Ruling

01729-17 Beckham v Mail Online

    • Date complaint received

      29th June 2017

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      2 Privacy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 01729-17 Beckham v Mail Online

Summary of Complaint

1. David and Victoria Beckham complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Mail Online breached Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Build it like Beckham! Final preparations are underway as David and Victoria ‘prepare to move in to £5 million Grade II-listed country barn’”, published on 6 March 2017.

2. The article reported that renovations had begun at the house that the complainants were said to have bought, and identified the general area where it was located, the name of the town it was close to, and identified a landmark which it was near. It said that two new glass extensions appeared to have already been constructed at the property, new windows appeared to have been fitted, and landscaping had begun on the grounds and driveway. The article was accompanied by ten photographs of the outside of the property from a number of different angles, which demonstrated that renovation work was under way.

3. The complainants said that the article included photographs of the house they had yet to move in to, both from close-up and afar, which must have been taken by trespassing on private land. They said that the article and some of the photographs not only depicted what would become their family home, it had also clearly identified its location to millions of readers. They said that they had a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to their home, and private and family life; this was particularly important where they intended to raise their children at the property free from the media scrutiny to which they are subjected in many other aspects of their lives. They said that due to their profile, the identification of their private family homes had given rise to serious security issues in the past, which had meant that they had been forced to take a number of preventative measures, including employing private security contractors. They considered that there was no public interest in publishing such material.

4. The publication said that the photographs had been taken from a public place, and that there was no trespass onto the complainants’ property. It said that the key test in such cases is whether the information published would be sufficient to enable people to find the home, and whether the article put new information into the public domain about the location. It said that in this case, it was clear that the article did not reveal any “new” information about the property. It said that photographs of the property had previously been published by other newspapers, and many had identified the house’s approximate location in a similar fashion. It highlighted one article in particular which had identified the precise road where the house was located, over and beyond what it and other newspapers had done. Overall, it said that the article went no further than simply saying where the property was close to, and that the photographs were closely cropped to the buildings and gave very little context beyond a field and some trees. Nonetheless, the publication offered to remove the photographs from the article as a gesture of goodwill.

5. The complainants accepted that four of the ten photographs could have been taken from public land, but argued that the other six could only have been taken from private property. They said that the very act of taking these photographs from private land demonstrated that the publication had no respect for their privacy. In addition, the article had gone further than other articles in causing the location of the property to be identified because it had featured ten photographs – more than featured in the other articles – as well as a description of the area where the property was located.

Relevant Code Provisions

6. 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.

Findings of the Committee

7. The complaint centred on two key concerns: that the photographer had entered private land in order to take photographs of the complainants’ property, which showed views not visible to the public, and that the subsequent article had contained information which could lead to intrusion by a member of the public.

8. The Committee acknowledged the complainants’ position that the reporter had trespassed onto private property in order to take the photographs. While trespass is ordinarily a matter for the civil courts, venturing onto private property could also be intrusive in breach of Clause 2 of the Code.

9. The Committee noted the dispute between the parties about whether six of the photographs had, in fact, been taken on private or public land; it was not in a position to make a finding as to where each individual photograph was taken. However, the six images showed the outside walls of the property; they did not reveal more information about the property than was shown in the four photographs which had been taken from what was accepted to be a public right of way. In addition, in circumstances where the property was undergoing renovation, and was not yet used by the complainants as a home, the photographs could only contain a limited amount of private information, if any. The Committee did not consider that the publication of the photographs, leaving aside the separate issue of the identification of the complainants’ address, represented an intrusion into their private life. There was no breach of Clause 2 on this point.

10. In general, people do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy regarding their address. However, there are special circumstances in which the publication of details of an individual’s home may be intrusive. In this case, the Committee recognised that certain individuals, including those with a high public profile, may be exposed to security problems if their address, or details allowing their address to be identified, are published. As such, this may be information in relation to which they have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

11. In this case, the article reported details of the wider geographical region where the property was located, the town that it was near, and identified a local landmark which it was close to. The photographs depicted the property the complainants had purchased, and revealed that it was currently being renovated.

12. In the Committee’s view, these details were insufficient to identify the precise location of the property, such that the complainants would have a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to the information contained in the article. In coming to this view, the Committee noted that the details revealed in the article did not go substantially further, in detailing the property’s location, than information already in the public domain.  There was no breach of Clause 2 on this point.

Conclusion

13. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

14. N/A

Date complaint received: 07/03/2017
Date decision issued: 06/06/2017