Ruling

01828-16 Birmingham v Eastbourne Gazette

    • Date complaint received

      23rd June 2016

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      2 Privacy, 9 Reporting of crime

Decision of the Complaints Committee 01828-16 Birmingham v Eastbourne Gazette

Summary of complaint

1. Darin Birmingham complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Eastbourne Gazette breached Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 9 (Reporting of crime) of the Editors' Code of Practice in an article headlined "Eastbourne woman is spared jail for drug dealing", published on 8 March 2016.

2.  The article reported that a woman had pleaded guilty to supplying cocaine and cannabis. She had been given a 20-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, made subject to a 12-month supervision order, and ordered to pay £925. The article named her father, the complainant, and said he had been a police sergeant who had earned 23 commendations during his 30 years in the Metropolitan Police, and had worked in a gangs unit that had sought to “disrupt gangs which dealt in extortion, organised violence and hard drugs”.

3. The article was published online without the reference to the complainant.

4. The complainant expressed concern that the newspaper had named him and given details of his policing career. He said that he had been present in court and had written to the Judge prior to sentencing outlining failings of the local police force in dealing with his daughter’s case; as a result the Judge had decided to suspend her custodial sentence. However, he said that he was not genuinely relevant to the story. The complainant said that he had an unblemished career in the police, and the article had caused him and his family considerable embarrassment and distress.

5. The complainant also said that he and his wife owned his daughter’s house. The publication of his daughter’s partial address had therefore been intrusive and had put his and his family’s safety at risk.

6. The newspaper accepted that the complainant was not relevant to the story, and it offered its sincere apologies for naming him. It said that it had taken information about the sentencing hearing from the website of the local police force, and had not had a reporter present in court. The newspaper was not aware of the intervention the complainant said he had made in his daughter’s sentencing. It said the paragraph had appeared in the “small circulation” Eastbourne Gazette, but it had been removed from the article before it was published in the newspaper’s sister publication and online.

7. The newspaper said that the matter had been reviewed at length with the journalist concerned, and she had been referred for further Code training. It offered to publish an apology, letter or statement to resolve the matter.

8. The newspaper said it was best practice to publish a defendant’s address to ensure that a person of a similar name was not wrongly identified by a report. The address had been given in open court, and published on the Sussex Police website.

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.

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.

Findings of the Committee

10. Under the terms of Clause 9, the fact of an association with an individual convicted or accused of crime is insufficient to justify a person’s identification: they must be “genuinely relevant” to the story being reported.

11. The fact that the complainant was the father of a criminal was not necessarily sufficient to justify his identification in the article. However, the Committee had regard for the specific role that the complainant had played in the police, and the nature of his daughter’s offence. On balance, it concluded that the complainant had been genuinely relevant to the story, and his identification was justified. The complaint under Clause 9 was not upheld.

12. The Committee also noted that although the newspaper had been unaware of it at the time of publication, the complainant had played a significant role in his daughter’s case: he had been present in court and had intervened in her sentencing.

13. The Committee noted the complainant’s concern regarding the publication of his daughter’s partial address. However, this information had been given in open court and was not private. The publication of defendants’ partial addresses also serves to distinguish them from others of the same name. There was no breach of Clause 2 on this point.

Conclusions

14. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

NA

Date complaint received: 19/03/2016
Date complaint concluded: 01/06/2016