Ruling

11100-22 Banks v theboltonnews.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      26th January 2023

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      12 Discrimination, 2 Privacy, 3 Harassment

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 11100-22 Banks v theboltonnews.co.uk

Summary of Complaint

1. Christopher Banks complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that theboltonnews.co.uk breached Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 3 (Harassment) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in the following articles and Facebook posts:

- An article headlined “Bolton man denies 'vendetta' against Manchester City coach”, published on 11 August 2022

- An article headlined "Manchester City coach 'trolled' with email sack threats, court hears", published on 11 August 2022

- An article headlined "Jury unable to reach verdict in 'trolling' case: retrial ordered", published on 12 August 2022

- A Facebook post, which said “Christopher Banks gave evidence in his trial today” and linked to an online article about the complainant which was headlined “Man says he sent email about Manchester City coach over 'safeguarding concerns'”, published on 11 August 2022

- A Facebook post which said  "’I was completely confused. It destroyed me.’” and linked to the second article under complaint, published on 11 August 2022

- A Facebook post which said “Christopher Banks will go on trial again next year”, which linked to the third article under complaint, published on 12 August 2022

2. The first article, which appeared online only, reported on an ongoing trial at Bolton Crown Court involving the complainant – who had been accused of sending a threatening email to a Premier League football coach. The report detailed what was said in court about the circumstances in which the email was sent. It further named the organisation at which the complainant volunteered: “[the complainant] also mentioned that he had worked with the [named organisation] where ’safeguarding is a priority’."  The article included images of the complainant leaving court.

3. The second article, which also appeared online only, reported on the same trial. It said the complainant had been accused of “sending an electronic communication with intent to cause distress or anxiety”. This article also included images of the complainant leaving court.

4. The third article, which also appeared online only, reported on the same trial, and stated that: “Following a three-day trial at Bolton Crown Court a jury of six men and six women were unable to reach a verdict and decide whether 40-year-old Christopher Banks is guilty of sending an electronic communication with intent to cause distress or anxiety or not.” This article also included an image of the complainant leaving court.

5. The complainant said that a journalist working on behalf of the publication had breached Clause 3 during an encounter on the day of the court case. He said that, as he was leaving court, he noticed an individual hiding behind a bus stop who was taking photographs of him and asked, “did you just take my photograph?”. He said that he found that behaviour alarming and distressing because she was hiding behind the bus stop. The complainant further said that he had asked her who she was, who she worked for, and why she had been taking pictures of him, but that she ignored him and “fled” the scene. According to the complainant, he had then attempted to approach her and continued to ask her loudly who she was and her motive for the photographs. She continued to the publication’s office without revealing her name or where she worked.

6. The complainant later researched who the individual might have been and called the news desk. The complainant provided IPSO with an audio recording of this conversation:

Complainant: Hi can I speak to [name] please?

Publication:  She’s not available at the moment can I ask for your name please?

Complainant: Yeah I believe she’s just taken my picture at the Crown Court which I’m totally fine with if the trial is being reported. What I don’t appreciate is her hiding at a bus stop and taking my picture. I’m more than happy to come over to her, she can approach them and take my picture at the Crown Court. So if you’d like some pictures I can send you some pictures of myself. I can stand at the Crown Court and she can take my picture. What I don’t appreciate is this cowardly hiding at a bus stop and then running across the street away from me. It’s pretty sub-par journalism to do that, so if you would like a picture…

Publication: What’s your name please?

Complainant: Chris Banks – Chris Banks

Publication: Ok, no worries, I’ll tell you what Chris, if you like I can give you my email address if you want to send the pictures to me?

Complainant: You can use any pictures of me. I’m totally fine with you reporting the case I’ve been prosecuted for. It’s 100% fine obviously no issues – from me – it’s in the public interest to do so but just hiding at a bus stop – just speak to me – I’m a human being. You can take my picture at the Crown Court if you want to take it I’m a decent person, but then running away from me – what you doing, what is this? It’s not Iraq, it’s not like I’ve got a death squad waiting round corner. It’s ridiculous.

Publication: Yeah I appreciate that, we do unfortunately have problems with defendants.

Complainant:  No you’re going to have problems with defendants who are drug dealers. Mine is no convictions, no arrests, a few weeks from now I’m picking up an MBE for my community group, I’m here at the allotment volunteering and I’ve never had a conviction or arrest in my life. So, there was no need for that, it was just shoddy. Just speak to me – human being. So would you like me to send some pictures you can use?

Publication: Yeah can do if you’d like – yeah.

7. He further said a journalist working on behalf of the publication was present at court and said she was acting insensitively such as smiling and laughing with the prosecution. He considered that this behaviour also breached Clause 3.

8. He also considered the Facebook posts published by the publication represented harassment in breach of Clause 3 as one of them said “I was completely confused. It destroyed me” and another published his full name. He said that other examples of court reports on Facebook did not include individuals’ full names.

9. The complainant further considered the first article’s reference to the organisation he volunteered at to represent a breach of Clause 2, Clause 3, and Clause 12, as well as the Facebook post which had also contained this reference before it was edited and this was removed at a later date. He said publishing the name of the organisation he volunteered at was of no relevance to the charges against him and that this was discriminatory towards him. He further considered the publication of his full name in the Facebook posts had breached the publication’s usual procedures around reporting names in social media.

