Ruling

02714-16 Cameron v Scottish Daily Mail

    • Date complaint received

      3rd November 2016

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 10 Clandestine devices and subterfuge, 2 Privacy, 3 Harassment, 6 Children

Decision of the Complaints Committee 02714-16 Cameron v Scottish Daily Mail

Summary of complaint

1. Dr Lisa Cameron MP complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation, both on her own behalf and on behalf of her husband, Mark Horsham, that the Scottish Daily Mail breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 3 (Harassment), Clause 6 (Children) and Clause 10 (Clandestine devices and subterfuge) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Hypocrisy of SNP MP with £630,000 property empire/’Struggling’ MP’s housing empire”, published on 5 January 2016. It was published online with the headline “Hypocrisy of SNP MP with £630,000 property empire: Nationalist snaps up former council homes and makes fortune in rental income – despite opposing the sale of social housing”.

2. The article reported that the complainant owns seven properties, including five former council homes, while campaigning against the sale of social housing during the general election campaign. It reported that the complainant’s husband had been declared bankrupt in 2013, and that he was now responsible for the day-to-day running of the business through which the properties are let.

3. The complainant identified what she believed to be a number of inaccuracies in the article. She said that the five former council houses were not in “impoverished areas”; the East Kilbride homes were not in areas which would officially be considered deprived. She said that her husband never “ran any business which traded in her name and went bust”; his bankruptcy had no links whatsoever to her business dealings. The complainant was concerned that the article gave the impression that her husband had improperly ordered his financial affairs - with her assistance - in order to avoid paying his debt and to access an insolvency scheme.

4. The complainant said that a journalist had come to her home without notice to discuss the story with her, prior to publication. She said that she was approached at the edge of her garden while her two young children were present, and she was concerned that this approach – as well as the subsequent 25-minute conversation – breached the terms of Clause 2, Clause 3, Clause 6 and Clause 10.

5. The complainant said that being approached in her garden represented a clear intrusion into her and her children’s private life. She said that the journalist had asked in the presence of one of her children whether her husband had a gambling problem; sharing that information, which was inaccurate, was a breach of Clause 2, as were the questions regarding the financial and business matters.

6. She said that the repeated and aggressive questioning in front of her children amounted to harassment and intimidation. She said that she had repeatedly told the journalist that she needed to go and attend to her youngest child, but he persisted with his questioning. She was also concerned that her children had been intimidated by the journalist.

7. The complainant said that the journalist had posed questions directly to her older child, and the quotation in the article that her husband “tidies up” the properties, was in fact a quotation from her child. She said that this was a clear indication that the child had been interviewed on issues which involved her own welfare, and a breach of Clause 6. There was no exceptional public interest in this case which would over-ride the paramount interests of the child. She said that her older child, aged seven, had to attend her GP for treatment due to stress following the journalist’s visit, and was diagnosed as suffering from anxiety.

8. The complainant said that her conversation with the journalist and her child had been recorded without her knowledge or consent, in breach of Clause 10. She also said that the journalist had breached Clause 10 (ii) by “unjustifiable misrepresentation”; she said that at the start of their conversation, he had denied that he was the person who had attempted to interview her tenants, before later confirming that he was. She said his initial denial had lulled her into a false sense of security in speaking to him.

9. The newspaper did not accept any breach of the Editors’ Code. It said that the complainant’s former council properties were clearly in areas of East Kilbride which were run-down, and the rental amounts were indicative of that. The properties were pictured. It said that the Accountant in Bankruptcy’s Register of Insolvencies’ listing for the complainant’s husband recorded “Mr Mark Horsham, previously trading as Lisa Cameron & Associates”; the newspaper did not accept that the complainant’s husband had not run a business which traded in her name.

10. The newspaper said that the complainant had engaged in a conversation with the journalist in her garden, and there was no reasonable expectation of privacy. The children were not involved in the conversation. At the time that the journalist approached the complainant, her children were not present, and the journalist never mentioned the complainant’s husband having a gambling problem; his playing poker was mentioned only once. It provided the recording of the conversation between the complainant and the journalist to IPSO, and said that it was clear that no harassment or intimidation had taken place.

11. It said that the article had nothing to do with the welfare of the children, and that they were never interviewed. Clause 6 was not engaged.

