Ruling

11888-22 A man v The Sentinel (Stoke)

    • Date complaint received

      10th June 2023

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of adjudication

    • Code provisions

      12 Discrimination, 2 Privacy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 11888-22 A man v The Sentinel (Stoke)

Summary of Complaint

1. A man, via a representative, complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sentinel (Stoke) breached Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “'It's upsetting when they don't want help but we have to hope in the future they will engage'”, published on 30 September 2022.

2. The article reported on the experiences of a rough sleeper outreach team visiting rough sleeper camps as part of a “week of action”. It contained a quote from one of the team who described his upset at rough sleepers who “don’t want help” and that it was “a case of [rough sleepers] being ready at that time to access that support”. The article named a specific rough sleeper camp, including naming the street it was located near, and stated that there had been “reports from residents of people living on the site”. The article stated that the rough sleeper team had “found a man and a woman at the site”, and that they were “advised to go […] for help and advice”. Neither individual was named in the article. It stated that the man, the complainant, “had set up his own hut where he was sleeping inside along with a sign warning people not to enter”. The article included a quote from the City Council which said they were “aware and working closely with the male” and that the woman was not living at the site. The City Council also stated that it was “trying to get the gentleman housed in his own property as he [was] not in the best health” and that he said he was “engaging with the drug and alcohol service”.

3. The article also appeared online, under the headline “Inside makeshift rough sleeper camp next to Stoke Sainsbury's car park”, in substantially the same format.

4. The complainant’s representative said that the article intruded into his privacy in breach of Clause 2. They said that the complainant was the only person living at the named site, and that the article referring to him clearly identified him even though it did not include his name. They went on to say that they had immediately recognised the complainant as being the “man” referred to in the article, and so had 10-15 other people in their peer group and three people who worked in support roles professionally. The complainant had not been asked whether he consented to information about him engaging with drug and alcohol services being published, and the representative said that reporting this information to do so was a breach of his privacy. The complainant’s representative also had concerns that anyone who had read the article and then went on to see the complainant living in the described space would know he was using drug and alcohol services.

5. The complainant’s representative also said that the article discriminated against him as it conflated being a rough sleeper with abusing substances – which they said not all rough sleepers do.

6. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It stated that it did not consider that the complainant was identifiable from the information included in the article, and initially stated it did not know who the man in the article was as the comments had been provided anonymously from the Council.

7. The publication said that the article did not say that only one man lived at the named site – it noted that the article had stated that residents had reported “people” were living at the site, and then stated that the team “found” the man. It said that, whilst the article confirmed the woman was not a resident of the named camp, it did not state that the man was the only person living there. It stated that the article contained no identifiable information about the man in the article, and considered that the complainant’s representative may be aware of personal details the average reader would not, which would have identified him more easily to her.

8. The publication said that, in any case, if the article was about the complainant, he had already publicly spoken about and been named in relation to homelessness. It provided an article to demonstrate this. It also provided two articles from 2013 and 2015 relating to the complaint’s previous court cases, in which he was referred to as a “recovering drug addict” and that he was “clean of class A drugs” and “reduced his alcohol intake”. Therefore, the publication said that whilst it did not consider that the complainant was identifiable in the article, if he was, the fact he had a history with drugs and alcohol was already in the public domain.

9. The publication also said that there was a strong public interest in reporting and promoting the outcome of charitable help, and in improving public understanding of health and medical matters in relation to homelessness. It said that it the publication of the information under complaint was proportionate in the public interest as the choice had been made to anonymise the man in the article.

10. The publication said that the complaint did not engage the terms of Clause 12.

Relevant Clause 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 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.

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

11. The Committee first considered whether the complainant could be said to be identified by the information in the article. It noted the information about the complainant in the article: it reported that the person was male; that he lived in a specific area which was a “notorious” camp for people sleeping rough, including the name of a nearby road; that he was staying in a constructed hut with a sign in front of it; and that he had been present for “a few weeks”. It considered that this information, on balance, would identify the complainant to a local circle of people who were aware of him prior to publication of the article, and to local readers of the article who might then see the complainant at the camp.

