Ruling

13424-16 Turnbull v Newcastle Chronicle

    • Date complaint received

      23rd March 2017

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 2 Privacy, 3 Harassment

Decision of the Complaints Committee 13424-16 Turnbull v Newcastle Chronicle

Summary of Complaint

1. Roisin Turnbull complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Newcastle Chronicle breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 3 (Harassment) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Disgraces to the uniform”, published in print on 2 November 2016, and “Disgraced Northumbria Police officer sacked for lying about the arrest of a drug dealer”, published online on 1 November 2016.

2. The article reported that the complainant had been dismissed by Northumbria Police after she pleaded guilty to improperly exercising the powers and privileges of a police constable. It said that the complainant, along with another police officer, had allowed a drug user to walk free with heroin sold to him in return for information, and had tried to cover their tracks with a false intelligence report. It said that the complainant was sentenced to 120 hours of unpaid work, and had been dismissed for breaching the police code of conduct following a hearing at Forth Banks police station. The article was accompanied by a photograph of the complainant at her front door.

3. The online article was the same as the version that appeared in print; it also included the photograph of the complainant at her door.

4. The complainant said that a reporter from the newspaper called to her door at 11.30am, rang the doorbell repeatedly and then knocked on the door a number of times. She went to her door, looked through the spy hole and was unable to see anybody at the door; she did, however, see a vehicle parked opposite her house. She said that when she answered the door, the reporter, who she recognised from her court case, jumped out from the side, and said her name; however, she said she closed the door within two seconds, by which time he had not introduced himself as a journalist working for the newspaper. The complainant said that when she looked out the window, she saw the journalist laughing in the vehicle.

5. The complainant said that when she saw the photograph in the newspaper, she felt upset and disgusted by the reporter’s behaviour. She said that the encounter at her door breached her privacy, and she considered that the manner in which she was “tricked” into opening the door constituted harassment. The complainant provided an account which corroborated these events from her partner, who was in the house at the time. The complainant also provided photographs of the front of her house, which she said demonstrated that there was no reason for the reporter to stand to the side of her door. She also said that the article was inaccurate because she did not attend her misconduct hearing, which took place at Houghton Le Spring Magistrates Court, and not Forth Banks police station.

6. The newspaper said that its reporter acted professionally at the complainant’s house. It said that he rang the doorbell, and when there was no answer, he knocked. He said that he did stand slightly to the side of the door, but denied that he was hiding. When the complainant opened the door, he introduced himself as working with the newspaper, at which point the complainant shut the door in his face. It said that it did not consider that the photo was taken in circumstances of harassment, or that it breached the complainant’s privacy. It said that it was standard practice for newspapers to illustrate stories about those convicted of criminal offences. It also said that it was entitled to take pictures from a public place, and that in this case, the complainant was fully visible from the street when the photographer took the photograph. In any event, the newspaper said there was a clear public interest in identifying a police officer who had behaved in the manner set out in the article. It also said that the information about the complainant’s misconduct hearing taking place at Forth Banks police station was based on a press release from Northumbria Police. However, it updated the online version of the article to reflect that the hearing had taken place at Houghton le Spring Magistrates’ Court.

Relevant Code Provisions

7. Clause 1 (Accuracy)

i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.

ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and — where appropriate — an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator.

Clause 2 (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.

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.

The Public Interest

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.

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

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

- 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.

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

Findings of the Committee 

8. The complainant expressed concern that she was “tricked” by the reporter into opening the door so that her photograph could be taken. The Committee viewed the photographs provided by the complainant, and the accounts provided by the newspaper and the complainant, in respect of this aspect of her complaint. While it noted the differences between the accounts, there was no dispute that the reporter had knocked on the complainant’s door, rung the doorbell, and was present at the door when she opened it. In these circumstances, it did not consider that there had been a breach of Clause 2 on this point. However, the complainant had been unaware that she was being photographed at her door, and the Committee considered this specific matter further.  

9. Clause 2 protects an individual’s right to privacy and, specifically, to respect for their private and family life and home. In this instance, this right was engaged by the newspaper’s approach to the complainant’s home in order to photograph her as she answered the door. This had the potential to intrude into the complainant’s privacy in her own home.

10. As a non-public figure, standing at the door of her own home, having opened it following the reporter’s knock, and with no prior notice of the reporter’s visit; the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the circumstances in which she was photographed. As Clause 2(iii) recognises, photographing an individual in such circumstances is intrusive, and the newspaper was obliged under the Code to justify its decision to photograph her. However, the Committee noted that the intrusion in this instance was limited by the fact that the complainant would have been visible in her doorway from the street, and because the photograph did not disclose any information about her which was particularly private or embarrassing.

11. The newspaper said that it was in the public interest to publish a photograph of a police officer convicted of a criminal offence. In this case, the Committee considered that it was in the public interest to identify the complainant as the individual convicted of an abuse of her public position, and for the newspaper to illustrate the article with her photograph. Further, the limited level of intrusion in this instance was proportionate to the public interest the newspaper had identified. There was no breach of Clause 2.

12. The complainant also said that the manner in which the reporter made his approach to her at her home, including how her photograph came to be taken, constituted harassment. However, the conduct complained of, which took place in a single incident, did not constitute intimidation or harassment for the same reasons explained above in relation to Clause 2. In addition, after the complainant had closed her front door, the reporter left the property; there was no suggestion that he continued to question or pursue the complainant after this visit. There was no breach of Clause 3 on these points.

13. In circumstances where the complainant was convicted of a criminal offence, and was dismissed from her post as a police officer, any inaccuracy as to whether she attended her police misconduct hearing, or where it was held, was not significant. There was no breach of Clause 1.

Conclusions

14. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

N/A

Date complaint received: 21/11/2016
Date decision issued: 07/03/2017