Ruling

11587-22 Oakley v liverpoolecho.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      23rd February 2023

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      2 Privacy, 3 Harassment, 4 Intrusion into grief or shock, 6 Children

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 11587-22 Oakley v liverpoolecho.co.uk

Summary of Complaint

1. Jacob Oakley complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that liverpoolecho.co.uk breached Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 3 (Harassment), Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock), and Clause 6 (Children) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Baby girl died after being found 'wedged' between sofa and wall at home”, published on 14 September 2022.

2. The article reported on the tragic death of a baby girl and the inquest that had followed. The article included a photograph of the parents of the child, with the mother carrying the baby and the father with their older daughter on his shoulders.

3. The article also appeared on the publication’s Facebook account under the headline “Baby girl died after being found 'wedged' between sofa and wall”.

4. Prior to making a complaint to IPSO, the complainant had been in direct contact with the publication in April 2022 about a previous article published by the publication on 30 March 2022. This article contained comments from the complainant and the same photograph included in the article under complaint. The complainant sent an email to the publication on 27 April 2022 in which he had said that he wanted this, and other syndicated articles relating to his family to be removed; he also said that he was removing his consent for the publication to publish further articles.

5. The complainant – the father of the girl who had died – said that the article was in breach of Clause 2 as he considered his privacy had not been respected; he said that he had told the publication prior to the article being published that he did not want any further articles published.

6. He also said that there had been a breach of Clause 3 as he had been harassed with messages and threats from members of the public which he considered were due to the article. The complainant also said that the reporter’s name was not present on the list of people who had attended the inquest virtually, and he considered that this amounted to him being “spied on”.

7. The complainant also considered there had been a breach of Clause 4 as he said the article intruded into his and his family’s grieving process. He did not consider that sympathy had been shown towards them.

8. In addition, the complainant said there had been a breach of Clause 6. The complainant noted that his older daughter had been pictured in the article, and that the photograph had come from a profile picture on a private Facebook account. He said that as a result of her photo being published, she was being recognised on her way to and from school by people and some people had made upsetting comments to her. He said that, luckily, due to her age she did not understand the comments.

9. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. In relation to Clause 2 the publication said that the complainant and his partner’s social media accounts were publicly available, and that they contained a number of photographs of both the complainant’s children. The publication also noted that the complainant had provided comments directly to the publication for a previous article published on 30 March 2022 in which his older daughter was named.

10. With regard to Clause 3, the publication expressed its sympathy to the complainant for the harassment he had received from members of the public. It said, however, that Clause 3 related to the behaviour of journalists and not members of the public, and therefore the Clause was not engaged. In relation to the complainant’s concerns that the reporter’s name was not present on the list of people who had attended the inquest, the publication said that the inquest was public.

11. The publication also considered that Clause 4 was not engaged, as this Clause ensures that any enquiries or approaches made by the publication are done so sensitively and with sympathy. It said that the article was an inquest report, which it said it was entitled to report on.

12. With regard to Clause 6, the publication said that the photograph had been provided by the complainant’s partner for the March article, which covered the same issues, and consented to it being published. The publication accepted that the article constituted an issue involving their older child’s welfare, however, it did not think that further consent was necessary, where the article under complaint covered the same welfare issues as the previous one. In addition, it said that the complainant had openly and publicly spoken to the publication about the matter for the article earlier in the year in which the photographed child was named.

13. The complainant said that, whilst consent had been given to publish the photograph for the earlier article, he and his partner’s social media accounts had only been made public just before the article under complaint was published in September, and he said that after the first article was published in March 2022, he had attempted to have this article removed and at this point removed his consent.

14. The publication said that the complainant had been in contact with the publication a number of times directly about the first article, but he had made no reference to his older daughter or to the photograph used in the second article. With regards to the email the complainant said represented his withdrawal of consent, the publication noted that this email did not raise any concerns under Clause 6; rather it concerned the topic of the article, and the complainant’s concerns that it had focused on the wrong areas. The publication accepted that the complainant had asked for no further articles to be published but said that publications do not require consent to publish stories regarding public inquests. While it did not consider there was a breach of the Code, the publication offered to pixelate the complainant’s older daughter’s face in the photograph as a gesture of goodwill.

15. The complainant did not accept this as a resolution to his complaint.

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.

Clause 6 (Children)*

i) All pupils should be free to complete their time at school without unnecessary intrusion.

ii) They must not be approached or photographed at school without permission of the school authorities.

iii) Children under 16 must not be interviewed or photographed on issues involving their own or another child’s welfare unless a custodial parent or similarly responsible adult consents.

iv) Children under 16 must not be paid for material involving their welfare, nor parents or guardians for material about their children or wards, unless it is clearly in the child's interest.

v) Editors must not use the fame, notoriety or position of a parent or guardian as sole justification for publishing details of a child's private life.

Findings of the Committee

16. The Committee first wished to express its sincere condolences to the complainant and his family for the tragic loss of his daughter.

17. Whilst the Committee understood that it was upsetting for the complainant and his family to read the article, it noted that the information included in the article had been made public at the inquest, and the publication was, therefore, entitled to report on the information heard. As the information was in the public domain, there was no requirement for the publication to seek permission from the complainant or his family to publish it. There was no breach of Clause 2.

18. The Committee expressed its sympathy to the complainant for the harassment and threats he had received from members of the public. The Committee noted that Clause 3 generally relates to the way journalists behave when gathering news, including the nature and extent of their contact with the subject of the story. The complainant had not been approached or harassed by any journalists; instead, the individuals who had sent the messages were members of the public. The Committee also noted the complainant’s concerns that he felt he had been “spied on” at the inquest as the journalist’s name had not been listed on the virtual hearing. The Committee noted that inquests are public, and journalists are allowed to attend them. There was no breach of Clause 3 for these reasons.

19. Clause 4 requires that publication is handled sensitively in cases involving grief or shock and that enquiries and approaches are made with sympathy and discretion. Although reporting on the death of family members can be very upsetting to family and friends, deaths affect whole communities and the obligation to handle publication sensitively does not restrict the right to report on them. The Committee did not consider the article reported on the complainant’s daughter’s death in a way that was insensitive. While the Committee understood the article was upsetting for the complainant and his family, the publication was entitled to report on the inquest and there was no breach of Clause 4.

20. The Committee next turned to the complainant’s concerns regarding Clause 6. The Committee noted that the mother of the children had provided the photograph under complaint to the publication for the earlier article that focused on the same welfare issues as the article under complaint. Where the children’s mother had provided consent for the photograph to be used in similar circumstances, there was no need to seek further consent and the publication was entitled to use it again. There was no breach of Clause 6, however the Committee welcomed the publication’s offer to pixelate the image.

Conclusion(s)

21. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

22. N/A


Date complaint received: 15/09/2022

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 03/02/2022