Ruling

00555-16 Best v Sunday Life

    • Date complaint received

      21st March 2016

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      3 Harassment

Decision of the Complaints Committee 00555-16 Best v Sunday Life

Summary of complaint

1. Adele Best complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Sunday Life breached Clause 3 (Harassment) of the Editors’ Code of Practice on 29 January 2016.

2. The complainant had applied for an interim injunction to prevent the newspaper from publishing a story about her. On 29 January 2016, the complainant lost the case. She expressed concern that as she left the High Court in Belfast, she was harassed by a photographer and the newspaper’s Head of News.

3. Following the verdict, the complainant said that as she left the court, she saw a photographer taking photographs of her with a long-lens camera. She said that she approached him and said “I do not authorise these photos whoever you are”; to which he replied “you are standing in a public place and I can take whatever photos of you I want”. The complainant considered that the photographer had continued to take photographs despite her request for him to stop. She said that he had not made clear that he was working for the Sunday Life, and refused to show her his ID when she requested it.

4. The complainant said that during her confrontation with the photographer, the newspaper’s Head of News approached. She recognised him because he had been present in court, but he did not produce any ID. It was only at this point that she understood that the photographer also worked for the Sunday Life.

5. The complainant said that the Head of News repeated that they were entitled to take photographs of her because she was standing in a public place. She repeated that she did not consent, and added that she “hoped he was happy that he was going to ruin her professional career and life by printing a very salacious story”. The Head of News repeated his position, adding “I’ll see you around Bangor”, which the complainant said was in a tone that was “intimidating, threatening and menacing”. She said that at that time, she had been unaware that the Head of News also lived in Bangor and believed that the remark implied that he was going to “hunt” her and continue to publish stories about her. She said that the photographer had continued to take photographs of her during this conversation.

6. The complainant accepted that she had called the Head of News “scum” during the confrontation, and apologised for doing so, although she considered that her actions were understandable in the circumstances.

7. The newspaper said that the photographer had been stationed in the pedestrian area on the opposite side of the street to the High Court building, some six metres away from the complainant. The newspaper’s Head of News had left court before the complainant; he had no intention of approaching her because he understood that she would be upset following the verdict.

8. The newspaper said that as she left court, the complainant had been looking at her mobile telephone, unaware that she was being photographed. When she realised, the newspaper said that she had “marched” towards the photographer, demanding that he showed her his ID. The photographer stopped taking photographs, said that he worked for the Sunday Life, and began to search for his ID. The Head of News saw the confrontation, approached and said “what’s the problem?”. The newspaper denied that the complainant had been told that they could “take whatever photos” they wanted. It also considered that the complainant had not requested the Head of News’ ID; he had been present in court and the complainant had been fully aware of his identity.

9. The newspaper said that the complainant had “launched into an angry speech”, saying “you are scum…you are just utter scum and I hope your conscience keeps you awake at night”. The newspaper said that the Head of News and photographer had initially remained silent, understanding that the complainant had been upset by the verdict. It accepted that the Head of News had said “see you around Bangor, Adele”, but considered that it was said “gently” in a “tone of resignation”. It considered that it had been a mild rebuke in response to the complainant’s insulting remarks, and had been meant as an indication that they were both from Bangor, a small town in which they were virtually neighbours, and would meet again. It considered that the complainant’s contention that the comment had been menacing and threatening was a “complete distortion”. She had walked away, and the Head of News and photographer had walked in the opposite direction.

10. The newspaper noted that the series of pictures of the complainant outside court were taken over eight seconds. It provided the six images; four of which were taken before the complainant became aware that she was being photographed, and two in which she was looking directly at the camera. The complainant considered that the last two images were taken as she was talking to the photographer, and after she had made her objections clear.

Relevant Code Provisions

11. 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

12. From the complainant’s account, it was not entirely clear whether or not she had made a request for the photographer to desist from taking photographs. The newspaper, however, had understood that, in the context, a request to desist had been made.

13. The newspaper had provided the roll of photographs taken of the complainant outside court. The images had been taken over a period of eight seconds. In the first four images, the complainant had been unaware that she was being photographed; the last two showed her looking directly at the camera alert to the fact that her photograph was being taken. It was at this point that the complainant had told the photographer that she did not consent to being photographed. The roll provided by the newspaper appeared to indicate that no further images were taken. The Committee was satisfied that the newspaper had not failed to respect the complainant’s request to desist; there was therefore no breach of Clause 3 on this point.

14. It was accepted that the parties had become involved in an altercation outside the court. The complainant had been abusive to the newspaper’s Head of News, calling him “utter scum”; and the newspaper’s Head of News had responding by saying “see you around Bangor, Adele”. While the Committee noted the complainant’s concern about the Head of News’ comment, he had not been prevented from responding to her remarks. He did not make further comments, and he did not follow the complainant as she walked away. In these circumstances, the Head of News’ comment did not represent intimidation or harassment in breach of Clause 3.

15. The complainant had asked the photographer to identify himself, and disputed the newspaper’s position that he had said that he represented the Sunday Life. Regardless of this, the photographer’s identity was made clear when the newspaper’s Head of News, who was known to the complainant, approached the pair. The Head of News and the photographer were not obliged to produce documentary evidence of their identities. There was no breach of Clause 3.

Conclusions

16. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

N/A

Date complaint received: 02/02/2016
Date decision issued: 21/03/2016