Decision of the Complaints Committee -- 09539-19 A Woman v Hull Daily Mail
Summary of Complaint
1. A woman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Hull Daily Mail breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 6 (Children) and Clause 9 (Reporting of crime) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Kids’ entertainer ‘Bobby Bubbles’ jailed for abusing a child / Children’s entertainer ‘Bobby Bubbles’ behind bars for abusing young girl who thought ‘she was in love’ with him” published on 10 December 2019.
2. The article, which featured on the front page and then continued on page 4, reported on the conviction of a man for ten historic child sex offences, including raping a child. It reported that the court heard that at the time of the offences, the victim “thought she was in love” with the man, and refused to cooperate with the police investigation – it was only when she became a mother herself that she reported the abuse. It reported that the man was well known in the local area as a children’s entertainer and clown, and that he regularly came into contact with children in his work. The article included several large photographs of the man in his role as a clown, as well as a photograph of him released by the police.
3. The article also appeared online on 9 December 2019 with the headline “Kids entertainer ‘Bobby Bubbles’ raped child who ‘thought she was in love’ with him”. The text of the article was substantially the same as the print version. However, the online version was headlined with a photograph of the man in costume, posing with two children. The children’s faces were pixelated, but their bodies and hair were not. The image which was used in this version of the article also appeared in the Google search results for the newspaper, and on the publication’s Facebook and Twitter posts advertising the article. A cropped version of the photograph showing the man with only one of the children, also appeared in an Instagram story posted by the publication.
4. The complainant was the mother of the two children included in the online version of the article. She said that her children had no connection to the man or his convictions. She said that despite pixelation, her children were still identifiable because the photograph of her children had been taken in 2017 to advertise the opening of a local venue, and had been widely circulated at the time. She said that she had been contacted by many people who were familiar with the image and recognised her children. The complainant said that the image of the children was taken in the context of a fun day, and she did not consent to its use in the context of a court report. When the complainant contacted the newspaper directly, it cropped her children from the image. However, she said that the image had been widely shared on social media by this point.
5. The complainant said that the online article breached Clause 2, Clause 6 and Clause 9. She said that her children had been distressed and confused by the use of the photograph to illustrate a court report of a convicted paedophile, an issue which she said involved their welfare. She also said that other children at school and extra-curricular clubs had been able to identify them, and had asked them about the article.
6. The complainant also said that the article breached Clause 1 as the photograph, in conjunction with the headline, gave the impression that her daughter was the victim of the convicted man. She said that many people had contacted her to ask whether this was the case, which had caused her and her daughter much distress.
7. The publication did not accept that there was a breach of the Code. It apologised for any distress caused to the complainant and her children, and noted that when the complainant contacted it directly, it had cropped the image to remove the children. It said that where the children’s faces were pixelated, they were therefore only identifiable to those who had known they had been photographed for the opening of the local venue. Furthermore, the photograph in the article did not relate to an issue involving their welfare. Nevertheless, parental consent had been given to publish the image when it was for the purposes of advertising the local venue. It said that in relation to whether the children’s time at school had been intruded upon, any child who had been able to identify the children must also have read the full article, and in doing so would understand that the victim was now an adult and so could not be the girl pictured in the photograph. For these reasons, the publication did not accept that there was a breach of Clause 6. As it did not accept that the children were identifiable, the publication said that the terms of Clause 9 were not engaged.
8. The publication said that the image had been taken with the parent’s consent for the purpose of an advertisement, and an image of the children remained on the local venue’s website. As such, it said that it could not be an intrusion into the children’s privacy to republish the image, and there was no breach of Clause 2.
9. The publication did not accept that the article gave the impression that the complainant’s daughter was the victim of the convicted man, in breach of Clause 1. It said that the article made clear that the victim, although abused as a child, was now an adult. Furthermore, any person who was familiar with the image from the advertising campaign would also be aware that the image was the one taken for the opening of the local venue, and not for the purposes of illustrating a victim of crime.
Relevant Code Provisions
10. 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.
11. 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.
12. Clause 6 (Children)*
i) All pupils should be free to complete their time at school without unnecessary intrusion.
ii) They must not be approached or photographed at school without permission of the school authorities.
iii) Children 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.
iv) Children under 16 must not be paid for material involving their welfare, nor parents or guardians for material about their children or wards, unless it is clearly in the child's interest
13. 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 under the age of 18 who witness, or are victims of, crime. This should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings.
iii) Editors should generally avoid naming children under the age of 18 after arrest for a criminal offence but before they appear in a youth court unless they can show that the individual’s name is already in the public domain, or that the individual (or, if they are under 16, a custodial parent or similarly responsible adult) has given their consent. This does not restrict the right to name juveniles who appear in a crown court, or whose anonymity is lifted.
