Ruling

18468-23 McGarry v The Scottish Sun

    • Date complaint received

      6th December 2023

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of adjudication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 2 Privacy, 3 Harassment

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 18468-23 McGarry v The Scottish Sun


Summary of Complaint

1. Natalie McGarry, acting on behalf of herself and on behalf of her parents Brian and Alice McGarry, complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Scottish Sun breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 3 (Harassment) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in the preparation and publication of an article headlined “Nat's nicking about again”, published on 18 May 2023.

2. The article – which appeared on page seven – reported on the complainant’s release from prison “after serving just over half of her reduced sentence” and described the conditions of her release. It said that she was “spotted getting into a […] car outside her parents’ house in Inverkeithing, Fife, where she is living as she serves out her punishment under a home curfew” and described the model and colour of the car. The article included a large image of the complainant, who was shown getting into the car. The photograph was accompanied by a caption, which stated: “McGarry gets into a car outside her parents’ home last weekend”. The article also included a smaller photograph of the complainant on the phone, and an image of the prison where the complainant had served part of her custodial sentence.

3. The article also appeared online, in substantially the same format, under the headline “NICKING ABOUT Fraudster ex-SNP MP Natalie McGarry freed from jail after serving just over HALF her reduced sentence”. The online version included the same images as the print version, and also included an image of the complainant on the phone, overlaid on a photograph of the same prison shown in the print article.

4. The complainant said that the conduct of two reporters who worked for the publication breached Clause 3. First, she explained why she had concluded that the photographer who had engaged in behaviour, which she considered to be harassing, worked for the publication. She said that five days prior to the article’s publication, at approximately 12pm, she noticed a photographer parked in a car opposite her parents’ house. As she left the house, she said the photographer exited his car and took a picture of her. She said that this appeared to be the photograph which was published in the article under complaint.

5. The complainant then set out the alleged conduct which she considered breached the terms of Clause 3. She said that, on the same day that she was photographed as described above, she travelled, via car with her husband and child, to a property owned by other family members. She said that, on this journey, they were followed by the photographer who pursued them in his car.

6. The complainant then said that, as they were suspicious that the photographer was following them, they took what the complainant described as “an illogical route” to the motorway, which differed from the route recommended by Google; she provided a copy of the recommended route. She said the car was still behind them and visible while she was taking this route, which she said confirmed the car was following them. She also said that the route taken should have made it clear to the photographer that she and her family did not want to be pursued.

7. The complainant gave further detail about the car journey in question, and said that once she had joined the motorway, she became aware of another car, which the complainant believed had also been waiting outside her parents’ house. During IPSO’s investigation, however, she said she became aware the second car was following them as they made their diversionary route through the small village.

8. The complainant said that, during the motorway journey, the two cars swapped positions with each other to “sandwich” her car. She also said that the cars had left and re-joined the motorway at junctions to reappear in front and behind her car, and that this continued for nearly 40 miles. The complainant also said that when she had left and rejoined the motorway both cars had followed.

9. To further support her position, the complainant provided screenshots of contemporaneous Facebook messenger conversations with her mother during the alleged pursuit, as well as a call log which showed she had called her mother a number of times. In these messages, the complainant had referenced where she was on the motorway, where the cars were in relation to her car and the cars’ number plates. The complainant said the fact that she was able to decipher the number plates also showed how close the cars were in proximity to hers. The complainant said the behaviour of the reporter and photographer was intimidating, reckless, endangering and had put her family at risk driving at speed on a motorway. She said that the this was exacerbated by the fact that her young child was in the car – which she believed the photographer must have been aware of, as they would have seen the child entering the vehicle.

10. Once the complainant arrived at her destination, she said the photographer and reporter arrived at this location around ten to fifteen minutes later and remained there for the rest of the afternoon. She also said that a member of her family had seen the two reporters talking together in the same vehicle, and therefore deduced that they were working together. The complainant and her mother contacted the police regarding the incident.

11. The complainant said that over the next two days, there were up to three cars parked outside her family’s property between 7am and the early evening. She believed that up to ten vehicles in total were used to “intimidate and stalk” her over this three-day period.

12. The complainant also said that photographers outside her parents’ house had taken photographs of her and her parents, who entered and left the property, including while they were in the private residential garden. While the complainant did not allege that these images had been published, she said that, regardless of whether the publication had published the images, this amounted to intimidating and harassing behaviour towards her parents. She said that the prolonged period in which the reporters were outside her parents’ house resulted in her and her family feeling trapped in the property, due to fear of being photographed. She considered that this journalist presence outside the property constituted a breach of Clause 3.

13. The complainant did not approach the photographers to ask them to leave, and said she did not do so as she believed they would have photographed her in doing so. She also said that, at the time she didn’t know who they worked for, so was unable to contact their employer.

14. The complainant’s parents also alleged that they were pursued by a car, which they had seen on their street and didn’t recognise. They said the car followed them through the back streets to a nearby town.

15. The complainant said that there were also vehicles parked near a second property owned by family members over the same period of time – though she was not acting on behalf of the family members in question. She said it was unacceptable that her parents and extended family had to endure the presence of photographers and reporters for three days, and that this was harassment.

