11817-20 Sharp v mirror.co.uk

Decision: Breach - sanction: publication of adjudication

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 11817-20 Sharp v mirror.co.uk

Summary of Complaint

1. Christine Sharp complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that mirror.co.uk breached Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 3 (Harassment) and Clause 9 (Reporting of crime) in an article headlined “Serial stalker who boasted about fictional 'wild sex life' ruined couple's lives” published 18 July 2019.

2. The article reported on the sentencing of the complainant’s daughter, who had been convicted of a criminal offence. It noted that the complainant’s daughter “lives with her mum and dad in Airdrie”. The article also included a photograph which was captioned “[the complainant's daughter] is led away by police after being arrested in 2017". In the photograph the complainant was visible in the background, standing and looking out of a doorway of a house. The house was the home of the complainant, where her daughter was living at the time of her arrest. The photograph also showed part of a plaque on the exterior wall of the house, which included the name of the road and the family’s name, although the name of the road was partly obscured. The text of the article did not name the complainant.

3. The complainant said the article breached Clause 9 as the photograph identified her as a relative of a person accused and convicted of crime, namely her daughter. Whilst she was not named in the article or photograph caption, the complainant considered that readers would assume her identity as a relative given that her and her daughter were both pictured at the entrance to the family home. The complainant also said the article breached Clause 2 as it contained a photograph of her likeness and address plaque. The plaque was partially obscured but showed the family name: ‘Sharp’. The complainant said that the photograph had been taken without her knowledge and consent whilst her daughter was being arrested. She said she had come to the front door in order to comfort her daughter but remained within the house. She had been distressed by the situation, the policemen searching her home and the large crowd gathered on the street. Only later did the complainant realise there was a photographer outside the property. The complainant said that the publication of the article breached Clause 3 and had led to harassment from members of the public.

4. The publication did not accept it had breached the Code. In respect of the complaint under Clause 9, it accepted that the complainant was not genuinely relevant to the story, but it pointed to the fact that the complainant was not identified by name in the article. It also pointed out that the complainant had identified herself as a relative of her daughter by sharing her daughter’s Facebook post about a previous IPSO ruling on her own public Facebook page in May 2020. It also said it understood that the complainant visited the court on two occasions during her daughter’s trial and waited for her in the court café.

5. The publication denied any breach of Clause 2. It noted that the address plaque was obscured in the photograph. In any event, it said that an address is not generally private information and, in this case, was already in the public domain as the registered address of the complainant’s daughter’s company. It stated that the photograph had first been published in March 2019, albeit with the complainant cropped out; and first published with the complainant visible in a print article of 17 July 2019. Further, it stated that the delay in the complaint being made indicated that there was limited intrusion within the meaning of Clause 2. Finally, the publication emphasised that the complainant could have been viewed by any passer-by such as those in the crowd which had gathered outside the property at the time of the arrest and maintained that no private information was disclosed in the photograph as it only revealed the complainant’s likeness. The newspaper pixilated the complainant’s face and the address plaque upon receipt of the complaint. The publication said that Clause 3 was not engaged, as the complainant’s concern did not relate to approaches from journalists, which the Clause covers.

6. In response, the complainant said that she had posted publicly on Facebook about a previous IPSO ruling relating to her daughter only after that ruling was in the public domain, and 10 months after the article under complaint was published. In addition, whilst she accepted that she had visited the court café once at the time her daughter’s trial and waited for her daughter, she said she did not enter the courtroom itself, did not arrive with her daughter and had initially visited the court building in relation to other business.

Relevant Code Provisions

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. 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.

Findings of the Committee

10. The first consideration under Clause 9 is whether the complainant was identified as the friend or relative of someone accused or convicted of crime. The Committee considered that readers of the article would have inferred that the arrest was taking place at the home of the person being arrested due to her surname being visible on the address plaque and the residential nature of the property. It was likely that readers would have assumed that the complainant was also a resident at the property given that she was not wearing outdoor clothing and was standing inside the house at the time the photograph was taken. The Committee noted that the article reported that the person being arrested “lives with her mum and dad in Airdrie” and thus readers would have inferred that the complainant was likely the “mum” of the person arrested. Whilst the complainant had not been named in the article, the Committee concluded that the information contained in the photograph itself, taken together with the information reported in the text of the article, identified the complainant as a relative or friend of the individual who was being arrested and who had later been convicted of a crime, as reported in the article.

