Ruling

03153-16 HRH The Duchess of Cambridge and HRH Prince George of Cambridge v OK!

    • Date complaint received

      15th September 2016

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of adjudication

    • Code provisions

      2 Privacy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 03153-16 HRH The Duchess of Cambridge and HRH Prince George of Cambridge v OK!

 

Summary of complaint 


1.    HRH The Duchess of Cambridge and HRH Prince George of Cambridge complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that OK! breached Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an online article headlined “The Duchess of Cambridge proudly watches son Prince George as he rides a police motorbike”, published on 25 May 2016. 


2.    The article reported that two-year-old Prince George had been photographed sitting on a Metropolitan Police motorbike while his mother, the Duchess of Cambridge, looked on smiling. The article included an image of the scene, which had been captured in the grounds of Kensington Palace. 


3.    The complainants’ representatives said that the photograph had been taken in circumstances in which the Duchess of Cambridge and her two-year-old son had a reasonable expectation of privacy. They were engaged in a private activity; the images had been taken while they were on private, protected land where commercial photography is prohibited; and no permission for the images to be taken or published had been sought or obtained. 


4.    The complainants’ representatives said that it was clear from the images that their clients had been unaware that they were being photographed, and that the photographs had been taken surreptitiously with a long-lens camera. They said that police officers had been in attendance nearby as a member of the Royal Family had been due to arrive by helicopter. The police officers had spoken to the photographer who was on a public pathway, and who had an “SLR-style camera with a large telephoto lens”. The photographer had claimed to be retired, and did not say that he intended to use, sell or provide photographs for publication. He was told not to take any photographs of the complainant or her son, who were waiting for the helicopter to land. 


5.    The complainants’ representatives said that railings protected the land upon which the Duchess of Cambridge and her son had been standing when the images were taken. They noted that there are only a limited number of vantage points from which individuals within the grounds of the complainants’ home might be seen, and even then it is difficult with the naked eye because of the distance. 


6.    The complainants’ representatives considered that individuals – and young children in particular – have a reasonable expectation of privacy regarding the details of private family activities, including in semi-public or public locations. They expressed particular concern that photographs of a young boy playing inside the grounds of his private home had been taken for commercial gain. The fact that he might have been visible to some individuals outside his home did not remove his reasonable expectation of privacy in such a situation. They said that no public interest was served by publishing the images. 


7.    At the beginning of IPSO’s investigation, the magazine said that the photographs had been taken by an agency photographer who had seen the interaction between the complainants and the police officers by chance as he returned from photographing the Trooping of the Colour. The photographer was not trespassing when the images were taken, and he had not used a long-lens camera. The magazine acknowledged that the complainants had been standing on private land, but considered that they were clearly visible to the public. It did not consider that they could have had a reasonable expectation of privacy when they were “a matter of inches from the railings” and clearly visible to all who passed by. 


8.    At the end of IPSO’s investigation, the magazine said that it had previously obtained the photographer’s version of events from the agency that had employed him; however, having made contact with the photographer directly, it had been given a different explanation. The photographer had said that he had been walking through the park on his way to the gym when he had happened to encounter armed police who were waiting for the arrival of members of the Royal Family by helicopter. He said that a large crowd had formed when he noticed Prince George, his mother and police officers. He said that he was 200 yards away when he photographed them with an 80mm-400mm camera. 


9.    The magazine denied that the images had shown the complainants in a private interaction. The police officers were photographed while on duty, and the magazine considered that it was important for the public to see how young members of the Royal Family interacted with public servants, particularly when the officers had been “commandeered for a three-year-old’s entertainment”. It said that as an heir to the throne, Prince George was not in the position of an “ordinary child”; he was a subject of great public interest. It said that as public servants, the public has a right to know what members of the Royal Family are doing. It did not consider that the press should be prevented from publishing otherwise harmless photographs of them, taken within view of the public, which show something out of the ordinary.  

Relevant Code provisions 

10.  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.

