Decision of the Complaints Committee – 11234-21 A man v liverpoolecho.co.uk
Summary of Complaint
1. A man complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that liverpoolecho.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 3 (Harassment), Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock), Clause 6 (Children), Clause 7 (Children in sex cases), Clause 9 (Reporting of crime), Clause 11 (Victims of sexual assault), Clause 12 (Discrimination), Clause 13 (Financial journalism), Clause 14 (Confidential sources) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article published in November 2021.
2. The article reported on court proceedings against the complainant in which he admitted to operating equipment beneath the clothing of another without consent. It described the complainant as a “notorious upskirt pervert” and “serial sex offender”, who had been “arrested after taking photos on his phone of a young woman's legs, crotch and bottom”. It said that he had “taken photos up women's skirts for 20 years”. It contained a statement from the complainant’s solicitor who said that the complainant’s “problems were connected to sex abuse he suffered as a child”. The article named the complainant and gave his street level address and included several photographs of him.
3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 as whilst he had been convicted of taking photographs of women these had been done in public places; he only had one conviction for “upskirting” in 2020. He said, therefore, that he had not been taking photos up women’s skirts for 20 years. The complainant said he was not aware of how many convictions he had.
4. The complainant also said that the article intruded into his privacy in breach of Clause 2. He said that, as a victim of sexual assault and an autistic person, he had been granted lifelong anonymity and that nothing about him could be published by newspapers. He said that publishing his name, photos and address was a breach of his privacy.
5. The complainant also said that the article breached Clause 11 and Clause 7 as it had identified him by name as suffering sex abuse as a child.
6. The complainant also complained under Clause 3, Clause 4, Clause 6, Clause 9, Clause 12, Clause 13 and Clause 14 for the above reasons.
7. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that it was not inaccurate to describe the complainant’s crimes as having targeted women for over 20 years, where his court cases had been reported on since 2004 regarding crimes that occurred in 2003. The publication provided copies of some of these articles which included references to the complainant taking photos of women’s lower halves, including their underwear, and taking notes of what underwear they were wearing. It said it was therefore not inaccurate to report that he had “taken photos up women's skirts for 20 years”.
8. The publication also said there was no breach of Clause 2. It said that the photographs of the complainant were taken in a public place – outside the court on a public street – where he did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy, and did not disclose any private information. Furthermore, it said it was entitled to report the complainant’s name and partial address as the details were heard in open court.
9. The publication said that Clause 11 was not breached. It noted that Clause 11 allows for newspapers to identify victims of sexual assault where “there is adequate justification and they are legally free to do so”. The publication said that the complainant’s defence lawyers had referred to the complainant’s previous abuse at many of the complainant’s court appearances, including the court case reported on in the article. The publication said that section 1(4) of the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992, stated: “Nothing in this section prohibits the publication or inclusion in a relevant programme of matter consisting only of a report of criminal proceedings other than proceedings at, or intended to lead to, or on an appeal arising out of, a trial at which the accused is charged with the offence”. It said that, therefore, there was both adequate justification and it was legally free to publish the information.
10. The publication said that the complainant’s concerns did not engage Clause 3, Clause 4, Clause 6, Clause 7, Clause 9, Clause 12, Clause 13 and Clause 14 for the above reasons.
Relevant Code Provisions
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 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.
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 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock)
In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively. These provisions should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings.
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.
v) 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 7 (Children in sex cases)*
The press must not, even if legally free to do so, identify children under 16 who are victims or witnesses in cases involving sex offences.
In any press report of a case involving a sexual offence against a child -
i) The child must not be identified.
ii) The adult may be identified.
iii) The word "incest" must not be used where a child victim might be identified.
iv) Care must be taken that nothing in the report implies the relationship between the accused and the child.
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.
Clause 11 (Victims of sexual assault)
The press must not identify or publish material likely to lead to the identification of a victim of sexual assault unless there is adequate justification and they are legally free to do so. Journalists are entitled to make enquiries but must take care and exercise discretion to avoid the unjustified disclosure of the identity of a victim of sexual assault.