Findings of the Committee
14. The photograph of the children only appeared in the online version of the article and on social media channels. It did not appear in the print version of the article and as such, the Committee did not make findings in relation to the print article.
15. Parental consent had been given for the photograph to be used to publicise the opening of a local venue; however, the newspaper had used the image to illustrate a report concerning the conviction of a paedophile. The Committee did not consider that the purposes for which consent had been provided covered the use of the photograph in this context. This was a highly sensitive subject, and regardless of the extent to which the children were identifiable in the image, it constituted an issue involving the children’s welfare. The image had been published in this context without parental consent, and as such, there was a breach of Clause 6 (iii).
16. It was clear that despite the steps the newspaper had taken, the children were identified by their peers, and the Committee noted the advertising campaign which meant that the image was in the public domain. Furthermore, the children had been contacted by their peers in relation to the article, some of whom had asked whether they had any connection to the convicted man or his crimes. The complainant was particularly concerned about the use of the image on social media, where it had been cropped so that only one child was visible alongside the man. The Committee considered that the article, when read as a whole, did not suggest that the children were victims of the man; it made clear that the victim was now an adult and had children of her own. However, given the sensitive nature of the article, and the presentation of the image in which the children were identifiable, the Committee considered that the publication of the image had represented an unnecessary intrusion into their time at school in breach of Clause 6(i).
17. The Committee then considered the complaint under Clause 2. The photograph of the children had been used with parental consent to publicise the opening of a venue, and simply showed the children alongside the man; it did not reveal anything private about them. In light of the complaint upheld under Clause 6(i) in relation to intrusion, the Committee did not find that there was a further breach of Clause 2.
18. The complainant had also raised concerns under Clause 1 as to whether the photograph gave the impression that her children were victims of the man. However, given the Committee’s findings under Clause 6, namely that the article made clear that the victim was now an adult with children of her own, the Committee considered that there were no further issues to pursue under Clause 1.
19. The terms of Clause 9 serve to protect friends or family of a person accused or convicted of a crime from being identified, unless they are genuinely relevant to the story. In this case, the children were neither friends nor family of the convicted man, and so the terms of Clause 9 were not engaged.
20. There was a breach of Clause 6.
Remedial Action Required
21. The Committee considered that the appropriate remedy to the breach of Clause 6 was the publication of an adjudication. The breach of the Code had occurred only in the online article; as such the adjudication should be published online, with a link to it (including the headline) being published on the newspaper’s homepage for 24 hours, as well as via a link on the publication’s social media channels where the photograph had appeared. The publication should contact IPSO to confirm the amendments it now intends to make to the online material, including social media posts, to avoid the continued publication of material in breach of the Editors’ Code of Practice.
22. The terms of the adjudication for publication are as follows:
Following an article published on 10 December 2019, a woman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Hull Daily Mail breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 6 (Children) and Clause 9 (Reporting of crime) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Kids entertainer ‘Bobby Bubbles’ raped child who ‘thought she was in love’ with him”.
The article reported on the conviction of a man for historic child sex offences, including raping a child. The article included a headline photograph of the man posing with two children. The children’s faces were pixelated, but their bodies and hair were not.
The complainant was the mother of the children who were included in the photograph. She said that she had not given consent for the image to be used in the context of a court report – the use of the photograph in the article had caused her children much distress, and they had been asked by peers who recognised them whether they had any connection to the convicted man. The publication said that the children were not identifiable because the photograph was pixelated, that the image was already in the public domain, and that readers of the whole article would understand that the children were not connected to the man.
IPSO found that the use of the image in the article was so different for the purpose for which it was originally taken, that the parental consent that was originally given did not stand in this context. The article covered a highly sensitive subject, and so the newspaper had published a photograph of the children on an issue involving their welfare, without parental consent. Furthermore, as the image was already in the public domain, people were able to identify the children.
The children had been identified because the image had been well-publicised elsewhere in an advertising campaign. They had been contacted by their peers in relation to the article, some of whom had asked whether they had any connection to the convicted man. This was upsetting to the children and constituted an unnecessary intrusion into their time at school.
For these reasons, IPSO found that the article breached Clause 6.
Date received: 14/12/2019
Date concluded by IPSO: 22/04/2020Back to ruling listing