12. The newspaper said that the journalist had not obtained material using a clandestine listening device; rather, he had made clear that he was a journalist researching a story, and had openly interviewed the complainant. The fact that he had recorded that interview without the complainant’s knowledge did not raise concerns under Clause 10.

13. Upon receipt of the recording of the interview, the complainant maintained her complaints under Clause 2, Clause 3, Clause 6 and Clause 10. In particular, she maintained that the quotation about how her husband “tidies up” had been something her child had said.

Relevant Code provisions

14. 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.

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 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.

Clause 6 (Children)

(i) All pupils should be free to complete their time at school without unnecessary intrusion.

(ii) Children under 16 must not be interviewed or photographed on issues involving their own or another child’s welfare unless a custodial parent or similarly responsible adult consents.

Clause 10 (Clandestine devices or subterfuge)

(i) The press must not seek to obtain or publish material acquired by using hidden cameras or clandestine listening devices; or by intercepting private or mobile telephone calls, messages or emails; or by the unauthorised removal of documents or photographs; or by accessing digitally-held information without consent.

(ii) Engaging in misrepresentation or subterfuge, including by agents or intermediaries, can generally be justified only in the public interest and then only when the material cannot be obtained by other means.

Findings of the Committee

15. Whether or not the areas in which the complainant owns former council homes are “impoverished” was a judgement made by the newspaper. It said that the homes were in areas which were considered to be deprived, and it noted that the rents were at such levels that they would indicate that the areas were not prosperous. The Committee found that there was no failure to take care over the accuracy of this aspect of the article, and it did not identify any significant inaccuracies which would require correction under Clause 1 (ii) of the Code.

16. The Committee had sight of the complainant’s husband’s listing on the Accountant in Bankruptcy’s Insolvency Service website, and noted that it listed the “trading name” of the business associated with him as “Lisa Cameron & Associates”. In light of this, the Committee concluded that it was not inaccurate to report that the complainant’s husband had run a business that “traded in her name and went bust”.

17. The article had accurately set out the manner in which the complainant had acquired her properties, and it had accurately set out the manner in which her husband had applied for and been granted bankruptcy. The article did not give the misleading impression that the complainant’s husband had so ordered his assets as to avail himself of a bankruptcy scheme to which he was not entitled, and it did not give the misleading impression that his wife had assisted him with any such activities. There was no breach of Clause 1.

18. Approaching the complainant for comment while she stood in her garden with her children did not amount to an intrusion into her private life. While conversing about the complainant’s husband’s bankruptcy, the journalist had asked “did it have anything to do with gambling or playing poker?” After the complainant responded “no”, the journalist did not ask any further questions in this regard. Asking this question in the presence of a child did not intrude into the complainant’s husband’s private life, or into the child’s private life. There was no breach of Clause 2.

19. It was clear from the recording of the journalist’s interview with the complainant that the complainant had engaged with the questions being posed. She did not ask the journalist to desist from contacting her, or to leave the vicinity of her home. The nature of the questioning was amicable and professional – both towards the complainant and her children – and there was no breach of Clause 3.

20. There was no objection from the complainant about the interview being conducted with her child present, and the conversation that took place was with the complainant, not the child. The interactions between the journalist and the child, which could be heard on the recording, did not constitute the journalist “interviewing” the child; he did not attempt to obtain information from the child for inclusion in the article, and when he interacted with the child on a few brief occasions, this was done in a jokey and friendly manner, which did not appear to distress the child. The quotation in the article about how the complainant’s husband “tidies up” her properties came from the complainant herself. There was no breach of Clause 6.

21. The journalist did not acquire any material using a clandestine listening device. The interview with the complainant was conducted openly, and while he did not explain he was recording the conversation for note-taking purposes, the journalist made clear who he was and the reasons why he wished to speak with the complainant. In this case, the use of the tape was a means of effectively recording the complainant’s comments. There was no misrepresentation or subterfuge, and no breach of Clause 10.

22. Although he initially left the impression that he had not been involved in interviewing the tenants of the complainant’s properties, in circumstances where he had introduced himself to the complainant as a journalist working for the newspaper, there was no breach of the Code.

Conclusions

23. The complaint was not upheld.

Date complaint received: 04/05/2016
Date decision issued: 16/09/2016