Resolution Statement 02349-18 Stafford v The Scottish Sun

    • Date complaint received

      23rd August 2018

    • Outcome

      Resolved - IPSO mediation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 2 Privacy, 3 Harassment

Resolution Statement 02349-18 Stafford v The Scottish Sun

Summary of Complaint

1. Gary Stafford complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Scottish Sun breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 3 (Harassment) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined, “Mule Mel’s found her cell mate”, published on 19 March 2018.

2. The article reported that the complainant was in a relationship with a woman who had been detained overseas for alleged drug smuggling offences. It reported that the complainant had visited the woman when she was in prison overseas. It included a comment from an unnamed friend of the pair, who said that the complainant had “spent a couple of years travelling around South America.” It stated that the complainant and his girlfriend had refused to comment, and included a photograph of the complainant and his girlfriend in the street.

3. The article was also published online, with the headline, “Cell mate Peru Two drugs mule Melissa Reid loved-up with fellow Scot who visited her in South American jail while backpacking.” It was substantially the same as the article that appeared in print. It also included a photograph of the complainant in his doorway. 

4. The complainant said that the photographs included in the article had been taken in circumstances of harassment. He said that the photograph of the couple in the street had been taken several months before, when a journalist had made an approach to his partner in the street. He said that at the time he had told the journalist they did not want to speak, and to go away, and that his partner had received an assurance from the newspaper that she would not be contacted again in relation to that particular story. He said that several months later a journalist from the same newspaper knocked on his door, asking for comment on the fact of their relationship. He said that he told the reporter he did not want to speak, and that he had told reporters this information before. He contacted the newspaper directly, after the reporter had left his property, and received an assurance that staff would be made aware of this request.

5. He said that publishing the article, and including photographs of him, was a breach of his privacy. He also said that the article was inaccurate, as he had not been backpacking for several years in South America, and reporting this suggested he had taken a career break, and affected his employment prospects.

6. The newspaper did not accept that it had breached the Code. It said contacting the subject of a story and giving them an opportunity to comment was an important and established way of being able to ensure the accuracy of an article. It said that there was only one approach by any reporter on any given story and that the guarantee given to the complainant’s partner was that she would not be approached again about that story. It said that in relation to the article under complaint, the journalist had only been approached once at his home. When he told the reporter he did not wish to comment, the reporter left his property. It said that this did not constitute harassment, as once a request to desist was made, the reporter did not attempt to make any further contact.

7. It said that any guarantee the newspaper gave not to approach the complainant or his partner again, this did not preclude the newspaper from publishing an article about their relationship. It said that the article and the photographs published were not a breach of the complainant’s privacy. It also did not accept that the article was significantly inaccurate.

Relevant Code Provisions

8. 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.

Clause 2 (Privacy)*

i) Everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence

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 3 (Harassment) *

i) Journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit. 

ii) They must not persist in questioning, telephoning, pursing 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.

Mediated outcome

9. The complaint was not resolved through direct correspondence between the parties. IPSO therefore began an investigation into the matter.

10. During IPSO’s investigation, the newspaper offered to write a private letter of apology for any distress caused to the complainant, and provide him with a written guarantee that he would not be contacted about his relationship again. It also offered to remove the online article. 

11. The complainant said that this would resolve the matter to his satisfaction.

12. As the complaint was successfully mediated, the Complaints Committee did not make a determination as to whether there had been any breach of the Code.

Date complaint received: 19/03/2018

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 20/07/2018