Ruling

10070-22 Warner, Eddleston & Eddleston v mirror.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      24th November 2022

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      2 Privacy, 3 Harassment, 4 Intrusion into grief or shock

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 10070-22 Warner, Eddleston & Eddleston v mirror.co.uk

Summary of Complaint

1. Ellie Warner, Nat Eddleston and his father, Nathaniel Eddleston complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that mirror.co.uk breached Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 3 (Harassment) and Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in the articles headlined “Gogglebox Ellie's boyfriend crash pictures - devastating scenes as he 'fights for life'”, published on 21 March 2022 and "Gogglebox's Ellie Warner comforted by pals at pub in break from boyfriend's bedside", published on 15 April 2022.

2. The first article reported that Gogglebox star Ellie Warner’s boyfriend Nat Eddleston had been hit by a car and was “fighting for his life”. It said that the article was the “first look at the scene of [the] serious crash” and contained a photograph of the car involved in the collision, taken after the incident; it showed the front windscreen had been smashed. The article also included a photograph of the crash scene at the time of the incident, which showed several emergency service personnel attending Nat Eddleston on the floor after the accident; his image had been pixelated.

3. The second article reported that Ellie Warner had been seen being supported by friends at a local pub after her boyfriend Nat Eddleston had been involved in a car accident. It said that she had been seen for the first time since the accident and reported that “in pictures obtained by The Sun, the Channel 4 star was seen wearing ripped jeans and a green military jacket” however the article did not feature those specific pictures. The article included a number of other photographs of Ellie Warner and Nat Eddleston.

4. The complainants said that the first article breached Clause 2 and Clause 4 by including a photograph of the crash scene where Nat Eddleston was receiving treatment. They considered this intruded into Nat Eddleston’s privacy and was an intrusion into the grief and shock of the family. The complainants said that the photo showed Nat Eddleston moments after being hit by a car receiving lifesaving treatment, and regardless of the pixelation of this image, the publication of the image amounted to an intrusion at a very difficult time for Nat Eddleston’s partner and family. They said that any individual who was unconscious and seriously injured had a reasonable expectation of privacy, without images of them being published in the press.

5. The complainants said that the second article had also breached Clause 2 and Clause 4. They said that the article included a photo of Ellie Warner which was taken without her knowledge on one of her first outings after the accident. It said that by following her, photographing her, and publishing the photos, this breached the terms of both Clauses.

6. The complainants also said that there had been a breach of Clause 3. They said that two days after the accident, a journalist who identified themselves as working for Mirror Online posted a letter through Nat Eddleston’s father’s (Nathaniel Eddleston) door asking him for a comment and had parked outside his house. They said that he had found this upsetting and intrusive in breach of Clause 3. The complainants also added that the journalist spoke to neighbours.

7. The publication apologised to the complainants for any distress or upset caused by the story, but it did not consider there had been a breach of the Editor’s Code. It said that in regard to the photographs in the first article, the photograph of Nat Eddleston receiving treatment had been provided by a member of the public who was present at the scene and care was taken by the publication to obscure the image of Nat Eddleston. It accepted that he had a reasonable expectation of privacy while receiving medical care but considered that there was a public interest in publishing the image. The publication said that it felt it was important to depict the scene in case any witnesses came forward, to highlight the shocking nature of the incident and added that at the time of publication the perpetrator was still actively being looked for by the police.

8. The newspaper said that any alleged breach of Clause 2 could be justified because of the public interest, specifically “detecting, or exposing crime, or the threat of crime, or serious impropriety, and protecting public health and safety”. The publication provided the police’s appeal for witnesses, which had been shared online and on social media on 19 March and said that the public interest was considered prior to publication and as the police were actively appealing for witnesses, the editorial decision was made that it was important to include the image of the scene, with care taken to obscure the victim.

9. The publication also said that Clause 4 of the Editors’ Code does not prohibit the reporting of distressing circumstances and events, but rather sets out that publication should be handled sensitively; it did not consider that there had been a breach of Clause 4 in this instance.

10. In regard to the second article, the publication said that all the photographs included in the article were taken from public social media accounts and did not represent a breach of Clause 2. The publication said that the article had not been amended and the images the complainants were concerned about had not appeared in any version of the article.

