Ruling

17845-23 Knight Brown v Sunday Mail

    • Date complaint received

      6th November 2023

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of adjudication

    • Code provisions

      2 Privacy, 3 Harassment

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 17845-23 Knight Brown v Sunday Mail


Summary of Complaint

1. Miranda Knight Brown complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Sunday Mail breached Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 3 (Harassment) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in the preparation and publication of an article headlined “Wife moves out to be near Rossi’s jail”, published on 2 April 2023.

2. The article reported that the complainant – the wife of an “alleged rapist, who is facing extradition” – had moved address after her husband’s “latest bail bid was denied”; the article appeared on page 14. It reported that the complainant “was seen carrying bags out of the” property and was accompanied by two photographs showing the complainant outside a building. The pictures were framed in a way that didn’t show the detail of the building itself, beyond the colour of its façade, and both showed the complainant carrying objects out of the building – including a bottle of whiskey in one photograph.

3. The article also appeared online in substantially the same form under the headline “Wife of US fugitive Nicholas Rossi moves out Glasgow home to be nearer his jail”. This version of the article only included one of the two photographs included in the print version of the article.

4. Prior to making a complaint to IPSO, the complainant contacted the regulator to make it aware of “multiple approaches from journalists and photographers at [her] home address”. As a result, IPSO circulated a notice to the press, including the Sunday Mail, on 3 January 2023. The notice quoted the complainant as saying:

"I have been receiving multiple approaches from journalists and photographers at my home address over the last few months who have gained access to my building. I feel harassed in my own home. I do not wish to comment on the matter and request that journalists desist from making further approaches to my home address.

I do not wish to make comment to the press or be photographed."

The notice was accompanied by a notice from IPSO, which stated that the press “may be aware of recent coverage regarding [the complainant’s] husband Arthur Knight (also known as Nicholas ¬Rossi), his extradition hearings and the criminal allegations against him”. It went on to say that the complainant had “no comment to make and asks that members of the press do not attempt to contact her and leave the area around her home.”

5. The complainant said that the publication had breached the terms of Clause 3 by photographing her outside her home. She said that the images had been taken in April 2023, after a notice had been circulated by IPSO on her behalf which requested that journalists not approach her or photograph her, as well as asking for newspapers to desist from approaching her home address. The newspaper, she said, had ignored this clear request, and in doing so had made her feel harassed and intimidated.

6. The complainant also said that the publication of the photographs breached the terms of Clause 2; she said she had a right to privacy when entering and leaving her home, and the newspaper had intruded upon this right by photographing her. She further said that the publication had chosen to publish a picture of her holding a bottle of whiskey – rather than a more innocuous item – to humiliate her.

7. The publication did not accept that the Code had been breached, and set out the events which led to the photographs being taken. It said that, in May 2022, the complainant had invited a reporter from the publication into her home and had participated in an interview. The complainant again spoke to one of the publication’s reporters on August 2022, outside court following legal proceedings against her husband. This was therefore context the publication took into account when it received the notice circulated by IPSO in January 2023 and it said – at this point – the decision was made not to contact the complainant directly, though it would still cover the legal proceedings against the complainant’s husband. The publication said that the flat where the complainant had been pictured was a key part of the story in question, as it was the address where her husband had been arrested. It said that this address was also referenced in April 2023 legal proceedings against the complainant’s husband.

8. The publication went on to say that it received a tip-off in late March 2023 that the complainant would be moving from the flat. Therefore, the decision was made to send a photographer – but no reporter – to photograph the move on 1 April 2023. The photographer in question said that this commission had been discussed against the terms of the IPSO notice and that – having discussed how to abide by the terms of the notice – a decision was reached to remain some distance away from entrance to the complainant’s home. The publication said the photographer did not approach the complainant at any time. It provided a memo from the reporter in question, which said:

“We received a tip off that she was moving out and decided to send a photographer - no reporter - along to attempt to photograph the move. We discussed this in accordance with the IPSO advisory and decided to keep a long distance from the entrance to the flat. This is how the picture was obtained of Miranda leaving. She was in a public place in a busy part of Glasgow, as was the photographer, who was a long distance from her and did not make any approach.”

