Ruling

01835-17 Cooper v The Sun

    • Date complaint received

      7th September 2017

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 2 Privacy, 3 Harassment

Decision of the Complaints Committee 01835-17 Cooper v The Sun

Summary of complaint

1. Graham Cooper complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sun breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 3 (Harassment) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “I told Diana I was gay...she was the only woman who knew”, published on 7 March 2017, and in an article headlined “After orgy Queen told me: Find nice girl & get married”, published on 8 March. Both articles were published online with the respective headlines “I'M GAY AND MARRYING MY LOVER' Princess Diana’s ‘rock’ Paul Burrell comes out as gay and reveals he is about to marry long-term partner – and ‘she was only woman who knew’”, and “DI'S ROCK FLOGS PALACE GAY SECRETS Paul Burrell reveals he had gay orgy on Royal Yacht Britannia, and the Queen KNEW about it… then told him to find a nice girl and get married”.

2. The first article reported that Paul Burrell, the complainant’s husband, though fiancé at the time of publication, had “come out as gay – and reveals he is about to marry his long-term partner”. It reported that they were former business partners, and that they were “due to tie the knot in a circus-themed ceremony next month at a five-star venue in the Lake District”. The article referred to the complainant and Mr Burrell getting married, but also reported that it would be a civil partnership ceremony. The article reported that a source had told the newspaper that “guests have a rough idea of where it will take place…but to increase suspense Paul and [the complainant] have kept the exact details of the venue quiet”. The article reported the name of the village in which the complainant and his husband lived. The article was accompanied by an image of the pair.

3. The second article, which primarily reported on a separate story involving Mr Burrell, also reported that he would be marrying the complainant. The online and print versions of both articles were substantively the same.

4. The complainant was concerned that the newspaper had publicly disclosed his sexuality, without his consent. He said that he had never disclosed his sexuality at a professional level. The complainant said that he realised that because of the marriage, and publication of the wedding banns, his sexuality was in the public domain. However, he said that the articles had a focus on his sexuality, rather than the marriage, and that they were published 4 weeks before his marriage, and long after the marriage banns had been taken down. He said that the newspaper had failed to respect his private life, in breach of Clause 2.

5. The complainant said that the first article inaccurately suggested that the story was printed with consent. He denied that he was Mr Burrell’s former business partner. He said that it was inaccurate to claim that the marriage would be a civil partnership ceremony, that it would be circus-themed, that it would be “lavish”, or that “no expense has been spared”. He said it was inaccurate to report that guests only had a “rough idea of where it will take place”, or that to “increase the suspense”, he and Mr Burrell had “kept the exact details of the venue quiet”. 

6. The complainant said that after publication of the article, photographers working for the newspaper stayed outside his house for a period of time. He said that as a result, he was unable to return to the property, which caused distress. 

7. The newspaper said that any expectation of privacy the complainant had in relation to his sexuality fell away both on the occasion of his marriage, and when the banns were posted. It said that at the time of publication, an agent acting for Mr Burrell was negotiating to sell the story, although it said that it recognised that there was a dispute about whether this person could be described as Mr Burrell’s agent or not. The newspaper noted that the complainant and Mr Burrell had subsequently sold pictures of their wedding to The Sun.

8. The newspaper said that although it had taken place a week after the ceremony, there was a “Big Top” or circus-themed party, and that it was part of the wedding celebration. It denied that the article was significantly inaccurate on this point. It said that the article spoke of a marriage, and not a civil ceremony. In relation to the claim that the complainant and Mr Burrell were business partners, it said that Companies House records showed a company based in the complainant’s village, which was owned by the pair. It said that the claim that the marriage would be “lavish” had come from a source, and the newspaper had not stated it as fact. In any event, it said that the celebrations would be seen as “lavish”, in comparison to many marriage receptions. It said that the information about when guests were informed about the venue had come from a source that had proven reliable about other details. It said if the information was incorrect, it would be happy to remove it from the online version of the article.

9. The newspaper said that a freelance reporter approached the complainant’s home once prior to publication, but did not return. After publication of the article, it said that a photographer was sent to the house on two occasions, but that no one had been there. It denied that this represented harassment.

10. The complainant said that the issue in his complaint was the action leading up to publication of the articles under complaint, and the articles themselves, rather than events after publication. He said that contrary to the newspaper’s suggestion, neither he nor Mr Burrell were aware of any negotiation with it prior to publication. The complainant confirmed that there were two events: a marriage ceremony followed by a party a week later. He said that although the party was in a marquee that resembled a ‘big-top’, it was not a ‘circus-themed’ wedding, as could be seen from the pictures.

Relevant Code provisions

11. 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

12. The articles under complaint publicly disclosed the complainant’s sexuality, by reporting that he and Mr Burrell were to marry the following month. The Committee made clear that details of an individual’s sexuality can form part of their private life, and can therefore receive protection under the terms of Clause 2. However, marriage is a matter of public record. In this case, the fact of the complainant’s marriage to Mr Burrell had been publicly posted via the marriage banns, and the ceremony was due to take place within a month. In these circumstances, the fact the complainant would shortly be marrying Mr Burrell did not represent private information about him. Publication of this information, and by extension, the details of his sexuality, did not breach Clause 2.

13. The Committee accepted the complainant’s position that – while the reception was in a red-and-white big top marquee - neither the wedding ceremony nor the reception were “circus-themed”. However, the Committee considered that this claim was not significantly misleading in the context of the article. The newspaper had relied on information from a source in claiming that the wedding would be “lavish”, or that exact details on the venue had been “kept quiet”, and that “guests will have a rough idea of where it will take place”. The article made clear that these were claims that had been made to the newspaper by a source, rather than claims the newspaper had been able to establish as fact, and the Committee recognised that whether the wedding would be “lavish” was partly a matter of subjective evaluation. The Committee acknowledged the complainant’s position that these claims were inaccurate, but considered that in the context of the article, they did not represent significant inaccuracies, such as to breach Clause 1. 

14. The first article made a single reference to a “civil partnership ceremony”, which was inaccurate. However, the headline of the first article referred to the complainant and Mr Burrell getting married, and the article went on to refer to marriage a number of times. The Committee considered that the reference to a “civil partnership ceremony” was not a significant inaccuracy, such as to breach of Clause 1. Where the complainant and Mr Burrell were both former directors of the same company, it was not inaccurate to refer to them as “former business partners”.

15. The Committee noted the complainant’s concern that the article suggested he had consented to the disclosure of information about his sexuality. The article’s focus was on Mr Burrell, and reported that his spokesperson had confirmed the forthcoming marriage. The article did not suggest that the publication had obtained the complainant’s consent for publication of the article, and was not misleading in the manner alleged. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

16. The Committee noted the complainant’s position that the freelance photographer’s two approaches to his home had caused him distress. Journalists representing the newspaper did not persist in approaching the complainant’s house after being asked to desist. The Committee considered that, in the absence of a request to desist, the two approaches to the complainant’s house did not in themselves represent harassment in this case, such as to breach Clause 3.

Conclusions

17. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

18. N/A

Date complaint received: 14/03/2017
Date decision issued: 15/08/2017