Ruling

06923-18 A woman v The Sun

    • Date complaint received

      20th August 2019

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of adjudication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 10 Clandestine devices and subterfuge, 2 Privacy, 9 Reporting of crime

Decision of the Complaints Committee 06923-18 A woman v The Sun

Summary of complaint

1. A woman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sun breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 9 (Reporting of crime) and Clause 10 (Clandestine devices or subterfuge) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “GOT A NEW MADAM, JOHNSON?”, published on 22 October 2018.

2. The article named the complainant, included her photograph, and speculated that she was in a relationship with Adam Johnson, after she had been seen visiting him in prison on “at least three occasions”. Mr Johnson, a former professional footballer who played for England, is currently serving a six-year sentence for sexual offences against a child.

3. The article reported that when approached by the journalist, the complainant had “failed to deny that she and Johnson were an item”; the complainant was quoted in the article as saying: “I don’t want to comment. I hope this isn’t going to be in the paper”. The article reported that in a later email to the reporter, the complainant had said: “I can categorically say I am not in a relationship with Adam. The fact you’re basing your assumptions on how many times I’ve visited him and nothing more is ridiculous.”

4. The article was published in substantially the same form online, under the headline “NEW M-ADAM? Caged footie Paedo Adam Johnson has been enjoying prison visits from redhead, 28”, published on 21 October 2018.

5. The complainant said that identifying her in the article was a breach of Clause 9. She said that the disclosure of her association with Adam Johnson was intrusive: the fact of her visits were only known to prison staff, she was not involved in Mr Johnson’s previous court case, nor had she publicly commented on it. The complainant said that Mr Johnson received several visits a month from family and other friends, none of which drew any media attention.

6. The complainant said that the newspaper’s entire basis for identifying her in the article was inaccurate, in breach of Clause 1; she was not in a relationship with Adam Johnson, in fact, she had been friends with him for around 9 years. The complainant said that there was no justification for the article’s speculation, given that she had denied to the reporter that they were in a relationship.

7. The complainant said that she had been photographed without her knowledge and consent while standing in a private car park owned by the prison; this was a place where she had a reasonable expectation of privacy. The complainant said that the disclosure in the article of her name, age, and the town in which she lived was intrusive, and a breach of Clause 2.

8. The complainant denied that she had told the reporter, “I hope this isn’t going to be in the paper”, when she had been approached at her home. She said that, in fact, a member of her family had said these words. The complainant said that when she had been asked whether she would like to comment, she had replied "absolutely not", before closing the door on the journalist.

9. The newspaper did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that Clause 9 makes clear that a person's relationship to a convicted criminal can be disclosed it they are genuinely relevant to the story. The publication said that the complainant's relationship to Adam Johnson was the entire basis of the article: her identity and the fact that she has been to visit Mr Johnson on several occasions was the story, and therefore the publication said that it could not be argued that the complainant was not genuinely relevant to it. The newspaper noted the complainant had known Adam Johnson for several years, but said that she had only recently started to visit him regularly, and had made lengthy round trips from her home in order to do so.

10. The newspaper said that the fact of a relationship, or who a person visits in prison, is not private information. The newspaper said that the complainant would have to enter the prison from a public road, where any member of the public who might be passing would be able to see her. It noted that the complainant’s visits took place within a publicly funded institution run by, or on behalf of, the state.

11. The newspaper said that it was not in dispute that the complainant had been to visit Adam Johnson on multiple occasions. It said that the article had merely speculated on whether the complainant was in a relationship with him; it did not state conclusively that she was, and the article had included her denial.

12. The newspaper said there was no failure to take care over the reporting of the complainant’s comments. The newspaper provided an audio recording of the reporter’s conversation with the complainant at her home, which it said recorded the complainant saying, “I hope this isn’t going to be in the paper”. The newspaper also provided an email which the reporter had sent to a staff journalist, shortly after she had attended the complainant’s home. In that email, the journalist had said: “I've spoken to [the complainant] and put to her that she's in a relationship with Adam Johnson. It's definitely right - she didn't deny anything and just said: ‘I really don't want to comment. I hope this isn't going to be in the paper’." The newspaper said that this email amounted to a contemporaneous note of the comments which the complainant made on the doorstep.

13. The complainant criticised the quality of the audio recording provided to IPSO by the newspaper; she said that at no stage did it record her saying “I hope this isn’t going to be in the paper”. She expressed concern that her conversation with the journalist had been audio recorded, without her knowledge and consent, in breach of Clause 10.

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. 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 9 (Reporting of Crime)*

i) Relatives or friends of persons convicted or accused of crime should not generally be identified without their consent, unless they are genuinely relevant to the story.

Clause 10 (Clandestine devices and 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.

Findings of the Committee

15. The purpose of Clause 9 is to provide protection to family and friends from being caught unnecessarily in the publicity spotlight focused on those accused, or found guilty, of crimes. Clause 9 aims to ensure that family and friends are not unjustifiably tainted by their association to these individuals: it sets a high bar in relation to the standards expected of  a publication.