9. Turning to Clause 3, it said that IPSO notices are advisory in nature and do not impose an indefinite restriction on reporting. It said that the original notice had been circulated in January in relation to the complainant’s wish not to comment on her husband’s court case. Therefore, it said, given the time which had elapsed between the notice being circulated and the photographs taken – three months – the fact that the complainant had been photographed in relation to a “separate story”, and where the photographer did not engage in intimidating or harassing behaviour, the publication said that the terms of Clause 3 had not been breached. Further, the complainant had – since the notice had been circulated – engaged in contact with various press outlets, having been interviewed by a US television channel (with the interview being broadcast on 21 April) and a further documentary which the complainant had participated in was due to be broadcast in the UK.

10. Regarding the terms of Clause 2, the publication said that the complainant did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy while stood on a public street. It further said that the photograph did not disclose any private or sensitive information about the complainant.

11. While the publication did not accept a breach of the Code, it said that – at any rate – the photography of the complainant was in the public interest. It considered this to be the case where the complainant’s husband had been accused of serious crimes, and the complainant had publicly spoken out in his defence and supported him through legal proceedings. It said that, given this context, photographs showing the complainant moving house were in the public interest, as her husband would reside at the property she was moving to if given bail, according to an application from his solicitor. It said that there was no record of any discussions which may have taken place about the public interest in photographing the complainant.

12. The complainant said that the conversation with a reporter outside court in August 2022, separate to being photographed in April 2023, had not been a welcome one. She said she had felt uncomfortable by the approach, and had requested that the reporter leave her alone. She also said that press coverage after the photographs under complaint had been taken was irrelevant to whether the newspaper had breached the Code when taking the photographs in April 2023. She said she had in fact given an interview back in April 2022, and had no control over it not being aired until April 2023, after the IPSO notice had been circulated. She also disputed that her address had been heard in court – she said it was just the area where she lived. The complainant then said that her husband’s bail applications had been refused, so there was no public interest in reporting on where he would have lived had they been granted.

Relevant Clause Provisions

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.

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.

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

13. Clause 3 (ii) makes clear that publications should respect requests to desist from approaching or photographing individuals, regardless of how this request is conveyed.

A renewed approach by a journalist after such a request may represent a breach of this Clause. However, such requests do not prohibit the printing of future stories about an individual, nor act as indefinite bar on all future approaches. The question for the Committee was therefore whether the publication was justified in photographing the complainant despite her earlier request to desist from doing so.

14. The complainant’s request was that she not be approached or photographed. The publication had said that it considered that there had been sufficient developments in the story to outweigh the complainant’s request that she not be photographed – namely, that she had decided to move from her home. It had also said that sufficient time had passed, which meant that the complainant’s request was outdated, and that the complainant had engaged in media appearances which showed that she was content to engage with the media.

15. The Committee acknowledged that a request to desist does not apply indefinitely; this would be disproportionate and could infringe on legitimate journalism. In general, its position is that a request to desist can be displaced by subsequent developments in a story that justify renewed attention. What constitutes a development in a story must be judged based on the individual circumstances of the case. While the move may have represented a change in the complainant’s personal circumstances, in the view of the Committee this did not constitute a development in the story of the criminal proceedings involving her husband – which the publication had made clear was the basis for its journalistic activity – especially given that he was in custody and would not live at the address. In addition, while three months had passed since the original notice, this did not mean that the conditions which led to her making the request – the arrest of her husband, and her attitude toward the press interest in her that followed – had materially changed. With regard to the complainant’s media appearances, these all appeared to have been filmed prior to the complainant having made a request to desist. The Committee did not accept that once an individual has engaged with the press or media that they cannot later request that journalists desist from photographing or approaching them.

