Ruling

00166-18 Dearlove v Mail Online

    • Date complaint received

      17th May 2018

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      2 Privacy, 6 Children

Decision of the Complaints Committee 00166-18 Dearlove v Mail Online 

Summary of Complaint 

1. D. Dearlove complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Mail Online breached Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 6 (Children) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Stepdad, 71, who killed 19-month-old boy by swinging him into a fireplace in 1968 is FINALLY jailed for life as boy's family speak of relief after their 47-year 'journey for justice'”, published on 1 December 2017. 

2. The article reported that on a man’s conviction for murder; it reported that the man had been seen attacking a 19 month old baby in 1968 but had only been convicted of the crime recently after new evidence had emerged. A photograph of the man, standing with his arms around a child was featured in a preview to the article, which was published on the publication’s homepage. The face of the child had been pixelated. The photograph also appeared in the body of the article. 

3.  The complainant acted in this complaint on behalf of the child’s parent. 

4.  The complainant expressed concern that the photograph of the child, who had been aged ten at the time, had been published in the article without consent. She claimed that the publication of the photograph had identified the child, who was currently in education, and had been intrusive. She said that the child had been verbally abused by an older teenager, which she believed was a consequence of the article because the male had referenced the man. 

5. The complainant also raised concern that three photographs, obtained from her personal Facebook profile which had privacy settings in place, had been published in the article without her consent. In addition to the photograph of the child, these photographs depicted the man while on holiday. 

6. The publication expressed regret that the child had experienced harassment from a member of the public. However, it did not accept that such conduct had been as a consequence of the article or that the photograph, in its heavily pixelated form, identified the child or the association between the child and the man. It said that the article did not disclose the child’s name, relationship or likeness and noted that the child was now older; the appearance of the child would have changed considerably since the photograph was taken. It said that, for these reasons, Clause 6 (Children) was not engaged. 

7. The publication disputed that the complainant had privacy settings in place on her Facebook profile. It provided screenshots of the complainant’s Facebook which showed that the photographs published in the article had been available publicly. 

8.  While it did not accept a breach of the Code, the publication removed the photograph of the child from the article, as a gesture of goodwill and in an attempt to resolve the complainant’s concerns.  

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. 

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. 

Findings of the Committee 

10. The publication had taken steps to minimise the possibility that the child would have been identifiable from the photograph by pixelating the image. The child had been photographed aged 10-years-old and is now older, albeit still a child; it was reasonable to presume that the appearance of the child would have changed significantly since the photograph was taken. However, the effect of the passage of time, and the decision to pixelate the image did not mean that Clause 6 was not engaged, as the publication had sought to argue. The child remained in education: the Committee carefully scrutinised the extent to which publication of the photograph represented an intrusion into the child’s privacy or time at school, given the nature of the conviction which the article had reported on. 

11. The effect of pixelating the child’s face, and the fact that the child was 10-years-old in the photograph, and is now much older, limited the extent to which the child would have been identifiable from the photograph. The article had not named the child, nor had it contained any information which disclosed the nature of the child’s relationship with the subject of the article. The omission of these details, the age of the photograph and the pixilation of the image, significantly limited the extent to which the child would have been identifiable to those who would not already have been aware of the child’s association with the subject of the article. In all the circumstances, publication of the photograph did not represent an intrusion into the child’s privacy. The complaint under Clause 2 was not upheld. 

12. Similarly, the Committee found that there was no breach of Clause 6 (i) (Children). For the reasons set out above, the photograph had not revealed any information about the child which was likely to lead to an intrusion into the child’s time at school. Further, while the child had been photographed aged 10, given that the child is now over the age of 16, the terms of Clause 6 (iii) were not engaged. The complaint under Clause 6 was not upheld. 

13. The screenshots from the complainant’s Facebook page provided by the publication had shown that the photographs had been accompanied by a globe icon; this demonstrated that this material was available to be viewed by the public. The publication was entitled to report on information placed in a public forum and the Committee did not establish that the photographs contained any private information about her. There was no breach of the Code. 

Conclusions 

14. The complaint was not upheld. 

Remedial Action Required 

15. N/A

Date complaint received: 12/01/2018

Date decision issued: 26/04/2018


Independent Complaints Reviewer

The complainant complained to the Independent Complaints Reviewer about the process followed by IPSO in handling this complaint. The Independent Complaints Reviewer decided that the process was not flawed and did not uphold the request for review.