11. The Committee noted that the publication had accepted that the complainant was not genuinely relevant to the story. Further, the complainant’s public comments about an IPSO ruling relating to her daughter were made subsequently and therefore did not provide a basis for a finding that she was genuinely relevant to the story at the time of publication. There was a breach of Clause 9.

12. The Committee next considered whether the photograph related to the complainant’s private life such that its publication engaged the terms of Clause 2. The complainant was standing inside the doorway of her home when the photograph was taken and, in these circumstances, Clause 2 was engaged. The Committee then turned to the question of whether the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to the information contained in the photograph. The published photograph had revealed the complainant’s likeness, and this was information which could be seen by the members of the public who had gathered outside the property at the time the photograph was taken. The Committee noted that the photograph, in conjunction with the text of the article, had identified the complainant as a relative or friend of the subject of the article. However, a familial connection or friendship is not generally information in respect of which an individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy. In these circumstances, the Committee found that the complainant did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in respect of the information about her which was contained in the photograph and there was no intrusion into the complainant's private life by its publication. There was no breach of Clause 2.

13. The complainant said that the publication of the photograph had also breached Clause 2 by revealing her address. The Committee noted that someone’s address is not generally private information. Moreover, the complainant’s full address was not visible in the image as it was obscured. There was no breach of Clause 2 on this point.

14. The complainant was concerned that the article had led to harassment from members of the public. Clause 3 generally relates to the way journalists behave when researching a news story and is meant to protect people from being repeatedly approached by the press against their wishes. Where the complainant did not argue that the alleged approaches were made by people working for the newspaper, and where there was no evidence of this having occurred, the terms of Clause 3 were not engaged.

Conclusions

15. The complaint was upheld under Clause 9.

Remedial Action Required

16. Having upheld the complaint, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required. In circumstances where the newspaper had breached Clause 9, the publication of an adjudication was appropriate.

17. The complaint related to material published in an online article. Therefore, the adjudication should also be published on the publication’s website, with a link to the full adjudication (including the headline) appearing in the top 50% of stories on the publication’s website for 24 hours; it should then be archived in the usual way. If the newspaper intends to continue to publish the online article without amendment to remove the breach identified by the Committee, the full text of the adjudication should also be published on the article, beneath the headline. If amended to remove the breach, a link to the adjudication should be published with the article, explaining that it was the subject of an IPSO adjudication, and explaining the amendments that have been made. The publication should contact IPSO to confirm the amendments it now intends to make to the online material to avoid the continued publication of material in breach of the Editors’ Code of Practice. The headline to the adjudication should make clear that IPSO has upheld the complaint, give the title of the publication and refer to the complaint’s subject matter. The headline must be agreed with IPSO in advance. The terms of the adjudication for publication are as follows:

Christine Sharp complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that mirror.co.uk breached Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 3 (Harassment) and Clause 9 (Reporting of crime) in an article headlined “Serial stalker who boasted about fictional 'wild sex life' ruined couple's lives” published 18 July 2019.

The article reported on the sentencing of the complainant’s daughter after her conviction for a criminal offence. The article included a photograph which was captioned “[the complainant's daughter] is led away by police after being arrested in 2017". In the photograph the complainant was visible in the background, standing and looking out of a doorway of a house as the arrest was taking place.

The complainant said that the article breached Clause 9 as she was identified as a relative of someone convicted of crime in the published photograph in circumstances where she was not genuinely relevant to the story. She said readers would assume her identity as a relative given that her and her daughter were both pictured at the entrance to the family home. The publication maintained that the complainant was not identified as the friend or relative of someone accused or convicted of crime as she was not named in the article and her relationship to her daughter was not explicitly mentioned.

IPSO considered that readers of the article would have inferred that the arrest was taking place at the home of the person being arrested and it was likely that readers would have assumed that the complainant was also a resident at the address. It also concluded that readers would have assumed that the complainant was likely to be a relative on the person being arrested, given that the article noted that the person being arrested “lives with her mum and dad in Airdrie”. Whilst the complainant had not been named in the article, the Committee concluded that the information contained in the photograph itself, taken together with the information reported in the text of the article, identified the complainant as a relative or friend of the individual who was being arrested and who had later been convicted of a crime, as reported in the article.

Where there was no basis for a finding that the complainant was genuinely relevant to the story at the time of publication, there was a breach of Clause 9.

 

Date complaint received: 3/7/2020

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 3/3/2021

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