Decision of the Complaints Committee – 04515-21 Brassington v stokesentinel.co.uk
Summary of Complaint
1. Kayleigh Brassington complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that stokesentinel.co.uk breached Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Seven passive aggressive or outright rude notes left on vehicles in North Staffordshire's parking warfare”, published on 1st May 2021.
2. The article reported on notes that had been left on car windscreens in the local area that it described as “passive aggressive”. The article referred to the complainant by name and stated the area in which she lived and explained that she had “posted her own angry note in response to her neighbour”. It quoted the complainant giving the following explanation of her note: “Anonymous neighbour sent a letter through the letter box to complain that car alarm had gone off a couple of times that week so I should get it sorted. I submitted my response as per the photograph.” It then reported the contents of the note and included a picture of this note in the complainant’s car window, which showed the colour and make of the vehicle.
3. The complainant said that the article was intrusive in breach of Clause 2 because it had used information that could only have been taken from her private social media account. She said that the post about the note was from 2013 and she had not given consent for the contents of this post to be used in an article. She asserted that her original post had not been shared anywhere to her knowledge. The complainant also said it intruded into her private life because it revealed her name, location, and the make and model of her car.
4. The publication said it did not accept a breach of the Code. It stated that it had not taken the information from the complainant’s private social media account. It explained that it appeared that the complainant had entered a competition in 2018 and that entries to this competition had been published in a press release. Whilst the publication no longer had a copy of the press release, due to the length of time that had passed since its release in 2018, the publication provided links to a number of articles which had covered the press release and included the complainant’s name, the photograph of the note in her car, and details of her social media post. The information that the complainant claimed to be private had, therefore, been publicly available since the press release and resulting press coverage had been published in 2018. In addition, the publication stated that the article did not disclose any information that could be considered private.
5. The complainant did not dispute that she had entered this competition but stated she had not been aware that her submission would be used in this way.
6. During IPSO’s investigation, the publication offered to remove the complainant’s name, area, and photograph from the article as a gesture of goodwill. The complainant did not accept this as a way to resolve her complaint.
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.
Findings of the Committee
7. The newspaper confirmed that it had not taken the information from the complainant’s private social media page. Instead, it said that the details relating to this complainant’s post had been in the public domain since 2018 after it had been submitted to a competition, the organisers of which had shared a press release containing the information. The publication had been able to provide several links to coverage from the time that supported its position that the information had been accessible and in the public domain for three years. While the complainant said she had been unaware that her entry would be used in this way, she did not dispute entering the competition.
8. Clause 2 states that in considering an individual’s reasonable expectation of privacy, account will be taken of the complainant’s own public disclosure of information and the extent to which information is already in the public domain. In this instance, it appeared that the complainant had, albeit unwittingly, released this information into the public domain through participation in a competition, and that the information she complained of had consequently been widely available in the public domain for the last three years. In these circumstances, the Committee did not find that the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy over the information relating to her in the article and, as such, found no breach of Clause 2 of the Code.
9. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 03/05/2021
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 07/10/2021