Ruling

05340-18 and 07336-18 A woman v The Sun and thesun.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      13th December 2018

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      2 Privacy, 9 Reporting of crime

Decision of the Complaints Committee 05340-18 and 07336-18 A woman v The Sun and thesun.co.uk

Summary of complaint

1. A woman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Sun and thesun.co.uk breached Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 9 (Reporting of crime) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in a number of articles headlined:

  1. “How could Samantha just vanish?” published by the Sun on 3 August 2018. The article also appeared online on 2 August 2018, under the headline “Mystery of 'happy-go-lucky' midwife at centre of 'one of the country's biggest missing person' police hunts just months after messy break-up;
  2. “Heartbroken sister sobs as she issues desperate plea to find missing midwife, 28, who vanished a week ago” published by thesun.co.uk on 4 August 2018;
  3. “Cops find body in hunt for missing midwife with three men arrested” published by thesun.co.uk on 4 August 2018;
  4. “Dad, 60, and son arrested over midwife”, published by the Sun on 6 August 2018. The article also appeared online on 5 August 2018, under the headline: “Eastwood's ex-fiancé’s brother-in-law charged with her murder as it's revealed midwife 'told colleagues she had been threatened'”;
  5. “Heartbroken family and friends of 'murdered' midwife Samantha Eastwood raise thousands to pay for her funeral” published by thesun.co.uk on 6 August 2018;
  6. “Eastwood's devastated ex-fiancé and family lay flowers for tragic midwife” published by thesun.co.uk on 7 August 2018;
  7. “Michael Stirling 'left cowering in his jail cell' after being battered while on remand” published by thesun.co.uk on 8 August 2018
  8. “Fiancé’s heart-breaking tribute to 'murdered' midwife Samantha Eastwood as friends and family hold candlelit vigil” published by thesun.co.uk on 11 August 2018.

For ease of reference, the articles will be referred to by these numbers, throughout this decision.

2. This is a decision on two complaints, made against two separate publications within the same newspaper group. Given that the issues involved are common to both complaints, the Committee has expressed its reasoning for its decision on the two complaints, in one decision.

3. The coverage concerned the disappearance of Samantha Eastwood, who was reported missing on 27 July 2018. The first, second and third articles reported the search for Ms Eastwood, the appeals for information, and the subsequent discovery of her body on 4 August 2018. The fourth article reported that on 5 August, the complainant’s husband had been arrested and charged with Ms Eastwood’s murder. The remaining articles reported on the developments in the case, and the tributes to Ms Eastwood from her friends and family.

4. All the articles named the complainant and explained that she was the wife of the accused; the articles also explained the complainant’s connection to Ms Eastwood, who was the complainant’s brother’s ex-fiancé. All the articles under complaint contained a unpixelated photograph of the complainant sitting next to her husband, her brother and Ms Eastwood.

5. The complainant said the publication of this unpixelated photograph, in which she was clearly identifiable, was a breach of Clause 9 as she was not relevant to the story, and was an innocent party. The complainant sought the removal of her name and relationship with the accused from the article, as she said that the reporting exposed her to a risk of retaliation, a risk which she believed was heightened by the publication of a photograph in the online version of the fourth article, of the exterior of her home, with the door number visible. The complainant said that the exterior of her home was very distinctive and anyone following the story would have knowledge of the street name and the area in which it was located from other reports; in these circumstances, she said that the publication of a photograph of her home with the front door number visible represented a risk to her safety and an intrusion into her privacy. The complainant also said that the photograph of her, her husband, her brother and Ms Eastwood had been obtained from a private photo album on Facebook visible only to friends.

6. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code and said the complainant was genuinely relevant to the story.

7. The publication said that the first, second and third articles did not engage the terms of Clause 9 because at that stage, the complainant’s husband had not been identified as the person charged with Ms Eastwood’s murder. The publication said that it was only after the publication of the second article under complaint, which named the accused as the complainant’s husband, that the complainant’s identification engaged this clause. It said that after this point, each time the photograph was published, it was accompanied with information which explained who each person was and how they related to each other.

8. The publication said that the relationship between a victim and the person accused of their murder is always genuinely relevant to the story. It said that in this case, the identification of the complainant had explained how these two individuals were connected, and the photograph provided a pictorial explanation to readers of the individuals concerned. The publication said that it would have been pointless to cease publishing the complainant’s name and picture once her husband had been arrested, as her relationship with him, and her connection to Ms Eastwood, was a matter of public knowledge as a consequence of the widespread reporting of the case, which included the photograph subject to complaint. The publication said that the complainant was further relevant to the story when the home which she shared with her husband was searched by police as part of their inquiries. The publication also said that it expected that the complainant would be named in open court, should the case reach trial.

