Ruling

06205-15 Allen v Birmingham Mail

    • Date complaint received

      8th January 2016

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      12 Discrimination, 3 Harassment, 5 Reporting suicide

Decision of the Complaints Committee 06205-15 Allen v Birmingham Mail

Summary of complaint

1. Rebecca Allen complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Birmingham Mail breached Clause 3 (Privacy), Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Grieving bride-to-be faces holiday fiasco as travel firm folds”, published in print on 12 June 2015, and “Grieving Mum’s dream hen night holiday ruined after company collapses”, published online on 11 June 2015.

2. The article reported that the complainant – who was referred to as “Blonde Rebecca Allen” – and those attending her hen party in Marbella had been left £2,000 out of pocket, and without accommodation, after a company they had booked a holiday villa with “ceased trading”. It contained an interview with the complainant who explained that she had been particularly looking forward to the trip because of the difficult time she and her family had gone through since the death of her son. The article was accompanied by photographs of the complainant, her deceased son, and her fiancé.

3. The online article was substantively similar to the print version, but it did not contain the reference to “Blonde Rebecca Allen”.

4. The complainant said that she had made clear to the journalist in an email prior to publication that the article’s emphasis should be on the hen party, and not her late son; she did not want a “sob story”. She said her purpose in contacting the newspaper had been to highlight the “scam” so that members of the public could avoid booking accommodation with the company in question. She said that the decision to put the emphasis of the article on her son's death had breached her and her family's privacy, and intruded into their grief. The complainant highlighted the “horrible” comments that had appeared in the comments' section of the online article, and on the newspaper's Facebook page, in this regard. She also said that the “blonde” reference in the print article contained an “implication of sexual discrimination”.

5. The newspaper said that the complainant had initiated contact with one of its journalists by email. It said that she mentioned that her son had died in 2013, and made it clear that the hen party was important to her because of the difficult period she had been through since his death; she repeated this when she spoke to the journalist on the phone. It said that although the complainant had emailed the journalist prior to publication stating that she did not want a “sob story”, she had made clear that she and her fiancé “don't mind our children and Charlie being mentioned in the article”. The newspaper highlighted that the complainant had provided it with a photograph of her deceased son, and one of her with her fiancé, and had agreed to be photographed by its photographer. It made clear that it had never been its intention to cause the complainant any distress; it simply wanted to emphasise how important the hen party had been to her. It said that when it was contacted by the complainant, the newspaper had already gone to print, but it removed the article from its website. It also offered to re-publish the article online without any reference to the complainant’s son.

Relevant Code Provisions

6. Clause 3 (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 in private places without their consent.

Note - Private places are public or private property where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock)

i) In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively. This should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings, such as inquests.

ii) When reporting suicide, care should be taken to avoid excessive detail about the method used.

Clause 12 (Discrimination)

i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's race, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.

ii) Details of an individual's race, colour, religion, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.

Findings of the Committee

7. The Committee acknowledged the distress which had been caused to the complainant following publication of the article, and expressed its condolences to her and her family at the loss of her son. However, in her initial email to the newspaper the complainant had made clear that the weekend away was important to her because of her bereavement. While she did email the journalist again prior to publication stating that she did not want a “sob story”, she did consent to her deceased son and her other children being mentioned in the article, and provided photographs of herself and her fiancé, and her son, to the newspaper. In these circumstances, the emphasis put on the story by the newspaper did not constitute a failure to respect the complainant's private life, or represent an intrusion into her grief; there was no breach of Clause 3 or 5. In the circumstances, the Committee welcomed the newspaper's decision to remove the online version of the article as soon as it became aware of the complainant's upset at the article.

8. The Committee was satisfied that the reference to the complainant as “blonde” was not a pejorative reference to her gender; there was no breach of Clause 12.

Conclusions

9. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

N/A

Date complaint received: 07/10/2015
Date decision issued: 14/12/2015