Decision of the Complaints Committee – 04489-21 Symmonds v Swindon Advertiser
Summary of Complaint
1. Karen Symmonds complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Swindon Advertiser breached Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Awards for police called to shootout in Stratton street”, published on 30 April 2021.
2. The article reported on the commendations received by officers of Wiltshire Police for their response to an incident in August 2019, providing a summary of the circumstances leading up to and including the two-hour-long armed siege. It reported that the perpetrator’s mother, the complainant, had suffered a “heart attack” during the incident, and that officers “put themselves in harm’s way to resuscitate her” by performing CPR “while ducking out of [her son’s] line of fire”. It also stated that two officers were awarded formal commendations by Judge Jason Taylor QC in November 2019 when the perpetrator was sentenced.
3. A substantially similar version of the article also appeared online with the headline “Hero police officers called to Stratton shoot out earn awards”.
4. The complainant said that the article breached Clause 2 (Privacy), because it reported that she suffered a heart attack during the incident. She said that this was private medical information and as such should not have been published.
5. The newspaper did not accept a breach of the Editors’ Code. It said that this medical information was heard in open court during her son’s case in November 2019. The newspaper provided a copy of the reporter’s contemporaneous shorthand notes in order to demonstrate this, accompanied by a transcript of the relevant notes. It said that newspapers were entitled to report on court proceedings, particularly in the absence of reporting restrictions. It added that this information was highly relevant to the story given that police officers were honoured for their response to the incident and performing CPR on the complainant under the circumstances described.
Relevant Code Provisions
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
Findings of the Committee
6. The Committee recognised the distressing circumstances surrounding this complaint, with the complainant concerned that personal medical information had been published by the newspaper.
7. The Editors’ Code recognises that publications are generally entitled to report on legal proceedings, save for particular circumstances, such as when reporting restrictions have been put in place by the court. Information given in court, where no restrictions have been imposed, has been placed in the public domain, and publications are generally free to report it.
8. The article was a report of the commendations received by officers of Wiltshire Police for their response to an incident in August 2019 which had itself been subject to legal proceedings later that year. During these proceedings, the complainant’s heart attack and details of the treatment she received from police officers were heard in court and, as a consequence, had been placed into the public domain. As such, the publication of this medical information did not represent an intrusion into the complainant’s private life. There was no breach of Clause 2.
9. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 30/04/2021
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 28/07/2021