· Decision of the Complaints Committee 04389-15 Mooney v Grimsby Telegraph
Summary of complaint
1. Amanda Mooney complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Grimsby Telegraph had breached Clause 3 (Privacy), Clause 6 (Children), Clause 9 (Reporting of crime) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in articles headlined “The ‘monster’ dad who left his baby son severely disabled”, published on 23 June 2015, and “Picture exclusive: ‘Monster’ dad who left baby son disabled enjoying job he blamed temper on”, published online on 24 June 2015.
2. The articles reported that Jon Watson had been jailed for 12 years for inflicting grievous bodily harm on his 10-week-old son, leaving him severely disabled and dependent on 24-hour care. The articles detailed the physical and cognitive difficulties the child would have to live with as a result of his injuries. They also reported that the child’s mother, the complainant’s daughter, had been given an 18-month suspended prison sentence for cruelty to a child for failing to protect her son from his father. The complainant was the child’s legal guardian.
3. The complainant said that details of her grandson’s medical conditions had been published without the consent of his guardians in breach of Clause 3. While acknowledging that no reporting restrictions had been imposed in court, family members had explicitly asked the reporters in attendance to respect the child’s privacy and not to publish his surname. She considered that his young age and disability did not mean that he had fewer rights than any other member of society.
4. The complainant said it was insensitive of the newspaper to detail her grandson’s injuries and the struggles he may face in future. This represented a failure to respect his right to privacy and medical confidentiality, and it had subjected him to unwanted and unnecessary attention. The complainant also expressed concern that the publication of her grandchildren’s current address, their “safe haven”, had put them in danger. She noted that her granddaughter, who might read the coverage in future, also had a right to a private life.
5. The complainant said that although he was not of school age, her grandson attended nurseries, play groups and specialist sessions, and the article had drawn attention to him, his disabilities, and the cause of his injuries in breach of Clause 6. She considered that the newspaper could simply have reported that a child had been injured. Instead, it had detailed the injuries, subjecting the child to unwanted attention, and allowing Mr Watson to gain notoriety at the child’s expense.
6. The complainant considered that the newspaper had shown no regard for her grandson as a victim of crime or as a vulnerable child in breach of Clause 9.
7. The complainant said the publication of a second article, which she considered had focused on her grandson, represented a breach of Clause 12. She said that it would have been more appropriate for the name of the perpetrator and the charges to be reported, without repeating the innocent victim’s personal difficulties.
8. The complainant said no public interest was served by reporting intimate, sensitive details about her grandson, and certainly no “exceptional” public interest as required in the case of a child.
9. The newspaper said it had no intention to embarrass the child or to subject him to any unwanted or unnecessary attention. It considered that it had reported the court case accurately while abiding by the rules set down by the court.
10. The newspaper said the judge had announced before the case started that all the details of the case, including the victim’s name, should be reported. He had also asked the barristers if they had any objections to there being no reporting restrictions; none were raised. The newspaper said the judge had acted in line with his clear policy to allow the newspaper to name very young victims in cases where their age meant that they could not be adversely affected by newspaper reports. In addition, the newspaper believed that a further factor taken into account was that the nature of the child’s injuries meant that he would not be inconvenienced or embarrassed by publicity.
11. The newspaper said the child’s mother had been given the opportunity in court to object to the details of the case being reported, but she had not. Furthermore, the newspaper denied that a member of the complainant’s family had asked for the child’s name not to be published. It said that a request had been made that the child’s mother’s surname should not be reported to avoid another member of the family also being identified by connection with her.
Relevant Code Provisions
12. 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.) Note - Private places are public or private property where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.
Clause 6 (Children)
i.) Young people should be free to complete their time at school without unnecessary intrusion.
ii.) A child under 16 must not be interviewed or photographed on issues involving their own or another child's welfare unless a custodial parent or similarly responsible adult consents.
iii.) Editors must not use the fame, notoriety or position of a parent or guardian as sole justification for publishing details of a child's private life.
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.
ii.) Particular regard should be paid to the potentially vulnerable position of children who witness, or are victims of, crime. This should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings.
Clause 12 (Discrimination)
i.) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's race, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.
ii.) Details of an individual's race, colour, religion, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.
The public interest
The public interest includes, but is not confined to:
i) Detecting or exposing crime or serious impropriety.
ii) Protecting public health and safety.
iii) Preventing the public from being misled by an action or statement of an individual or organisation.
In cases involving children under 16, editors must demonstrate an exceptional public interest to over-ride the normally paramount interest of the child.
Findings of the Committee
13. The Committee had a great deal of sympathy for the complainant and understood her concern to protect both of her grandchildren from unwanted attention. In considering the complaint, it also paid due regard to the particularly vulnerable position of children, which is recognised in the Code.
14. However, there is a strong public interest in open justice. Furthermore, while reports on court cases involving child cruelty may be extremely distressing for family members and others to read, newspapers play an important role in informing the public about the nature of such offences, the identity of those responsible and the consequences of their actions. In this case, it was also in the public interest to detail the child’s injuries in order to inform the public about the impact that “shaking” a baby can have on a child.
15. Courts have the power to impose reporting restrictions, and the judge in this case had clearly given careful consideration to whether such restrictions should be imposed. He had decided, however, that all the details of the case could be reported, including the child’s identity.
16. In these circumstances, and where all the reported information had been heard in open court and when no reporting restrictions had been imposed, the publication of the child’s identity and medical conditions did not raise a breach of Clause 3 or Clause 6 of the Code.
17. While the Committee understood the complainant’s position that the newspaper could have chosen not to identify the child by name, he was clearly identifiable through his relationship to his parents who were identified legitimately as the defendants in the case.
18. The Committee noted the complainant’s concern that the newspaper had published her grandchildren’s address. However, the newspaper had not specifically identified the address as being that of the children. It had published the defendants’ partial addresses, which had been heard in court and served to distinguish them from other individuals. There was no breach of the Code on this point.
19. Clause 9 makes clear that particular regard should be paid to children who are the victims of crime. However, the Clause also states that this should not restrict a newspaper’s right to report on court proceedings. While understanding the complainant’s concerns, her grandson was genuinely relevant to the story, and the judge had not imposed any reporting restrictions. The complaint under Clause 9 was not upheld.
20. The articles had not contained a pejorative, prejudicial or irrelevant reference to the child’s physical illness or disability in breach of Clause 12.
The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 09/07/2015Date decision issued: 26/10/2015