9. In respect of the complaint made under Clause 2, the publication did not accept that the publication of the photograph represented an intrusion into the complainant’s private life. It said that the photograph had been taken from a publicly available Facebook page, and provided a screenshot of the original post, which showed a small globe icon next to the date the image was posted. The publication said that this icon indicated that the photograph could have been viewed by anyone.

10. The publication said that the publication of a photograph showing the complainant’s door number was not an intrusion into her privacy, and said that in any case, a person’s address is not generally considered private information. It said that the articles did not report the name of the street and noted that the police had been in attendance at the house throughout their inquiry. While the publication did not accept a breach of the Code, it pixelated the complainant’s door number as a gesture of goodwill.

11. During the course of IPSO’s investigation, the complainant’s husband pleaded guilty to the murder of Ms Eastwood. It was widely reported that it was believed that Ms Eastwood had been planning to reveal the fact of an affair between her and the complainant’s husband, before she was murdered. The publication said that in those circumstances, the complainant was clearly relevant to the reporting of the case.

Relevant Code provisions

12. 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. In considering an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy, account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information and the extent to which the material complained about is already in the public domain or will become so.

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

13. The complainant’s identification in the first, second and third articles did not engage the terms of Clause 9. The complainant had not been identified in connection to a relative or friend that had been named as being accused of a crime; she had been identified as part of the reporting into Ms Eastwood’s background and circumstances, which focused, in part, on Ms Eastwood’s previous relationship with the complainant’s brother.

14. The Committee turned to consider the remaining four articles under complaint, which had been published following the man’s arrest, and which engaged the terms of Clause 9.

15. Clause 9 offers protection to family and friends from being caught in the publicity spotlight focused on those accused, unless they are genuinely relevant to the story, and aims to ensure that these individuals are not unjustifiably tainted by their association to alleged or convicted criminals. Following her husband’s arrest, the publication had chosen to continue to identify the complainant by name and by photograph, rather than to communicate in words the relationship between her, Ms Eastwood, and the accused.

16. As the sister of Ms Eastwood’s ex-fiancé, and the wife of the accused, the complainant represented a familial connection between Ms Eastwood and the man accused of her murder. The first photograph, and the information which accompanied it, provided an explanation to readers of how these two individuals would have known each other. Further, prior to his arrest, the home which the complainant had shared with her husband was searched by police as part of its inquiries into Ms Eastwood’s disappearance. This familial connection, and the search of her home, was relevant information relating to the circumstances surrounding the alleged crime and the investigation into it. Identifying the complainant as the accused’s wife was not a breach of Clause 9; she was genuinely relevant to the story.

17. In coming to its decision, the Committee also had regard to the fact that the complainant’s identity and relationship with the accused was a matter of public knowledge, prior to the terms of Clause 9 being engaged, as a consequence of the widespread reporting of the case, which included the first photograph subject to complaint. The complainant had been identified as the sister of Ms Eastwood’s ex-fiancé; this was relevant background information on Ms Eastwood’s life, and was a connection which had been made and widely reported, prior to the complainant’s husband’s arrest. In the Committee’s view, in those particular circumstances, it would be an unjustified restriction on the publication’s right to report on the developments in the case, to find a breach of Clause 9 in the publication’s decision to continue to identify the complainant by name and by photograph following her husband’s arrest.

18. The Committee acknowledged the complainant’s safety concerns; it wished to take this opportunity to make clear that the most appropriate authority in which to address concerns about safety, is the police. The Committee also recognised that certain individuals, including those who become the subject of media attention, may be exposed to security problems if details which allow their address to be identified, are published. As such, this may be information in relation to which they have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

19. The second photograph had shown the front wall, door, and side alley of the complainant’s home; it depicted the exterior of the property as it would ordinarily be seen by members of the public. The complainant had said that when combined with information reported elsewhere, the details contained in the article, particularly the disclosure of her house number, would have enabled her home to be located. However, the question for the Committee was whether the articles under complaint contained information about which the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy. In this instance, the online version of the fourth article had reported details of the wider geographical region where the property was located, but did not specify the street name or contain any other reference points. The Committee considered that in the absence of this information, the publication of the complainant’s front door number would not have enabled the location of the property to be identified; in those circumstances, the complainant did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to the information contained in the article. There was no breach of Clause 2 on this point.

20. The wedding photograph had been taken from a publicly available Facebook account, as demonstrated by the globe icon which accompanied the image. The photograph had revealed the complainant’s likeness, which was not information about which she had a reasonable expectation of privacy. Further, the disclosure of her relationship with the accused was not intrusive, for the reasons set out above. There was no breach of the Code.

Conclusion

21. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action required

22. N/A

Date complaint received: 09/08/2018
Date decision issued: 23/11/2018