Ruling

01767-17 Sword v The Times

    • Date complaint received

      29th June 2017

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 2 Privacy, 3 Harassment

Decision of the Complaints Committee 01767-17 Sword v The Times

Summary of complaint 

1.    Eric Sword complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Times breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 3 (Harassment) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in relation to an article headlined “Detective investigated over flawed abuse inquiry retires”, published on 16 March.  The article was also published online. 

2.    The article reported that the complainant, one of the remaining police officers who was still being investigated by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) in relation to his role working on Operation Midland, had retired in August 2016, and could not therefore face any sanction. The article reported that the complainant’s retirement complied with police regulations. The article was accompanied by an image of the complainant, and reported that he had declined to comment. 

3.    The complainant said that in March, a few days before the article was published, a photographer from the newspaper took several photographs of him outside of his house in the morning. The complainant said that the photographer had driven her car around a corner at speed, parked in front of his neighbours drive and jumped out in front of him. He said it was not until he told her to “stop and go away”, did she cease taking photographs. He also said that even after this request, the camera continued to click for a short period. 

4.    The complainant said that photographer’s visit followed an earlier approach to him at his home by a journalist from the newspaper in February. He said that the journalist had told him that she had no option but attend his address as she could not otherwise contact him. When the newspaper provided a recording of this conversation in response to his complaint, he was concerned that it had been made without his knowledge or permission. 

5.    The complainant said that on the same day the photographer had visited his house, the journalist who had approached him in February called his mobile phone, which he said showed she had lied about the reason for approaching him at his home in February. He said that she had called him on his private mobile phone number. He said that during this telephone conversation, he told the journalist that he had asked her not to come to his address, to which she responded by saying that he had not told her not to send a photographer. 

6.    The complainant said that the article suggested that his retirement was decided to avoid investigation by the IPCC. He said that his earliest retirement date was dictated by his service, not by him, and that he had in fact stayed beyond an earlier date in July, fully cooperating with an inquiry into Operation Midland by a former judge. 

7.    In relation to the journalist’s approach in February, the newspaper said that there are times when visiting a home address may be the only reliable way of making contact with someone to ensure accurate reporting. It said that the Editors’ Code does not prevent newspapers from approaching individuals at their place of residence. It said that the reporter had identified herself to the complainant, made clear the purpose of the conversation, which was to ask about Operation Midland. The newspaper said that there was no question of subterfuge. It said there was no reason why the journalist should not have recorded that conversation, which she was party to in her capacity as a journalist. It noted that nothing from the recording had been published, and neither the recording nor the transcript had been shared with anyone outside the newspaper, except to IPSO, for the purpose of responding to the complaint. The newspaper noted that at no point did the complainant say that he did not want to be contacted again during his conversation with the journalist. In this conversation, and in response to the journalist’s request for comment, the complainant said “I’ll think about it. My initial thoughts are ‘no’, but that doesn’t mean I won’t change my mind and I’ve got your details”. 

8.    The newspaper said that when the complainant asked the photographer to stop taking pictures, she did so immediately, apologised for interrupting his day and had driven away before he had entered his house. The newspaper said that the complainant did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy while he was walking his dog on a public road. 

9.    The newspaper said that its journalist had called the complainant in March, prior to publication of the article, to ask for his comments on the fact he had been allowed to retire.  It said that it had emerged in the previous week that the IPCC was dropping its inquiry into three other police officers over wrongdoing during Operation Midland, leaving the complainant as one of only three remaining officers under investigation.  It said that this was a new development in the story, which it was in the public interest to provide the complainant with an opportunity to comment on. It said that the complainant had declined the opportunity to comment, but instead said that he was unhappy at being contacted. The newspaper said it had also contacted the Metropolitan Police’s press office for details on his retirement, which were included in the article.  

Relevant Code provisions 

10. Clause 1 (Accuracy)

i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.

ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and — where appropriate — an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator.

iii) A fair opportunity to reply to significant inaccuracies should be given, when reasonably called for.

iv) The Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact. 

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 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 

11. To approach the complainant for comment at his home did not in itself represent intimidation or harassment under the terms of Clause 3. Having listened to the recording of the journalist’s conversation with the complainant in February, the Committee noted that the journalist did not continue to ask the complainant questions after being asked to stop, or remain on the property after being asked to leave. The journalist had not harassed the complainant by her conduct, and there was no breach of Clause 3 on this point. 

12. The journalist had made clear that she was a journalist, seeking the complainant’s comments, and stated clearly her name, the newspaper she worked for and her role at that newspaper. The Committee noted the complainant’s position that he was not aware that he was being recorded. However, the newspaper had not published its recording, and the mere use of the recording device did not represent a failure to respect the complainant’s privacy. There was no breach of Clause 2 in relation to this aspect of the complaint. 

13. During the conversation in February, the complainant did not request that he was not approached at the property again. The photographer’s visit to the complainant’s house in February did not take place in the context of a request to desist. The Committee recognised that the complainant had found the photographer’s approach to be an unpleasant experience. However, it was not in dispute that the photographer stopped taking photographs once she had been asked to, after which she left the vicinity of the complainant’s property. The Committee was satisfied that the photographer had not harassed the complainant within the terms of Clause 3, and there was no breach of the Code on this point. 

14. The complainant was photographed when walking his dog down a public street. Having regard for his location, and his activity, the Committee considered that he did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy, such that his consent was required to photograph him. The taking and publication of the photograph did not breach Clause 2. 

15. In February, the complainant had told the journalist that his initial thoughts were that he did not wish to comment, but that he would think about it. While there was a discussion about how the journalist had learnt his address, the complainant had not asked not to be contacted again. In these circumstances, it did not represent harassment for the journalist to call the complainant in March to provide him an opportunity to comment specifically on his retirement.  

16. In relation to the complaint under Clause 1, the Committee noted the complainant’s concern that the article suggested that the motivation for his retirement was to avoid sanction by the IPCC. The article reported that the complainant had retired, in compliance with police regulations, and that this meant he could not be sanctioned by the IPCC, none of which was in dispute. By providing the complainant the opportunity to comment on his retirement, the newspaper had taken care not to publish misleading information, and there was no breach of Clause 1 (i). The article did not make any claim about the complainant’s reasons for retiring, and was not misleading in the manner alleged. There was no breach of Clause 1 (ii). 

Conclusions 

17. The complaint was not upheld.   

Remedial Action Required

N/A

Date complaint received: 09/03/2017

Date decision issued: 13/06/2017