Decision of the Complaints Committee 16927-17 Bryan v Mail Online
Summary of complaint
1. Sarah Bryan complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Mail Online breached Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Playdate row mother who billed a friend £325 for her three-year-old's scuffed shoes says she is too terrified to leave the house after being sent death threats”, published on 12 January 2017.
2. The article reported that the complainant had received online criticism from members of the public following an interview which she had given on television. It said that the complainant had been “terrified to leave the house” after the interview, and reported that the complainant had told another publication: “If people can say such horrible things online, I’m scared of what they can do in person”.
3. The article said that the complainant lived in Wakefield in West Yorkshire, and contained a photograph of the outside of the complainant’s house, with the door number pixelated. The article also contained a photograph, taken from social media, which appeared to show the complainant dressed in a Halloween costume.
4. The complainant said that the photographs contained in the article had been published without her consent. She expressed concern that the photograph of her house had been included in the article at a time when she had feared for her safety and said that its publication had represented an intrusion into her privacy and had caused her distress.
5. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that the photograph of the complainant’s house had been taken from a public road and had depicted the exterior of the property with the house number pixelated. It did not accept that the publication of the photograph represented an intrusion into the complainant’s private life: the image was cropped tightly and did not show any identifying features of the house. It said that this photograph, together with the knowledge that the property was in Wakefield, was insufficient to identify its location.
6. The publication said that the complainant had published photographs of the inside and outside her home, on her public Twitter account which had approximately 36,500 “followers”. These photographs had been taken both before and after the article’s publication: one of these photographs had shown the complainant’s street, another had shown the complainant’s front door with the door number visible. The publication noted that the complainant had posted the photograph of her in the “costume” on this Twitter account.
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. 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 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.
Findings of the Committee
8. The Committee noted the complainant’s concern that the photograph of the exterior of her home had been published at a time when she had feared for her safety. The Committee recognised that in certain circumstances, the publication of information relating to an individual’s home, may give rise to security concerns and therefore may have the potential to be intrusive.
9. The Committee considered whether, in respect of the information contained in each of the two photographs published in the article, the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy. The first photograph had depicted the complainant in clothing which she had chosen to wear as a Halloween costume: this was not private information about her. The Committee also noted that, before publication of the article, the complainant had placed this photograph in the public domain by posting it on her publicly available Twitter account, which had approximately 36,000 followers.
10. The second photograph had shown the front wall and door of the complainant’s home; it depicted the exterior of the property as it would ordinarily be seen by members of the public. Further, the publication had taken steps to limit any additional disclosure of information relating to the property, which could have led to its identification: the door number had not been visible and the photograph had not disclosed the property’s wider location. The Committee further noted that the complainant had freely disclosed these additional details, in public twitter posts, both before and after the article’s publication.
11. The Committee did not consider that either photograph contained information about the complainant in respect of which she had a reasonable expectation of privacy, particularly as the complainant had, herself, disclosed this information, to a large audience. There was no breach of Clause 2.
12. Clause 4 says that in cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively. While the Committee noted that the complainant had been distressed from the article’s publication, it did not consider that this was a situation in which the terms of Clause 4 were engaged.
13. The complaint was not upheld.
Date complaint received: 19/07/2017
Date decision issued: 05/10/2017