Ruling

11947-15 Boswell v Scottish Mail on Sunday

    • Date complaint received

      15th March 2015

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      3 Harassment, 6 Children, 9 Reporting of crime

Decision of the Complaints Committee 11947-15 Boswell v Scottish Mail on Sunday

Summary of complaint

1. Phil Boswell complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Scottish Mail on Sunday breached Clause 3 (Privacy), Clause 6 (Children) and Clause 9 (Reporting of crime) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Now tax dodging MP faces inquiry into his earnings”, published on 13 December 2015.

2. The article stated that the complainant had been reported to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards for allegedly having failed to declare his role as a company director. The piece included a box which gave biographical information about the complainant, including the names of his wife and children, the countries in which they had lived, the names of his former employers, and details regarding the sales of his previous homes in Scotland. The article was not published online.

3. The complainant expressed concern that the newspaper had named his wife and school-age children, and had published details of their address history in an article reporting that he was being investigated for misconduct. The complainant noted that the names of his family members were already in the public domain, but he considered that there was no justification for naming them in this context. He said that his family had nothing to do with the story; and there was no public interest in identifying them or their address history. He considered that the newspaper had used his notoriety to justify publishing these details. He had concerns that the article had left his family vulnerable to harassment, and said that his children and the pupils at their school were clearly aware of the story.

4. The newspaper said that as the complainant was a new MP, it had considered it important to inform readers about his background. It had not published the complainant’s address. It said that all the detail included in the biographical section of the article was already in the public domain: it had been sourced from the book “We are the 56”, which was published in November 2015. This book had included a chapter dedicated to each of the Scottish National Party’s MPs following the party’s success in the 2015 General Election, and included several pages in which the complainant had discussed his family and employment abroad. The newspaper said that the article had not disclosed any private information about the children, and could not have compromised their welfare. It also considered that it had not identified relatives of an individual accused of crime because the complainant had not been accused of a criminal offence.

5. The newspaper said that the story had been justified in the public interest: the complainant had faced an investigation by the Parliamentary Commissioner of Standards, and there had been calls for him to resign. Nevertheless, it offered to add a note to its cutting system, which would make clear that the complainant did not wish for his children to be named in future articles.

Relevant Code Provisions

6. Clause 3 (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.

Clause 6 (Children)

i. Young people should be free to complete their time at school without unnecessary intrusion.

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.

Clause 9 (Reporting of crime)

i. Relatives or friends of persons convicted or accused of crime should not generally be identified without their consent, unless they are genuinely relevant to the story.

ii.Particular regard should be paid to the potentially vulnerable position of children who witness, or are victims of, crime. This should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings.

Findings of the Committee

7. The newspaper had published information about the complainant and his family that he had already consented to being in the public domain. The complainant had openly discussed his family life, referenced his children’s names and ages, and the places in which they had lived for a book about Scottish National Party MPs. The newspaper had not published the complainant’s current or previous addresses. The names of the towns in which he had bought and sold property in Scotland were also not private. There was no breach of Clause 3.

8. While the Committee understood the complainant’s concern about the effect the article had on his children and their school life, the children had already been identified publicly. The article had not focused on them, and the brief reference to their names did not represent an intrusion into their time at school in breach of Clause 6(i). Furthermore, as the article had not disclosed any private information about the children, the newspaper had not used the complainant’s position in order justify publishing private information about them. There was no breach of Clause 6(v).

9. The complainant had been accused of breaching Parliamentary Standards by failing to declare a financial interest. He had not been accused of a criminal offence. The terms of Clause 9 were not engaged.

Conclusions

10. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

N/A

Date complaint received: 29/12/2015
Date decision issued: 15/03/2015