Ruling

01360-21 A man and a woman v Liphook Herald

    • Date complaint received

      15th July 2021

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of adjudication

    • Code provisions

      2 Privacy, 4 Intrusion into grief or shock, 9 Reporting of crime

Decision of the Complaints Committee 01360-21 A man and a woman v Liphook Herald

Summary of Complaint

1. A man and a woman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Liphook Herald breached Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief and shock) and Clause 9 (Reporting of crime) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article published in February 2021.

2. The article reported on the court case of a man who had admitted sexually assaulting a woman. The complainants were the man’s parents.

3. The article gave details of the crime, and commented that the defendant was the son of the former chairman of a local parish council, naming both the parish council and the male complainant. The article also contained a photograph of the defendant and the male complainant, which was captioned: “[named defendant] with dad, and ex-parish council chair, [named father]”. It included a quote from the defendant, who worked as a producer, which had been taken from a previous interview with the same newspaper which referred to both his “dad” and “mum” having appeared as extras in a programme he was working on. My mum also made an appearance as an extra in the second series.” The defendant’s mother, the female complainant, was not named. The article also referred to the illness of the defendant.

4. The complainants said that the article identified them as relatives of someone convicted of a crime in breach of Clause 9. The father said he had not consented to being named and photographed in the article, and the mother had not consented to being referred to. They said that neither of them was genuinely relevant to the story, as they played no role in the crime and had not attended court proceedings. The complainants said that their relationship with their son would be known within their village, but was not widely known further afield.

5. The complainants said that they had a reasonable expectation of privacy over their relationship to their son, and that the focus on their relationship in the article intruded into their private lives. The complainants also said that due to their son’s illness and the stress of the court case, they were in a state of grief and shock, and that by identifying them in the article the journalist had intruded into this.

6. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. While the defendant’s father had been identified in the article, it believed that he was genuinely relevant to the story: he was a prominent public figure in the area due to his work for the district and parish council over three decades. Furthermore, some years earlier it had published an article, written with the family’s involvement and featuring images of the father and son together, which reported that the complainant had appeared as an extra in a television programme produced by his son. This made the complainants relevant to their son’s career and their relationship with him was, in the view of the publication, well established in the public domain to the extent that Clause 9 would have no useful purpose. Furthermore, the publication believed that due to the father’s position, his inclusion was in the public interest. It said that the editorial team had discussed this issue in advance of publication, and concluded that the previous article connecting the complainants and their son rendered them relevant to the story. The publication said that the quote: “My mum also made an appearance as an extra in the second series" did not identify the other complainant.

7. The publication said that for similar reasons, the article did not breach Clause 2; both complainants had publicly disclosed their relationship with their son so they did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy over this information and the newspaper was entitled to print it.

8. The publication expressed its condolences to the complainants over what their family was going through. However, it noted that their son’s illness was spoken about in court as the reason for the delay in proceedings. It said that it had reported the article sensitively and had not sensationalised the facts; the reporting was restrained and responsible, and it omitted details it was legally entitled to publish.

Relevant Clause Provisions

9. Clause 2 (Privacy)*

i) Everyone is entitled to respect for their private and family life, home, physical and mental health, and correspondence, including digital communications.

ii) Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual's private life without consent. In considering an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy, account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information and the extent to which the material complained about is already in the public domain or will become so.

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.

Clause 9 (Reporting of Crime)*

i) Relatives or friends of persons convicted or accused of crime should not generally be identified without their consent, unless they are genuinely relevant to the story.

ii) Particular regard should be paid to the potentially vulnerable position of children under the age of 18 who witness, or are victims of, crime. This should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings.

iii) Editors should generally avoid naming children under the age of 18 after arrest for a criminal offence but before they appear in a youth court unless they can show that the individual’s name is already in the public domain, or that the individual (or, if they are under 16, a custodial parent or similarly responsible adult) has given their consent. This does not restrict the right to name juveniles who appear in a crown court, or whose anonymity is lifted.

