Decision of the Complaints Committee 20559-17 Disley v Liverpool Echo
Summary of complaint
1. Gary Disley complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Liverpool Echo breached Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Questions raised to how crook was cast in movie”, published on 13 August 2017.
2. The article reported that the complainant had been jailed in 2006 after “being caught buying secrets from a serving police officer”. It said that since his conviction had been “revealed”, questions had been raised as to how the complainant had won a role in the Hollywood movie, Creed: “there is a degree of confusion as to how Disley might have entered the US, given the stringent rules which block individuals with criminal records from visiting the country”.
3. The complainant said that his conviction was spent. He therefore had a reasonable expectation of privacy regarding this information, particularly as his conviction was irrelevant to his role in the movie. He said the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 was framed to prevent intrusions of this nature. The Act made clear that following a specified period of time, convictions (except those resulting in prison sentences of over four years and public protection sentences) may become spent, and the offender is regarded as rehabilitated. As such, there is no requirement to declare the spent conviction, for example, to prospective employers.
4. The newspaper said that the complainant did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy regarding his conviction, and it did not accept that reporting the fact of a spent conviction represented an intrusion into an individual’s private life. It had been entitled to report on the complainant’s previous conviction, which had been widely reported on in 2006; anyone could carry out a search for the complainant’s name and his conviction would be available. It also noted that the fact that the conviction was historic had been acknowledged explicitly in the article.
5. The newspaper also noted that the Information Commissioner’s Office had previously rejected a complaint that suggested that a newspaper was in breach of the Data Protection Act for holding an archived story on an individual’s spent conviction on its website. It referred to guidance, published by the Information Commissioner’s Office, to demonstrate that there was a difference between the rules applied to search engines and those applied to journalistic content.
6. The newspaper said that, in any event, how the complainant had entered the United States given his conviction, which must be declared on an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation) or a working VISA application, was a matter of public interest. It noted that the US Embassy states that “The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act does not apply to US visa law and spent convictions, regardless of when they occurred will have a bearing on a traveller’s eligibility for admission into the United States”.
7. The newspaper said that a finding that a spent conviction was private information had enormous implications for publishers, given their vast online archives. It said that it would be disproportionate and would undermine the work of the Information Commissioner, the courts and parliament.
8. The complainant did not accept that the publication of this information was justified in the public interest. He said that thousands of individuals with criminal records are able to enter the United States. He also argued that the article under complaint disclosed the information to a new audience, who would not have delved into the newspaper’s archive to find the story.
Relevant Code provisions
9. 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.
The Public Interest
There may be exceptions to the clauses marked * where they can be demonstrated to be in the public interest.
1. The public interest includes, but is not confined to:
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 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. Court proceedings take place in public, and convictions are matters of public record. However, the Committee recognised that an individual may have a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to a spent conviction.
11. In assessing whether the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to his spent conviction, the Committee carefully considered the context in which the details of it had been disclosed.
12. The complainant’s spent conviction had been disclosed in an article which reported on his role in the Hollywood film, and which had raised questions as to how he was able to enter the United States in order to work there. To that extent, the complainant’s spent conviction was relevant to his role in the film - the focus of the article - and therefore related to an aspect of his professional life. The article had further identified a matter of public interest: it had questioned how the complainant had been able to enter the United States and work there, when the country had “stringent rules” blocking individuals with criminal records from visiting. Further, the complainant’s conviction had been widely reported on previously and information relating to it remained publicly accessible online.
13. In all the circumstances and in the specific context in which it was disclosed, the Committee did not establish that the reporting of the complainant’s spent conviction, details of which were easily available in the public domain, represented an intrusion into his private life. The complaint under Clause 2 was not upheld.
14. The complaint was not upheld.
Date complaint received: 11/12/2017
Date decision issued: 11/04/2018
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