Ruling

07054-15 House v The Daily Telegraph

    • Date complaint received

      2nd March 2016

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      3 Harassment

Decision of the Complaints Committee 07054-15 House v The Daily Telegraph

Summary of complaint

1. Susan House complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Daily Telegraph breached Clause 3 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “House destroyed in huge gas blast while on family on Easter Sunday Walk”, published online on 06 April 2015.

2. The article reported that there had been a gas explosion at the complainant’s house which had ripped off two of the walls. It reported that police and fire crews had launched an investigation into the explosion. The article was accompanied by a photograph showing the side of the house which had lost its external walls, so that the interior of the house was visible. Some furniture and other items were visible in this photograph, including bed clothes, the rear of a book case and a desktop computer.

3. The complainant said that the first photograph was taken on her land at the rear of the house, and that no one had approached her about taking it. She said that her bedroom, bathroom and stairs were clearly visible in the photograph, and that this aspect of the property had not been visible to members of the public.  She said that the contents of her home are private, and that the photograph was intrusive. She noted that a member of public had commented on the fact that she had no cover on her duvet, and that jokes had been made about her bath, which was shown hanging off the side of the building. She said that her house was looted, which the police warned her would happen after the pictures were published.

4. The newspaper said that the photograph depicted a house with its walls blown out and its roof severely damaged by an explosion, and did not disclose any information about the private life of the complainant. In addition, the newspaper said that there was a public interest in reporting on an explosion at a domestic dwelling, which was by its nature a public event, involving the emergency services.

5. The newspaper said that the agency photographer had originally taken some photographs from the road, but did not have a good view of the most damaged part of the house. After asking around in the area, the photographer spoke to a man who identified himself as the complainant’s father, and the owner of the property. He asked where he could a take a picture of the damage to the house, and he was directed to a spot at the rear of the property, which was where the photographs were taken. The newspaper said that this spot was accessed without crossing any barriers or cordons, or opening any gates.

6. The complainant said that her father was unable to recall his conversations with the press, but that he was sure that he did not escort, indicate or show anybody to a position where they could take the photographs. The complainant said that the fire brigade had cordoned off the land on which the photographs were taken with tape.  She said that while the newspaper had argued that the publication of the photographs was in the public interest, it had not been interested in what had caused the explosion, nor did she believe the public would be better informed about the importance of gas safety as a result of the reporting.

Relevant Code Provisions

7. 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.

The Public Interest

1. The public interest includes, but is not confined to:

ii) Protecting public health and safety

Findings of the Committee

8. The Committee recognised the difficulty and distress the gas explosion caused the complainant. It appreciated that the publication of these photographs may have caused the complainant additional distress at what was a difficult time.

9. However, given the extent of the damage, including the destruction of external walls, the visibility of some of the damage from a public road, the presence of emergency services and the fact that the explosion was a significant and legitimate news story, the complainant did not have a reasonable expectation that her property was a private place. The furniture and other items depicted in the photographs were common household items which did not reveal any particular details about the complainant’s private life. Further, the photographs only showed what could be seen by standing at the rear of the property; the photographer did not enter the building.  In addition, there was a public interest in illustrating the extent of the damage caused by the gas explosion, which highlighted the importance of gas safety. Because of the extent of the damage, it would not have been possible to do so without showing some of what had previously been the internal contents of the house.

10. On the newspaper’s account, the complainant’s father identified himself, and explained where the photographer should stand to get the best picture. The complainant denied that her father escorted the photographer to this spot or indicated where to go, but said that her father could not recollect what he had said in his conversations to the press. In these circumstances, the Committee accepted the account of the conversation provided by the newspaper.

11. This gas explosion was the legitimate subject of news coverage, and illustrating the extent of the damage was in the public interest. There was no failure to respect the complainant’s privacy, and there was no breach of Clause 3.

Conclusions

12. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

N/A

Date complaint received: 15/12/2015
Date decision issued: 02/03/2016