Decision of the Complaints Committee 19498-17 Perrin v The News (Portsmouth)
Summary of Complaint
1. Gillian Perrin complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The News (Portsmouth) breached Clause 6 (Children) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “NAME THEM”, published on 27 October 2017.
2. The article reported that the police were appealing for the public’s help to identify thirty individuals who they wished to contact as part of its investigation into public disorder at a football match; spectators had reportedly “ran across the pitch aggressively” and further disorder and bad behaviour was reported to have occurred outside of the stadium, following the match. On the front page of the newspaper, images of the thirty individuals had been published. This included an unpixelated image of the complainant’s son, who had attended the football match.
3. The article was published online in substantively the same format, headlined “PICTURES: Police release 30 photos after Pompey disorder”. This article originally included an unpixelated image of the complainant’s son.
4. The complainant said that the newspaper had published the image of her son, who was thirteen years old at the time, without her consent. She said that this had caused great distress to them both. The complainant provided a copy of a letter received from the police which stated that her son had “been identified from CCTV footage as being part of…these incidents”. It also outlined that the police would not prosecute the complainant’s son for his involvement in the incident, but that it would take steps proportionate to his age and lack of previous convictions.
5. The newspaper did not accept that there had been a breach of the Code. It said that the images were published in good faith, as part of an ongoing police inquiry into a serious crime. The newspaper explained that it had initially been contacted by the police press office, who asked if it wanted to publish the story. Having agreed, the newspaper said that the police then supplied it with a press release and the images of the individuals, for the purpose of publication.
6. The newspaper said that the aim of publishing the images was to identify those pictured. Given the nature of the police appeal, it was not made aware of the names or ages of the individuals and so was not able to carry out the usual checks prior to publication. The newspaper said that as such, it did not consider the publication of the images against the terms of the Code.
7. The newspaper said that following publication, the police informed it once any pictured individual had been successfully identified and requested that their images were pixelated in the online article. The newspaper said that the complainant’s son’s face had been obscured following the police’s request, and before the complainant had made her complaint. His image was not re-published in print.
8. The newspaper said that although it could not have considered the complainant’s son’s age prior to the publication of his image, its publication was justified in the public interest, in line with detecting or exposing crime or serious impropriety. Nevertheless, the newspaper offered to publish a follow-up article which would outline that the complainant’s son had cooperated with the police investigation.
Relevant Code Provisions
9. 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.
The Public Interest
1. The public interest includes, but is not confined to:
§ Detecting or exposing crime, or the threat of crime, or serious impropriety.
§ Protecting public health or safety.
§ Protecting the public from being misled by an action or statement of an individual or organisation.
§ Disclosing a person or organisation’s failure or likely failure to comply with any obligation to which they are subject.
§ Disclosing a miscarriage of justice.
§ Raising or contributing to a matter of public debate, including serious cases of impropriety, unethical conduct or incompetence concerning the public.
§ Disclosing concealment, or likely concealment, of any of the above.
2. There is a public interest in freedom of expression itself.
3. The regulator will consider the extent to which material is already in the public domain or will or will become so.
4. Editors invoking the public interest will need to demonstrate that they reasonably believed publication - or journalistic activity taken with a view to publication – would both serve, and be proportionate to, the public interest and explain how they reached that decision at the time.
5. An exceptional public interest would need to be demonstrated to over-ride the normally paramount interests of children under 16.
Findings of the Committee
10. The Code provides specific and important protection to children. The fact that the complainant’s son was suspected of being involved in criminal activity was a matter which clearly related to his welfare. Clause 6 was engaged by the publication of a photograph of him, without parental consent. An exceptional public interest was required, to override the child’s right to protection from intrusion.
11. The photograph had been provided to the newspaper by the police, and it had been published to assist the police in the identification of individuals suspected of engaging in criminal activity. The public interest in exposing or detecting crime is specifically recognised in the Code. The newspaper had considered the public interest prior to publication, albeit not in relation to Clause 6, as it had not been aware of the complainant’s son’s age. The Committee noted that editors should be vigilant regarding the ages of photograph subjects to prevent an inadvertent breach of Clause 6. In this case, there was an exceptional public interest in publishing the boy’s photograph, and there was no breach of Clause 6. Nonetheless, the Committee welcomed the publication’s decision to swiftly remove the complainant’s son’s photograph, when the police confirmed that he had been identified.
12. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial action required
Date complaint received: 30/10/2017
Date decision issued: 10/01/2018