Resolution Statement 14421-16/08840-16 John and Mercidita Darwin v Mail Online
Summary of Complaint
1. John and Mercidita Darwin complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Mail Online breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy) Clause 3 (Harassment) and Clause 10 (Clandestine devices and subterfuge) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in articles headlined “Canoe conman’s new life, running a stall in the slums of Manila and living in a squalid shack: So how could John Darwin and his Filipina wife pay for £25,000 car?”, published on 1 October 2016, and “Canoe believe it! Conman John Darwin who faked his own death at sea celebrates his 66th birthday by hiring… a canoe”, published on 4 November 2016.
2. The 1 October article was accompanied by an image of John Darwin standing in the sun room on the second floor of his house. The 4 November article reported that the complainants had celebrated Mr Darwin’s birthday with a holiday at a resort in the Philippines, and claimed that they had hired canoes. It reported that John Darwin had previously used a canoe as part of his “insurance scam”.
3. The complainants said that the photograph which accompanied the 1 October article was taken by a photographer sitting in a car on the street outside their house. Mr Darwin said that he was inside his house, where he had a reasonable expectation of privacy, and that the taking and publication of the photograph was intrusive. In relation to the 4 November article, the complainants said that the article represented an invasion of their privacy. In addition, they said that it was inaccurate to report that they had hired canoes, that the article misreported the name of the resort they had visited, and that it contained an inaccuracy in relation to the scale of Mr Darwin’s life insurance claim.
4. The publication said that the image of Mr Darwin which accompanied the 1 October article was taken in circumstances where he could be seen by anyone in the street, and where he had no reasonable expectation of privacy. The publication said that the 4 November article was published in good faith, after a similar article was published in another newspaper. It accepted that the article was not entirely accurate, and had misreported the scale of Mr Darwin’s insurance claim. It denied that the article intruded on the complainants’ privacy, noting that it contained photographs which Mrs Darwin had placed on a public internet page.
Relevant Code Provisions
5. Clause 1 (Accuracy)
i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.
ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and — where appropriate — an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator.
iii) A fair opportunity to reply to significant inaccuracies should be given, when reasonably called for.
iv) The Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
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. Account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information.
iii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals, without their consent, in public or private places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.
Clause 3 (Harassment)
i) Journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit.
ii) They must not persist in questioning, telephoning, pursuing or photographing individuals once asked to desist; nor remain on property when asked to leave and must not follow them. If requested, they must identify themselves and whom they represent.
iii) Editors must ensure these principles are observed by those working for them and take care not to use non-compliant material from other sources.
Clause 10 (Clandestine devices and subterfuge)
i) The press must not seek to obtain or publish material acquired by using hidden cameras or clandestine listening devices; or by intercepting private or mobile telephone calls, messages or emails; or by the unauthorised removal of documents or photographs; or by accessing digitally-held information without consent.
ii) Engaging in misrepresentation or subterfuge, including by agents or intermediaries, can generally be justified only in the public interest and then only when the material cannot be obtained by other means.
6. The complaint was not resolved through direct correspondence between the parties. IPSO therefore began an investigation into the matter.
7. Following IPSO’s intervention, the publication offered to remove the image of Mr Darwin in his house from the 1 October article, to amend the 4 November article to remove references to canoes, to amend the figure given for the scale of Mr Darwin’s insurance claim, and to correct the name of the resort.
8. The complainants said that this would resolve the matter to their satisfaction.
9. As the complaint was successfully mediated, the Complaints Committee did not make a determination as to whether there had been any breach of the Code.
Date complaint received: 21/11/2016
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 11/02/2017
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