Decision of the Complaints Committee 14199-16 M Flowers v North Wales Pioneer
Summary of Complaint
1. Miss M Flowers complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the North Wales Pioneer breached Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 3 (Harassment) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.
2. The complainant said that a journalist and a photographer, both employed by the newspaper, had followed and taken photographs of her on various occasions since June 2016.
3. The complainant said that on a date in July 2016, the photographer followed her in Llandudno. She said that in September 2016 he took photographs of her in a car park in Llandudno, and that she was followed by him again in November 2016. The complainant also said that the journalist followed her into a second car park in Llandudno on two occasions in December 2016, and in January 2017.
4. The complainant said that the photographer and journalist had offered to pay members of the public to take photographs of her when she was seen in public places, on behalf of the newspaper. She said that, as a result of this, strangers shouted at her from their cars as they drove past her. The complainant said that being followed and photographed was not justifiable in the public interest.
5. The complainant had also complained to the North Wales Police regarding the alleged harassment. She then complained to the North Wales Police regarding their conduct in investigating her initial complaint to them, who issued a Local Proportionate Investigation Report on 16 October 2016, in relation to this. The report recorded the police’s conclusion that there was no evidence to support the allegations of harassment by employees of the North Wales Pioneer.
6. The newspaper denied that the photographer or journalist had followed or taken photographs of the complainant. It said that the complainant had not been the subject of any newsworthy activity which would lead to attempts to contact or photograph her. The newspaper also said that, having searched through its archives for the complainant’s name, no results were found. The complainant had not appeared in any published articles.
7. The newspaper said that the journalist could not have been involved in the alleged incidents which occurred prior to August 2016 as her employment with the newspaper began in August. The newspaper also said that the journalist could not have followed the complainant in Llandudno on the relevant dates in December 2016, and January 2017, because she was in the Colwyn Bay office on these days, excluding a twenty minute period at lunch time. The newspaper noted that the journalist lives twenty miles outside of Llandudno; that she was a trainee under strict supervision at the times and dates of the alleged incidents; and that she rarely left the office due to her inexperience. The newspaper said that these circumstances would have made it highly unlikely for the journalist to be able to follow the complainant as alleged, in the course of her employment.
8. The newspaper said that the photographer lives in a remote part of Snowdonia from where it would be difficult to take public transport to Llandudno. It said that his only car is a company car which has a tracker fitted to it; the newspaper said that information retrieved from the tracker demonstrated that he could not have been in Llandudno at the times and dates stated by the complainant. The newspaper also noted that the photographer was in Spain on the September 2016 date.
9. In considering the complainant’s allegation that there was an incident between herself and the photographer on a date in September 2016, the newspaper said that the photographer was abroad for two weeks in September. It said that out of the remainder of the month, there were only eight days that the photographer would have potentially been in Llandudno. The newspaper said that of the five times that the photographer had visited Llandudno, he was there for less than forty minutes on each occasion. The newspaper also said that it referred back to its electronic diary in confirming that these visits were for recognised jobs which were not in close proximity to the car park. The newspaper said that it was highly unlikely that the photographer had followed the complainant on the date in November 2016 in Llandudno, as his car was parked at his Snowdonia home from Saturday evening until Monday morning.
Relevant Code Provisions
10. 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.
Findings of the Committee
11. The newspaper had been able to provide a detailed account, by reference to GPS technology and employment records, to show that the journalist and photographer were not in close proximity to Llandudno, particularly the car parks, on the dates in question. In such circumstances, the Committee did not consider that there was credible basis to believe that the journalist or the photographer had engaged in harassing behaviour, or persistently followed and photographed the complainant. There was no breach of Clause 3.
12. For the same reasons, the Committee did not find that the newspaper had intruded into the complainant’s private life. There was no breach of Clause 2.
13. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaints received: 15/12/2016
Date decision issued: 24/05/2017