10. The publication said it did not accept a breach of the Editors’ Code. Turning first to Clause 3, the publication said that its journalists do not approach defendants while trials are ongoing and do not have to make their presence known. It said that, in line with the principle of open justice, it could cover court cases without the defendant’s permission as this information was in the public domain. The journalist took a photograph outside court, which they was entitled to do under the Code, and was not done in a way to intimidate the complainant. It did not consider the journalist’s actions represented persistent pursuit or harassment.

11. The publication then said the journalist did not tell the complainant her name or the publication she was working on behalf of as, to the best of her recollection, the complainant had not asked for that information. It said that the journalist in question was very experienced and that, according to her account of the interaction, the complainant chased her shouting “you have just taken my picture”. She said that she saw an aggressive look on the complainant’s face which led her to leave the scene quickly for her own safety. The publication then went on to describe the risk involved in covering court proceedings and that photographers take measures to keep themselves safe, due to previous attacks. This was why, it said, the journalist had quickly left the area around the court. The publication did not recall the complainant mentioning on its subsequent phone call with the publication the journalist’s actions had caused him distress, and said the call was followed up by a “jovial” email with attached images of the complainant which he had offered to provide the publication.

12. The publication also said that the complainant was a defendant in a criminal trial and, therefore, it was entitled to name him and the organisation he volunteered at – whose name had been heard in court as part of the complainant’s mitigation – both in the articles and Facebook posts. It further provided notes from court which corroborated the reference to the organisation had been heard in court.

13. The publication did not accept a breach of Clause 12, as it did not believe the complainant had been discriminated against. It said it had published a true and accurate account of court proceedings. It also did not accept a breach of Clause 2 as both reference to his full name and the charity he volunteered at were heard in court.

14. In response to the publications’ account of the interaction, the complainant said that he did not have an “aggressive” look on his face but was having an emotional response to someone taking his picture hiding behind a bus stop, on a very stressful day. He said that the recording of the call demonstrated that he was distressed and upset in his voice. The complainant said he had no criminal convictions, and that the journalist did not speak to anyone about the interaction or report what happened to the police, and that it was him who contacted the publication to express his distress at the interaction outside court.

15. The complainant noted that the reference to the organisation he volunteered at had been removed from the article prior to IPSO having begun its investigation. The publication asserted that this was because the name had caused confusion amongst readers, rather than it being any admission that the Code had been breached.

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 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

16. The Committee appreciated that there was a dispute over the precise details and nature of the interaction between the complainant and the journalist outside court, such as whether the complainant had asked the journalist to identify themselves and who they worked for. It further noted that taking pictures of an individual on a public street did not, in and of itself, represent a breach of Clause 3; absent of a request to desist, photography is permitted by the terms of Clause 3. The Committee went on to note that, during the phone call made by the complainant to the newsroom on the day the interaction happened, the complainant did not mention that the journalist had refused to identify themselves. Rather, he appeared to be distressed by the fact that they had taken a photograph of him from behind a bus stop and then left the location hastily. The publication accepted that the journalist did not disclose their name or publication to the complainant, and it was not in dispute that the journalist had left the location quickly. It was the publication’s position that the journalist did not recollect having been asked for this information.

17. The Committee noted the publication’s position that there is a safety risk involved for journalists covering court cases and that – mindful of the risk – the journalist had left the area around court quickly. The Committee also noted that the complainant’s depiction of events also broadly tallied with this, in that he agreed that the journalist had quickly left after being asked if she had taken a picture of the complainant – his subsequent phone call to the publication had referred to her “running away”. Further, the Committee noted the purpose of Clause 3’s requirement for journalists to identify themselves and the publication they work for: to avoid situations where people are unable to make requests to desist, or to complain, because they are unsure of who to contact. In this case, while the journalist had not identified themselves, this had not prevented the complainant from identifying the journalist and contacting the publication to make it aware of his concerns. Taking all factors into account and noting that the Committee was not in a position to know what exactly was said outside court, and what exactly was heard by the journalist, the Committee did not consider that there was a basis to find that the terms of Clause 3 had been breached by a refusal on the part of the journalist to identify themselves.

18. The Committee considered the complainant’s concern that a journalist present at court was smiling and laughing with the prosecution. Clause 3 generally relates to specific interactions an individual has had with a journalist, such as persistent questioning, telephoning, pursuing, or photographing individuals once asked to desist. In this instance, there was no breach of Clause 3 on this point.

19. The Committee also considered whether the Facebook posts, which referred to the complainant by name, breached the terms of Clause 3. While the complainant said that the newspaper did not usually use full names on their social media posts, this concern did not engage the terms of Clause 3, as this Clause generally protects individuals from being harassed by journalists during the news gathering process; it does not relate to concerns over the publication of information which is already in the public domain via court proceedings. There was no breach of Clause 3. The Committee also did not consider the name of the organisation to represent a breach of Clause 3 for the same reasons.

20. The Committee considered the complainant’s concerns raised under Clause 2. Clause 2 is engaged when information about which an individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy has been published. The fact that an individual volunteers at a particular charity was not, in the Committee’s view, private information under the Code. The Committee further noted that these details had been heard in court and therefore this information was in the public domain. There was no breach of Clause 2 on this point.

21. Turning to the complainant’s concerns in relation to Clause 12, the Committee noted that this clause is designed to protect specific individuals mentioned by the press from discrimination based on their race, colour, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation or any physical or mental illness or disability. The Committee did not consider using the complainant’s full name or the reference to the place he volunteered at constituted a pejorative, prejudicial, or irrelevant reference to the complainant’s protected characteristics. There was, therefore, no breach of Clause 12.

Conclusion(s)

22. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

23. N/A


Date complaint received: 12/08/2022

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 10/01/2022