Decision of the Complaints Committee 04141-18 A Woman v MailOnline
Summary of complaint
1. A woman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Mail Online breached Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 9 (Reporting of crime) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Wife who exposed her 'Jekyll and Hyde' husband as a bigamist after 17-year marriage wins their £650,000 house after court hears their first divorce settlement was 'built on lies'”, published on 10 June 2018.
2. The article
described how a woman “who exposed her husband as a bigamist after 17 years of
marriage has won their £650,000 marital home back from him”. It went on to
describe the events leading to the woman’s discovery of her husband’s bigamy.
The article said that the woman had found out that her husband had spent a
Christmas at the home of the complainant and her husband, who it named. It said
that, while the woman was engaged in divorce proceedings from her husband, she
had had a phone conversation with the complainant’s husband, during which he
had said that he was her husband's brother-in-law. The article said that the
woman had subsequently spoken to the complainant, who had said that the woman’s
husband was married to her sister. It went on to describe how the woman
identified her husband’s second wife from this information. The article also
included a photograph of the woman’s husband’s marriage certificate pertaining
to his second marriage.
3. The complainant
said that the article breached Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 9 (Reporting of Crime) because it identified her and her husband by their full names in
relation to its report of the woman’s husband’s crime, without their consent,
causing damage to their reputations. She was also concerned that the article
had revealed the nature of her and her husband’s relationship to the woman and
her former husband. The complainant said that she and her husband were not
party to any of the criminal or civil proceedings in relation to this matter,
and therefore there was no justification in naming them: their full names and
identities had no relevance to the story. She said that the publication could
have avoided any possibility of misidentification simply by using a generic
term such as ‘brother-in-law’, rather than by using her and husband’s full
names. Finally, the complainant was concerned that the article had included an
image of the woman and her husband’s marriage certificate bearing her name as a
witness at their wedding.
4. The publication
denied that the article breached Clause 2 (Privacy). It said that the article
was based on an interview given by the woman to its sister paper in 2014. It
said that the references to the complainant and her husband were brief and
innocuous; there was no suggestion that they were in any way complicit in the
man’s crime. Reporting the woman’s quotations, in which she named the
complainant and her husband, did not amount to an intrusion into their private
lives, and there was no requirement to seek permission to name them. In
addition, it said that the complainant and her husband had previously been
named in a different publication in 2014, in an article which remains online,
and therefore their connection to the story was already in the public domain.
Similarly, the publication said that marriage certificates were public documents,
and publishing a photograph of one bearing the complainant’s name did not
therefore disclose any private information about her. However, as a gesture of
goodwill, the publication removed the complainant and her husband’s surnames
from the article.
5. The publication
also denied any breach of Clause 9 (Reporting of crime). It said that the
identity of the complainant and her husband was genuinely relevant to the
report of the man’s crime, because it was through contact with these
individuals that the woman discovered her husband’s bigamy. The publication
said that the original use of full names in the article was a matter of
editorial discretion where no allegations of impropriety were made against the
complainant and her husband; it said that the use of full names acted as an aid
to readers, and helped to avoid confusion in a story with a number of
6. The complainant
said that she had been unaware that she could complain about the 2014 article,
and that otherwise she would have done so.
Relevant Code provisions
7. 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. 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 9 (Reporting of Crime)
i) Relatives or friends of persons convicted or accused of crime should not generally be identified without their consent, unless they are genuinely relevant to the story.
Findings of the Committee
8. The article gave the woman’s account of how she discovered her husband’s bigamy. In doing so, it named the complainant and her husband, and explained their familial connection to the woman and her then husband. However, it did not reveal any private information about them or their lives, such as would give rise to a breach of Clause 2: the existence of a familial relationship does not ordinarily represent information over which individuals have a reasonable expectation of privacy. The article did not reveal private information about the complainant and her husband, and there was no breach of Clause 2 (Privacy).
9. Clause 9
(Reporting of crime) offers additional protection to individuals, over and
above that provided by Clause 2: it seeks to prevent the identification of
relationships which, ordinarily, would not be considered private under the
terms of Clause 2, unless they are genuinely relevant to a report of crime. The
article reported on the crime committed by the woman’s former husband, and
named the complainant and her husband in relation to this matter. Clause 9 was
therefore engaged, and the question for the Committee was whether the
complainant and her husband were genuinely relevant to the report of the crime.
10. The article
explained how it was through contact the woman made with the complainant and
her husband that she became aware of her then husband’s bigamy. In addition,
the complainant had acted as a witness at the man’s wedding, as confirmed by
the image of the marriage certificate included in the article. The complainant
and her husband were genuinely relevant to the article’s report of crime, in
that they played an instrumental role in the woman’s discovery of the crime and
her subsequent reporting of the crime to the police, and because of the
complainant’s role as a witness at the wedding. Because the complainant and her
husband were genuinely relevant to the report of crime, identifying them by
their full names in the article did not represent a breach of Clause 9
(Reporting of Crime).
10. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial action required
Date complaint received: 26 June 2018
Date decision issued: 27 September 2018
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