16. The complainant had been named and photographed following her visit to Adam Johnson in prison; the article had also identified the town in which she lived. Visits to prison enable family and friends of individuals who have been convicted of crime to continue to maintain their pre-established relationships. It was accepted that the complainant had been friends with Adam Johnson for a number of years prior to his arrest and conviction for sexual offences against a child. The context in which the complainant had been identified was distinct from a situation where, for example, she had chosen to associate herself publicly to Mr Johnson in the context of the legal proceedings against him, for example, by making public statements on his case.

17. The newspaper had argued that there was no breach of Clause 9, on the basis that the complainant was genuinely relevant to the story; “the story” being the speculation that the complainant was in a relationship with Adam Johnson. Indeed, this was the sole focus of the article. However, conjecture on the existence of a possible relationship with a person convicted of crime is not enough to show relevance. The newspaper had not demonstrated that the complainant was genuinely relevant to a story which in part related to the crime for which Adam Johnson had been convicted. The complaint was therefore upheld as a breach of Clause 9.

18. The Committee then turned to consider the complaint which had been made under Clause 2. The complainant had been photographed without her knowledge or consent in the grounds of the prison car park. There was a dispute between the parties as to whether the car park was privately owned by the prison, or whether it was a public place. In any event, it appeared to be accepted that it was a location which was open to the visiting public. The Committee did not consider that the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy while walking through a prison car park, or in relation to the simple fact of her visit to the prison, leaving aside the issues that arose under Clause 9. No other issues arose under Clause 2.

19. The article did not assert as fact that the complainant was in a relationship with Adam Johnson. Care had been taken by the newspaper to report this as a speculative claim and the article had included the complainant’s denial. The complainant said that it was her mother who had told the reporter, “I hope this isn’t going to be in the paper”. This comment was inaudible in the audio recording, however the newspaper had provided a contemporaneous note, in the form an email, which had recorded that this statement had been made. The newspaper had demonstrated that care had been taken over the accuracy of the article on this point which was, in any event, not a significant aspect of the piece. Any inaccuracy relating to the attribution of these comments was not a significant inaccuracy in the context of the article. There was no breach of Clause 1.

20. The journalist had used a recording device to create a record of the complainant’s comments. This was merely an alternative means by which the journalist could make a contemporaneous note. The conversation was audible without the use of technology; in such circumstances, the newspaper had not obtained or published material acquired by one of the methods defined in Clause 10(i). There was no breach of Clause 10.

Conclusions

21. The complaint was upheld.

Remedial Action Required

22. Having upheld the complaint, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required. In circumstances where the newspaper had breached Clause 9, the publication of an adjudication was appropriate.

23. The Committee considered the placement of this adjudication. The article had appeared on page 17. The Committee therefore required that its adjudication be published on this page, or further forward in the newspaper. The headline to the adjudication should make clear that IPSO has upheld the complaint, give the title of the newspaper and refer to the complaint’s subject matter. The headline must be agreed with IPSO in advance.

24. The adjudication should also be published online, with a link to it (including the headline) being published on the top 50% of the publication’s homepage for 24 hours; it should then be archived in the usual way. The headline to the adjudication should make clear that IPSO has upheld the complaint, give the title of the publication and refer to the complaint’s subject matter. The headline must be agreed with IPSO in advance. The publication should contact IPSO to confirm the amendments it now intends to make to the article to avoid the continued publication of material in breach of the Editors’ Code of Practice. If the article remains online un-amended, the full adjudication (including the headline) should appear below the headline.

The terms of the adjudication for publication are as follows:

Following an article published on 22 October 2018 in The Sun, headlined ”GOT A NEW MADAM, JOHNSON?”, a woman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the newspaper had breached Clause 9 (Reporting of crime) of the Editors’ Code of Practice. IPSO upheld the complaint and has required The Sun to publish this decision as a remedy to the breach.

The article named the complainant, included her photograph, and speculated that she was in a relationship with Adam Johnson, after she had been seen visiting him in prison. Mr Johnson, a former professional footballer who played for England, is currently serving a six-year sentence for sexual offences against a child.

The complainant said she should not have been identified in the article because she was not genuinely relevant to the story. She said that she was not involved in Mr Johnson’s previous court case, nor had she publicly commented on it.

The newspaper argued that there was no breach of Clause 9, on the basis that the complainant was genuinely relevant to the story; “the story” being the speculation that the complainant was in a relationship with Adam Johnson.

The purpose of Clause 9 is to provide protection to family and friends from being caught unnecessarily in the publicity spotlight focused on those accused, or found guilty, of crimes. Clause 9 aims to ensure that family and friends are not unjustifiably tainted by their association to these individuals.

IPSO’s Complaints Committee considered that visits to prison enable family and friends of individuals who have been convicted of crime to continue to maintain their pre-established relationships; it was accepted that complainant had been friends with Adam Johnson for a number of years prior to his arrest and conviction for sexual offences against a child. The sole focus of the article was speculation that the complainant was in a relationship with Adam Johnson. However, conjecture on the existence of a possible relationship with a person convicted of crime is not enough to show relevance. The newspaper had not demonstrated that the complainant was genuinely relevant to a story which, in part, related to the crime which Adam Johnson had been convicted of. The complaint was therefore upheld as a breach of Clause 9.

Date complaint received: 22/10/2018

Date decision issued: 15/02/2019