Clause 12 (Discrimination)
i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's race, colour, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.
ii) Details of an individual's race, colour, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.
Clause 13 (Financial journalism)
i) Even where the law does not prohibit it, journalists must not use for their own profit financial information they receive in advance of its general publication, nor should they pass such information to others.
ii) They must not write about shares or securities in whose performance they know that they or their close families have a significant financial interest without disclosing the interest to the editor or financial editor.
iii) They must not buy or sell, either directly or through nominees or agents, shares or securities about which they have written recently or about which they intend to write in the near future.
Clause 14 (Confidential sources)
Journalists have a moral obligation to protect confidential sources of information.
Findings of the Committee
11. The publication had provided examples of court reports that documented the complainant’s crimes from as early as 2003. These contained multiple accounts of the complainant having taken photos of women “beneath the waist”, including their underwear. The complainant said he had only received one conviction for “upskirting”; however, where the complainant had been convicted of multiple crimes relating to his taking of inappropriate photos of women’s body parts without their consent, the article was not inaccurate and there was no breach of Clause 1.
12. Clause 11 explicitly states that where there is adequate justification and the press are legally free to do so, a victim of sexual assault may be identified, and , there was no indication that the court had imposed reporting restrictions on coverage of the complainant’s court appearances. The complainant’s lawyer had raised the assaults against the complainant as mitigating evidence during criminal proceedings that did not relate to said assaults against the complainant. Where the article was a report of these open criminal proceedings, and the mitigating evidence formed part of these proceedings, the Committee found that there was adequate justification. Where the information had been stated in open court during criminal proceedings that did not relate to the assault against the complainant, the newspaper was legally free to publish the information. On this basis, there was no breach of Clause 11.
13. Where the information in the article, including the complainant’s crimes, name and street level address, was heard in open court, the complainant had no reasonable expectation of privacy over this information. In addition, the photos in the article showed the complainant in a public place, walking down the street. There was no information within these images over which the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy, and he was not in a location where he would have a reasonable expectation of privacy; they disclosed the nature of the complainant’s appearance, but this did not represent an intrusion into his privacy in circumstances where the Committee had found that the publication was entitled to identify him as the defendant in the case. There was no breach of Clause 2.
14. The complainant had said that Clause 3 was breached for the above reasons. Clause 3 generally relates to the way journalists behave when gathering news, including the nature and extent of their contacts with the subject of the story. The complaint did not relate to this, and there was no breach of Clause 3.
15. The complainant also said that the article intruded into his grief and shock. Clause 4 requires that in cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries are made with sympathy and discretion, and that publication is handled sensitively. Whilst the complainant was distressed that the article had reported on the abuse he suffered as a child, the article did not report on the incident in a way that was insensitive, but simply recorded what was said in court. We did not identify grounds to investigate a possible breach of Clause 4.
16. The complainant also said the article breached Clause 6 and Clause 7. Clause 6 and Clause 7 only apply to people aged 18 and under at the time the article is published. Therefore, these Clauses were not engaged.
17. Clause 9 generally relates to the identification of the friends and family of individuals who are accused or convicted of crime. As the complainant was the defendant within the article, there was no breach of Clause 9.
18. The article had neither irrelevantly referred to, nor gave a prejudicial or pejorative reference to, the complainant’s race, colour, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation or any physical or mental illness or disability. There was no breach of Clause 12.
19. Clause 13 relates to journalists not using for their own, or others’, profit, financial information they receive in advance of its general publication. The complainant had not suggested that this was the case and there was no breach of Clause 13.
20. Clause 14 relates to the moral obligation of journalists to protect their confidential sources of information. The article reported on the complainant’s public court proceedings, and he had not been contacted as a source. On this basis there was no breach of Clause 14.
21. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 09/11/2021
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 06/04/2022Back to ruling listing