The public interest

5. An exceptional public interest would need to be demonstrated to over-ride the normally paramount interests of children under 16. 

Findings of the Committee 

11.  The Committee acknowledged that – as members of the Royal Family – the complainants are public figures; however, they were photographed standing within the grounds of their private home, in a position that was not easily visible to the photographer; they were not carrying out any official duties, and they were unaware that they were being photographed. The photographer had himself acknowledged that he had used a long-lens camera to photograph the complainants who were standing 200 yards away from him. The Committee also noted that Prince George is a young child who had been engaged in a private interaction with his mother and police officers at the time the photographs were taken. 

12.  The Committee noted that it was not being asked to decide whether an adult alone in these circumstances would have had a reasonable expectation of privacy. It was satisfied, however, that together the complainants had a reasonable expectation of privacy at the time they were photographed. The magazine had not obtained their consent, and, as such, it was required to demonstrate that the photography was justified in the public interest. 

13.  The Committee noted the magazine’s position that there was a public interest in reporting how Prince George had engaged with public servants. However, the Committee did not accept that any public interest in this had been served by the publication of these images, which simply showed Prince George playing on a police motorbike. 

14.  The Committee did not therefore accept that the magazine had demonstrated a sufficient public interest to justify publication of the photographs. Any general public interest in the activities of the Royal Family was inadequate, particularly in the case of Prince George, given that the Code requires an exceptional public interest to over-ride the normally paramount interests of children under 16. The complaint under Clause 2 was upheld. 

Conclusions 

15.  The complaint was upheld. 

Remedial action required 

16.  Having upheld the complaint, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required. 

17.  Where the Committee has upheld a complaint as a breach of Clause 2, the appropriate remedial action is the publication of an adjudication. 

18.  The article was published online only; as such the adjudication should be published online, with a link to it (including the headline) being published on the magazine’s homepage for 24 hours. The publication should contact IPSO to confirm the amendments it now intends to make to the online article to avoid the continued publication of material in breach of the Editors’ Code of Practice.

19.  The terms of the adjudication to be published are as follows: 

HRH The Duchess of Cambridge and HRH Prince George of Cambridge complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that OK! breached Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “The Duchess of Cambridge proudly watches son Prince George as he rides a police motorbike”, published on 25 May 2016. 

IPSO upheld the complaint, and has ordered OK! to publish its decision as a remedy.

The article reported that two-year-old Prince George had been photographed sitting on a police motorbike while his mother looked on. The article included an image of the scene, which had been captured in the grounds of Kensington Palace. 

The complainants’ representatives said that the photograph had been taken while the Duchess of Cambridge and her son were engaged in a private activity within the private grounds of their home. They had been unaware that they were being photographed; no permission for the images to be taken or published had been sought or obtained. The fact that they might have been visible to some individuals outside their home did not remove their reasonable expectation of privacy. They said that no public interest was served by publishing the images.

The magazine did not consider that the complainants could have had a reasonable expectation of privacy when they were clearly visible to all who passed by. It also denied that the images had shown them in a private interaction; the police officers were photographed while on duty; and the magazine considered that it was important for the public to see how young members of the Royal Family interacted with public servants. It said that as an heir to the throne, Prince George was a subject of great public interest.

The Committee was satisfied that the complainants had a reasonable expectation of privacy at the time they were photographed: they were standing within the grounds of their private home, in a position that was not easily visible to the photographer who was 200 yards away and using a long-lens camera. The magazine had not obtained their consent, and, as such, it was required to demonstrate that the photography was justified in the public interest.

The Committee did not accept that any public interest had been served by the publication of the images, which simply showed Prince George playing on a police motorbike. Any general public interest in the activities of the Royal Family was also inadequate, particularly in the case of Prince George, given that the Code requires an exceptional public interest to over-ride the normally paramount interests of children under 16. The complaint under Clause 2 was upheld. 

Date complaint received: 25/05/16

Date decision issued: 10/08/16