article and Facebook post identified the crash. While there was some dispute over the precise time at which this image had been published online, it could be established that the photograph was published after the police had released a public statement on Twitter which specified the location of the crash and the belief that injuries were not serious, and this information was included within the article. Furthermore, it was not in dispute that the complainant and his brother had been aware of the incident prior to the publication of the photograph and, indeed, were already attending the scene at the time it was first published. Given that the police had confirmed prior to publication of the photograph that the injuries of those involved in the crash were not believed to be serious and that this information was included in the version of the article published at the time the photograph was added, the Committee did not find that the newspaper had failed to handle publication of this story sensitively, and did not find a breach of Clause 4.
14. The complainant had also complained that the photograph of his father, walking away from the crash site in a state of shock intruded into his grief and shock in breach of Clause 4. The image was from afar, and did not show the complainant’s father’s facial expression or other signs of distress. The Committee found that, whilst seeing images of such a crash may be upsetting to a family member, where the person was not receiving treatment, and was not shown to be in pain or distress, an image of a person walking at a distance did not meet the threshold of intruding into a family member’s grief or shock. There was no breach of Clause 4. The Committee nonetheless emphasised again that this did not affect any potential complaint from the complainant’s father relating to his own position.
15. The complainant also said that the behaviour of photographers at the scene had amounted to a breach of Clause 4 as the approaches to take photos had not been made with sympathy. The publication had said that it had not sent any photographers or journalists to the scene, and that the images it had used were taken from far away on a public road by a member of the public. It had provided a message from this individual, confirming they had not interacted with anyone at the scene of the incident. The complainant accepted that he could not verify that the photographer was from the newspaper, and that his belief the images were taken by the person who had spoken to him was based on the direction the images had been taken from. The Committee was not able to reconcile these conflicting accounts, but noted that the newspaper had provided evidence to support its position about the circumstances in which the photographs had been taken. It also noted that the images that had been published by the publication had been taken whilst the complainant’s father and step-mother were still present at the crash site, before the complainant had arrived at the scene. In all these circumstances, the Committee could not establish that the person whose activities had caused the complainant concern was the same person who had sent the photographs to the newspaper. It did not, therefore, establish a breach of Clause 4 on this point.
16. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 02/04/2021
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 25/08/2021