Ruling

09396-16 Allison v Sunday Life

    • Date complaint received

      2nd March 2017

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      12 Discrimination, 2 Privacy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 

Summary of complaint

1. Linda Allison complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Sunday Life breached Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Former bank thief on new fraud rap”, published on 18 September 2016.

2. The article reported that the complainant, who it described as a “female fraudster” and a “blonde swindler”, had pleaded guilty to charges of forgery. It said that the complainant who had worked in a bank had previously admitted to stealing “huge sums of cash” from the accounts of “deceased and vulnerable customers”.

3. The article was not published online.

4. The complainant expressed concern that the newspaper had published her photograph, which she said had been taken without her knowledge or consent. She said her conviction did not diminish her right to privacy. She also considered that the descriptions of her as a “female fraudster” and “blonde swindler” were discriminatory. She said the newspaper would not have referred to a male criminal’s gender or to the colour of their hair.

5. The newspaper said that the photograph had been taken as the complainant had left court in May 2014; she was in a public place and she was not engaged in a private act. It considered that it was common practice for the media to film and photograph people who faced charges as they arrived or left court.

6. The newspaper did not consider that describing the complainant as a “female fraudster” or “blonde swindler” had been discriminatory.  It considered that male criminals were frequently referred to as bald or balding, bearded, long-haired, smartly dressed or scruffy, as young, middle-aged or elderly, and it provided evidence of this.

Relevant Code provisions

7. 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 12 (Discrimination)

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

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

Findings of the Committee

8. The complainant had been photographed outside court. The image had shown the complainant’s face; she was not engaged in a private activity at the time it was taken, and it did not disclose anything private about her. While she had not consented to having her photograph taken, this was a public place in which she had no reasonable expectation of privacy. As such, consent was not required by Clause 2(iii). The complaint under Clause 2 was not upheld.

9. The Committee did not consider that the references to the complainant as a “blonde swindler” or “female fraudster” represented pejorative or prejudicial references to her sex. It also noted that Clause 12 (ii) does not refer to an individual’s sex. There was no breach of Clause 12.

Conclusion

10. The complaint was not upheld.

Date complaint received: 16/10/2016
Date decision issued: 09/02/2017