Ruling

Decision of the Complaints Committee 07056-18 A woman v mirror.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      19th March 2019

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of adjudication

    • Code provisions

      2 Privacy, 9 Reporting of crime

Decision of the Complaints Committee 07056-18 A woman v mirror.co.uk

Summary of complaint

1. A woman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that mirror.co.uk breached Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 9 (Reporting of crime) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Adam Johnson prison visitor insists she’s NOT his girlfriend despite repeated trips to see him”, published on 22 October 2018.

2. The article reported that the complainant had denied speculation, reported in other publications, that she was in a relationship with Adam Johnson. Mr Johnson, a former professional footballer who played for England, is currently serving a six-year sentence for child sex offences. The article identified the complainant by name, included her photograph, and said that according to other reports, she had visited Mr Johnson in prison on “at least three occasions”.

3. The complainant said that her identification in the article under complaint 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.

4. The complainant said that the fact that she visited Adam Johnson in prison was private information. She said that she had been photographed without her knowledge and consent 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 of her age and the town in which she lived represented an unjustified intrusion into her private life.

5. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that the purpose of Clause 9 is to ensure that individuals are not unjustifiably tainted by their association with persons accused or convicted of crimes. The publication said that the story was not about Mr Johnson and his crimes, nor was it about someone who had once associated with him. Rather, it said that the story was about someone who has been visiting him in prison and speculation about their relationship. The publication said that the complainant was genuinely relevant to the story, as she was the person who was visiting Adam Johnson in prison. In addition, the complainant had chosen to associate herself with Mr Johnson; therefore, she was not being unfairly tainted by her inclusion in the story. The newspaper noted that the complainant had previously been identified as being associated with Adam Johnson in an article in another publication, dated July 2018, although she had not been named.

6. The publication said that a visit to a prison is not private information about a person. It noted that the visiting times for the prison were publicly available online. The publication said that the photographs were taken in the prison car park, which is accessible to any member of the public.

7. The complainant did not accept the publication’s position that the prison car park was a public place. She said that she had received confirmation from the Governors of the prison and South Yorkshire Police, that the car park is Crown property and therefore belongs to the prison.

Relevant Code Provisions

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.

Findings of the Committee

8. 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.

9. 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.

10. The publication 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 her denial of speculation that she 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 publication 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.

11. 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.

Conclusions

12. The complaint was upheld.

Remedial Action

13. 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.

14. The Committee considered the placement of this adjudication. The adjudication should 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 mirror.co.uk, headlined ”Adam Johnson prison visitor insists she’s NOT his girlfriend despite repeated trips to see him”, a woman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the publication had breached Clause 9 (Reporting of crime) of the Editors’ Code of Practice. IPSO upheld the complaint and has required mirror.co.uk to publish this decision as a remedy to the breach.

The article named the complainant, included her photograph and reported that the complainant had denied speculation, reported in other publications, that she was in a relationship with Adam Johnson. Mr Johnson, a former professional footballer who played for England, is currently serving a six-year sentence for child sex offences.

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 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 her denial of speculation that she 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 child sex offences. The sole focus of the article was the complainant’s denial of speculation that she 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 publication 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.

Independent Complaints Reviewer

The publication complained to the Independent Complaints Reviewer about the process followed by IPSO in handling this complaint. The Independent Complaints Reviewer decided that the process was not flawed and did not uphold the request for review.