16. The publication had said that photographing the complainant was in the public interest, as her husband had committed serious crimes and would reside in the same property as her if she were given bail. The publication had provided a memo from the reporter, setting out the discussions which had occurred prior to the decision to photograph the complainant, to demonstrate it had considered the public interest. However, the memo did not refer to any discussion about the public interest, or whether publishing photographs of the complainant would serve the public interest in a proportionate way. The Committee did not therefore consider that the publication had demonstrated that it had considered the public interest prior to publication, or that it had explained how it made the decision that photographing the complainant was in the public interest prior to publication. In addition to this consideration, the Committee did not consider that there was a sufficient public interest in the publication of images of the complainant outside her home to justify publication despite the request to desist.

17. On balance, where the publication had photographed the complainant despite the fact that she had made a request that journalists desist from photographing her, there was a breach of Clause 3 (ii).

18. The Committee separately considered the question of whether the act of photographing the complainant and the subsequent publication of the photographs represented an intrusion into the complainant’s private life. The Committee noted that the Code only prohibits the photography of individual in locations where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy. While the Committee understood that the complainant had found the publication of the photographs intrusive, in particular the one of her holding a bottle of alcohol, she had been standing on a public street in view of passers-by when the photographs were taken. The photographs in question were taken on a public street, and did not disclose anything private about the complainant; they simply showed her holding various items under a headline saying that she was moving home. In such circumstances, there was no breach of Clause 2.

Conclusions

19. The complaint was upheld under Clause 3.

Remedial action required

20. Having upheld the complaint, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required. In circumstances where the Committee establishes a breach of the Editors’ Code, it can require the publication of a correction and/or an adjudication; the nature, extent and placement of which is determined by IPSO. Given the nature of the breach, the appropriate remedial action was the publication of an upheld adjudication.

21. The Committee considered the placement of this adjudication. The print article had featured on page 14. The Committee therefore required that the adjudication should be published on page 14 or further forward in the newspaper. The headline to the adjudication should make clear that IPSO has upheld the complaint, reference the title of the newspaper and refer to the complaint’s subject matter. The headline must be agreed with IPSO in advance.

22. The adjudication should also be published online, with a link to this adjudication (including the headline) being published on the top half of the publication’s homepage for 24 hours; it should then be archived in the usual way.

23. If the newspaper intends to continue to publish the online article without removing the photographs of the complainant, a link to the adjudication should also be published on the article, beneath the headline. If the article is amended to remove the photographs, a link to the adjudication should be published as a footnote correction with an explanation that the article had been amended following the IPSO ruling. The publication should contact IPSO to confirm these amendments it intends to make to the online material.

24. The terms of the adjudication are as follows:

Miranda Knight Brown complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Sunday Mail breached Clause 3 (Harassment) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in the preparation and publication of an article headlined “Wife moves out to be near Rossi’s jail”, published on 2 April 2023.

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

The article reported that the complainant – the wife of an “alleged rapist, who is facing extradition” – had moved address after her husband’s “latest bail bid was denied”. It reported that the complainant “was seen carrying bags out of the” property, and was accompanied by two photographs showing the complainant outside a building.

The complainant said that the publication had breached the terms of Clause 3 by photographing her outside her home. She said that the images had been taken in April 2023, after a notice had been circulated by IPSO on her behalf in January 2023. This notice requested that journalists not approach her or photograph her, as well as asking for newspapers to desist from approaching her home address. The newspaper, she said, had ignored this clear request, and in doing so had made her feel harassed and intimidated.

IPSO found that, while notices do not prohibit the printing of future stories about an individual, nor act as indefinite bar on all future approaches, the complainant’s move did not constitute a development in the story of the criminal proceedings involving her husband. In addition, while three months had passed since the original notice, this did not mean that the conditions which led to her making the request – the arrest of her husband, and the press interest that followed – had materially changed, or that the complainant’s request no longer applied.

On balance, where the publication had photographed the complainant despite the fact that she had made a request that journalists desist from photographing her, there was a breach of Clause 3 (ii) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.


Date complaint received: 03/04/2023

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 03/08/2023