Ruling

16277-17 Millward v Bucks Free Press

    • Date complaint received

      2nd November 2017

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 2 Privacy, 4 Intrusion into grief or shock

Decision of the Complaints Committee 16277-17 Millward v Bucks Free Press

Summary of complaint

1. Joanne Millward complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Bucks Free Press breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “PICTURES AND VIDEO: Neighbour speaks out about horror as summerhouse blaze spread to her back garden in Upper Belmont Road, Chesham”, published online on 21 June 2017.

2. The article reported that a fire, believed to have started in a summerhouse, had spread to the back gardens of seven properties on a street. It reported that the fire service had received forty calls regarding the incident, and included a resident’s comments. The article also included various pictures which showed the damage caused by the fire, including a photograph which showed the complainant’s conservatory.

3. The complainant said that the article suggested that the fire had started in her summerhouse. She said that the article gave a misleading account of the incident, as the fire had started on another resident’s property and it was under investigation by the police as a suspected arson attack. The complainant said that the newspaper should have contacted her, and neighbours, for comment.

4. The complainant said that the photograph which showed her conservatory was taken without her knowledge and consent, and that its publication had intruded into her private life.

5. The newspaper said that the article was based on information that it had received from the fire service. It said that its reporter spoke to a resident of the street, and included their comment in the article. The newspaper had attempted to contact the complainant at her home, however the reporter was unable to reach her. The newspaper said that following publication of the article, it received information from the police that they had received reports that a shed was on fire, believed to be the result of arson, and that an investigation was taking place. As soon as it had become aware of this information, the newspaper published a follow-up article reporting this. The two articles were linked on its website.

6. The newspaper said that the photograph had been taken from the complainant’s neighbour’s property, with the neighbour’s permission, and that all of the images were published to demonstrate the damage caused to the neighbour’s garden, in the context of her account. It said that the photograph did not contain any private information about the complainant, or identify her in any way, and that it merely showed her damaged conservatory. The newspaper said that in any event, the publication of the article, including the photograph, was justified in the public interest. It said that it is the newspaper’s role to inform readers of events which involve the spending of public money, and to hold authorities to account, and that it published photographs of the premises damaged by the fire, in line with this duty.

7. While the newspaper did not accept that there had been a breach of the Code, it said that it would be willing to remove the article or to report the complainant’s position, in order to resolve the complaint. The newspaper said that it would also be willing to remove the photograph and to publish the following clarification in the same position where the article appeared, or as a footnote to the article:

“ON June 21, 2017, bucksfreepress.co.uk published a story relating to a fire at a property in Chesham. With the story we published several photographs from the scene, taken from inside a back garden. Two of the photographs clearly showed a neighbouring property. The view of the neighbouring property depicted in the photograph could not be seen from public property. Despite attempts, we did not speak to the homeowner before publication of these photographs. We would like to apologise to the homeowner for any distress, inconvenience or upset caused by the publication of these images. We have removed these photographs from our website.”

Relevant Code provisions

8. 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 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.

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.

Findings of the Committee

9. The Committee extended its sympathies to the complainant for the damage caused to her property.

10. The newspaper was entitled to rely on the material published by the fire service, and was not obliged to contact the complainant for her comment prior to publication. The article was an accurate report of this information and the newspaper demonstrated that it had taken sufficient care to ensure its accuracy. The fire service said that the fire was “believed” to have started in a summerhouse and the complainant was not in a position to dispute the accuracy of this information. The inclusion of the photograph did not suggest that the fire had started in the complainant’s summerhouse. There was no breach of Clause 1. Nonetheless, the Committee noted that the newspaper had published a follow-up article when it was made aware of further information. The Committee welcomed the newspaper’s offers to report the complainant’s position, to publish a clarification which included an apology, and to remove the photographs and the online article.

11. The complainant’s home was featured incidentally in photographs showing the damage to her neighbour’s garden. The article also included a close up photograph of the complainant’s conservatory. This photograph had been taken from the complainant’s neighbour’s garden, and showed a part of the complainant’s property which would not ordinarily be seen. However, the article did not name the complainant, or give her address, and the image did not include any detail that would reveal any private information about her. The series of images were used to illustrate the neighbour’s account of the destruction caused by the fire, a matter of considerable public interest. There was no breach of Clause 2.

12. The article reported on a fire, which was a matter of public interest, and the newspaper was entitled to report the complainant’s neighbour’s comments. The article and photograph highlighted the damage caused to property, not to the complainant. There was no breach of Clause 4.

Conclusion

13. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

14. N/A

Date complaint received: 22/06/2017
Date decision issued: 19/10/2017