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:

  • 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 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. Clause 9 makes clear that relatives or friends of persons convicted or accused of crime should not generally be identified without their consent, unless they are genuinely relevant to the story.

11. The Committee first considered the position of the defendant’s father, the male complainant. He was named and photographed in the article, and it was not in dispute that he had been identified. The Committee therefore considered whether he was genuinely relevant to the story.

12. The story centred the crime of the complainants’ son. It was accepted that the complainants had no part in the crime, or their son’s trial. While the complainants had on occasion in the past featured in articles which disclosed their relationship to their son with regard to his position as a producer, the Committee considered that this fell short of making them genuinely relevant to the story of the article under complaint: namely their son’s crime.

13. The publication had said that the connection between the identified complainant and his son was so well established in the public domain that Clause 9 would have no useful purpose. The Committee acknowledged that there may be occasions where the nature of a familiar connection is so well-established in the public domain that the purpose for which Clause 9 is intended, of protecting innocent friends and relatives from association with crime and allegations of crime, is no longer relevant. However, in this case, the relationship between the complainant and his son clearly fell short of this threshold. There was a breach of Clause 9 with relation to the defendant’s father, the male complainant.

14. The second complainant had not been named or photographed within the article, and the only reference to her had been a quote from her son about her appearance as an extra, in which she was referred to only as “mum”. On this basis, the Committee concluded that she had not been identified and Clause 9 was not engaged.

15. The complainants also said that the revelation of their family connection to their son breached their privacy and intruded into their grief and shock. Notwithstanding the breach under Clause 9, the complainants did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy over their relationship to their son, which was a matter of public record and had been previous established in the public domain, albeit not widely. There was no breach of Clause 2.

16. The Committee finally considered the complaint about intrusion into grief and shock. It noted that this was a report of court proceedings, in which the defendant's illness was mentioned, with additional material about the defendant's family background. Notwithstanding that the Committee had found a breach of Clause 9, this did not constitute insensitive handling.

Conclusions

17. The complaint was upheld under Clause 9.

Remedial action required

18. Having upheld the complaint, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required. In circumstances where the newspaper had breached Clause 9 the publication of an adjudication was appropriate.

19. The Committee considered the placement of this adjudication. The adjudication should be published in print, on or before page 7, where the original article appeared. The headline to the adjudication should make clear that IPSO has upheld the complaint, give the title of the publication and refer to the complaint’s subject matter. The headline must be agreed with IPSO in advance.

20. The terms of the adjudication for publication are as follows:

A man complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Liphook Herald breached Clause 9 (Reporting of crime) in an article published in February 2021.

The article reported on the court case of the complainant’s son who had admitted sexually assaulting a woman.  It gave details of the crime, and commented that the defendant was the son of the former chairman of a local parish council, naming both the parish council and the complainant. The article also contained a photograph of the defendant and the complainant, which was captioned: “[named defendant] with dad, and ex-parish council chair, [named father]”. It included a quote from the defendant, who worked as a producer, which had been taken from an interview with the same newspaper which referred to both his “dad” and “mum” having appeared as extras in a programme he was working on.

The complainant said that the article breached Clause 9 as it identified him as the relative of someone convicted of a crime. The complainant said he had not consented to being named and photographed in the article, and that he was not genuinely relevant to the story, as he played no role in the crime and had not attended court proceedings. He said his relationship with his son would be known within his village, but was not widely known further afield.

IPSO considered that the complainant had no part in the crime, or his son’s trial. While he had previously featured in articles which disclosed his relationship to his son with regard to his position as a producer, IPSO considered that this fell short of making him genuinely relevant to the story of the article under complaint: namely his son’s crime. IPSO acknowledged that there may be occasions where the nature of a familiar connection is so well-established in the public domain that the purpose for which Clause 9 is intended, of protecting innocent friends and relatives from association with crime and allegations of crime, is no longer relevant, but that was not the case here.

There was no basis for a finding that the complainant was genuinely relevant to the story at the time of publication, and the newspaper had breached Clause 9 of the Editors’ Code.

Date complaint received: 10/02/2021

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 10/06/2021