11. The publication further said that the single approach made to Nathaniel Eddleston by the letter posted through his door did not amount to a breach of Clause 3.

12. The complainants said that the publication was mistaken that the police had still been looking for the “perpetrator” at the time of publication and at no time were the police looking for the driver. It said that this negated the publication’s argument that the publishing of the picture had been in the public interest.

Relevant Code Provisions

Clause 2 (Privacy)*

i) Everyone is entitled to respect for their private and family life, home, physical and mental 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 3 (Harassment)*

i) Journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit.

ii) They must not persist in questioning, telephoning, pursuing or photographing individuals once asked to desist; nor remain on property when asked to leave and must not follow them. If requested, they must identify themselves and whom they represent.

iii)  Editors must ensure these principles are observed by those working for them and take care not to use non-compliant material from other sources.

Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock)

In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively. These provisions should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings.

The Public Interest (*)

There may be exceptions to the clauses marked * where they can be demonstrated to be in the public interest.

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

- Detecting or exposing crime, or the threat of crime, or serious impropriety.

- Protecting public health or safety.

- Protecting the public from being misled by an action or statement of an individual or organisation.

- Disclosing a person or organisation’s failure or likely failure to comply with any obligation to which they are subject.

- Disclosing a miscarriage of justice.

- Raising or contributing to a matter of public debate, including serious cases of impropriety, unethical conduct or incompetence concerning the public.

- Disclosing concealment, or likely concealment, of any of the above.

2. There is a public interest in freedom of expression itself.

3. The regulator will consider the extent to which material is already in the public domain or will become so.

4. Editors invoking the public interest will need to demonstrate that they reasonably believed publication - or journalistic activity taken with a view to publication – would both serve, and be proportionate to, the public interest and explain how they reached that decision at the time.

5. An exceptional public interest would need to be demonstrated to over-ride the normally paramount interests of children under 16.

Findings of the Committee

13. The complainants considered that the inclusion of the photograph of the crash scene where Nat Eddleston was receiving treatment amounted to a breach of Clause 2. The Committee appreciated that the publication of the photograph had caused the complainants distress at what was already a difficult time and expressed its sympathy for their circumstances. However, the Committee noted that the photograph was very limited in detail, of a low resolution, and in practice showed only a dark public street with two emergency service vehicles and various unidentifiable people with their faces obscured. Although the posture of two of the emergency service workers suggested that someone was on the ground, a pixelated block at the bottom part of the image obscured what was happening in that portion of the image. In its heavily pixelated form, and given the low image resolution and the time of night it was taken, the image did not reveal any information about the injuries sustained or the treatment being received.  There was no breach of Clause 2 regarding the publication of the image in the first article.

14. The Committee next considered the complainant’s concerns regarding Clause 4 in relation to the photograph included in the first article. The Committee recognised that the publication of the photograph was highly sensitive, particularly so soon after the accident. However, in circumstances where the article in which it was contained was a factual account of the accident; where care had been taken to pixelate the image; and given the fact the image did not show the injuries sustained or any treatment being received, the Committee considered that the publication of the photograph had been handled sensitively. While the image would have been upsetting for the complainants to see, the Committee did not consider that its inclusion was insensitive. There was no breach of Clause 4 on this point.

15. The complainants had also said that the second article was in breach of Clause 2 and Clause 4; it said that the article included a photo of Ellie Warner which had been taken without her knowledge on one of her first outings after the accident. The publication had said that all photographs included in the article were from social media and that the image the complainants were concerned about had not appeared in any version of the article. The Committee noted that the complainant did not dispute that the photograph about which they were concerned had not appeared in the second article. Given this, there was no grounds for investigation under Clause 2 or Clause 4 on this point.

16. The complainants had said that there had been a breach of Clause 3 as two days after the accident a journalist who worked for the Mirror Online posted a letter through Nathaniel Eddleston’s door asking him if he would like to comment on the incident. The Committee acknowledged that the complainants found this upsetting given how soon after the incident the letter was sent; however, one approach for comment through a polite letter did not amount to persistent pursuit or questioning under the Clause. There was no breach of Clause 3.

Conclusion(s)

17. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

18. N/A


Date complaint received: 27/05/2022

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 09/11/2022