12. The Committee then considered whether reporting that the man was currently “engaging with the drug and alcohol service” intruded into his privacy in breach of Clause 2. It noted that the publication had provided articles in relation to the complainant’s past court cases from 2013 and 2015. However, neither of these articles referred to the complainant receiving using “services” in relation to drug and alcohol use, and were from ten and eight years ago respectively. The Committee did not, therefore, consider that the complainant’s current engagement with drug and alcohol services to be in the public domain, and it considered reference to his medical information without his consent to be an unjustified intrusion into his privacy.

13. The Committee then considered the public interest defence put forward by the publication. It noted that the publication had initially stated it was not aware who the man in the article was, but later stated that it had chosen to anonymise the complainant in order to allow it to include the details in the article, which it considered were in the public interest. The Editors’ Code makes clear that editors invoking the public interest must have reached the decision that the publication of the information was in the public interest at the time. As it appeared the publication was not aware of the name of the complainant at the time of publication, the anonymisation of the complainant was not relevant to the public interest defence. The Committee, when considering this, as well as the level of sensitivity of the information, did not outweigh the intrusion into the complainant’s privacy, and therefore there was a breach of Clause 2.

14. The Committee then considered whether the reference to the complainant’s use of drug and alcohol services amounted to discrimination in breach of Clause 12. It considered that stating the complainant was using these services could imply a reference to a physical or mental illness. However, the Committee took into account the nature of the article, which was about services being provided to local people by the council. In these circumstances, notwithstanding that it had found that the presentation of the story breached the complainant’s privacy, the Committee found that any implied reference to a potential physical or mental illness was relevant to telling this legitimate story of local public interest, rather than being a discriminatory reference to an irrelevant characteristic. There was no breach of Clause 12.

Conclusions

15. The complaint was upheld under Clause 2.

Remedial action required

16. Having upheld the complaint under Clause 2, the Committee considered the remedial action that should be required. Given the nature of the breach, the appropriate remedial action was the publication of an upheld adjudication.

17. The Committee considered the placement of this adjudication. The original article had been published on page 5 of the newspaper, and the print version of the adjudication should be published on the same page, or further forward. With regards to the online version, the adjudication should be published on the newspaper’s website, with a link to the full adjudication appearing on the top half of the homepage for 24 hours; it should then be archived in the usual way. If the article remains online and unamended, the full text of the adjudication should be added to the article. If the information which caused the breach is removed, a link to the adjudication should be published. The headline to the adjudication should make clear that IPSO has upheld the complaint, refer to the subject matter and be agreed with IPSO in advance of publication.

18. The terms of the adjudication for publication are as follows:

A man complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation, the press regulator, that The Sentinel (Stoke) breached Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “'It's upsetting when they don't want help but we have to hope in the future they will engage'”, published on 30 September 2022.

The complaint was upheld, and IPSO required the Sentinel to publish this adjudication to remedy the breach of the Code.

The article reported on the experiences of a rough sleeper outreach team visiting rough sleeper camps as part of a “week of action” and included information about one person who was in touch with the service, who it said was “engaging with the drug and alcohol service”.

The complainant said that the article intruded into his privacy in breach of Clause 2. He had not been asked whether he consented to information about him engaging with drug and alcohol services being published in the newspaper. Although he was not named in the article, he said that the level of information in the article clearly identified him even though it did not include his name. He said that he had been recognised by people due to the article.

IPSO considered that the article did identify the complainant – both to those who already knew him and to people who may have seen him after the article. It also considered that reference to his use of drug and alcohol service to be medical information about him, which when published without his consent, amounted to be an unjustified intrusion into his privacy. Furthermore, IPSO did not consider that publishing the information was in the public interest. There was a breach of Clause 2.

IPSO thus upheld the complaint as a breach of Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code and ordered the publication of this ruling.

 

Date complaint received: 10/10/2022

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 18/05/2023