16. The complainant also believed the article had breached Clause 2, as it included a photograph of her in a private residential garden. She said that this photograph was taken while she was engaging in the private act of leaving her parents’ home and entering her car, and that she had remained on private property throughout. She said she could not be seen clearly by any member of the public, as there were six-foot-high hedges obscuring the location and the area was only partially viewable from the nearby public road. The complainant said, to obtain the photo, the photographer had parked directly opposite the driveway; she also speculated that he had used a long-range lens in a “secretive way” from behind his car door. The complainant said she had not been an MP for six years and that the publication would have numerous stock photos of her; there was, therefore, no need to photograph her in this manner. She speculated that they wanted a photo of her outside spending private time with her family, and that attempts to obtain such a photograph was an invasion of her privacy and right to a family life.

17. The complainant also believed publishing details of her husband’s car – specifically, the colour and make of the car – and location of her parents’ home intruded into her privacy. She said there was no public interest in publishing these details and that they were published to intimidate her family and make the car and property identifiable and locatable to members of the public. She said her child had a right to live their life unencumbered by worry and danger from the press.

18. The complainant further said the article had breached Clause 1, as the online version had “photoshopped” a photograph of her on to an image of the prison where she spent part of her sentence. She said the article had not stated that it was not an actual photograph showing her outside the prison.

19. On 8 June, thirteen days after it had been made aware, via IPSO, of the complaint, the publication apologised directly to the complainant. It accepted that “a line had been crossed” and that it had acted inappropriately, though it did not accept all the complainant’s account of events. The publication also offered a private letter of apology to the complainant and to donate a sum of money to charity, should this resolve the complaint.

20. Nineteen days later, the publication offered to publish the following wording in print on page two, as well as in its online Corrections & Clarifications column should she accept its offer:

18th May 2023 we published an article in print with the headline ‘Nat’s nicking about again’ and online with the headline ‘Fraudster ex-SNP MP Natalie McGarry freed from jail after serving just over half her reduced sentence’. The article included a photograph taken of Ms McGarry on 13th May 2023. We apologise to Ms McGarry for the alarm caused when we obtained that photograph and regret the impression given. As a gesture of goodwill, we have made a payment to Ms McGarry to donate to a charity of her choice.”

The publication also confirmed it had been investigating the incident internally and committed to training staff to avoid a similar situation occurring. The complainant did not accept this as a resolution to her complaint.

21. Notwithstanding its efforts to resolve the complaint, the publication said that it did not accept the article or journalist’s conduct constituted a breach of the Code. To support its position, the publication gave its account of the events described by the complainant. It explained that it had identified two possible addresses for the complainant, and had arranged for photographers to attend both addresses and for an additional reporter to attend one of the addresses.

22. The publication then said that the reporter and a photographer arrived at the complainant’s parents’ address at around 9am in separate cars. It said the reporter was initially parked in the public car park across the road from the house, and later moved his car 100 meters down the road from the house. The photographer was in a separate car, parked in the public car park across the road from the house; both remained in their cars until approximately 1pm when the complainant left the property.

23. The publication said the reporter saw the complainant’s car leave and drove in the same direction. He continued driving behind the complainant’s car for a few minutes, and the publication said there was a “significant distance” between the cars and at times there were other cars between them, so the reporter’s view of the car was obscured. The reporter lost sight of the complainant’s car at a large roundabout, and continued on to a motorway to drive to the second address it had for the complainant. The publication said the reporter was not following the complainant’s car, and he did not see the car again until he was driving on the motorway and overtook a car which he realised was the complainant’s. After this, the publication said the reporter drove ahead of the complainant’s car and lost sight of it after a few minutes and did not see the car again. He did not know where the complainant was travelling to and used his sat nav to drive to the second address, in case the complainant was travelling there. The publication also said that the reporter was unaware there was a child in the car.

24. The publication then turned to the second car, driven by the photographer who left the first address around ten minutes after the complainant and the reporter. He was aware that the other photographer, who had been stationed at the second address, had left, and therefore decided to go to the second address to ensure there would be a photographer present there, as he wished to obtain a better image of the complainant. The publication said he did not follow the complainant’s car, and happened upon the complainant by chance: when he got to the motorway, he saw a car around 100 meters ahead which looked like the complainant’s. The car was coming off the motorway, and so he left the motorway at the same exit so he could see if it was the complainant’s car. When he got closer, he confirmed it was, and then was stopped by a red light at a roundabout. The complainant’s car continued off the roundabout and he waited at the lights. Once the lights turned green, he rejoined the motorway and did not see the complainant’s car again. The publication confirmed that the photographer had seen the child enter the car, and therefore knew a child was in the complainant’s car.

25. The publication did not consider this behaviour constituted intimidation, harassment, or persistent pursuit. It said the photographer was not in pursuit of the complainant when he saw her car on the motorway; rather, it was a chance sighting, and he did not pursue the complainant after he lost sight of her car at the red light. The publication also said the reporter had also not been following the complainant’s car, and had seen her car by chance while overtaking her on the motorway. The publication said that neither the photographer or the reporter knew where the complainant was travelling to, and were both simply travelling to the second address which they believed the complainant might be staying at. Therefore, they were not aware that the complainant had taken an unusual route, as they had not seen this occur.

26. The publication then said that the reporter was first to arrive at the second address, and parked about 200 meters down the road from the house on the public road. The first photographer then arrived about ten minutes later, parked down the street, and could not see the house from where he was parked. The second photographer arrived about ten minutes after that, and parked close to the first photographer – he could also not see the house from where he was parked. It said that the reporter stayed in the vicinity of the property for approximately 20 minutes, while the photographers were present for less than an hour in total.

27. The publication said that, the day after the alleged pursuit, there was a reporter and photographer outside the first address, parked in a public car park across the road, for approximately eight hours. It said there was also a photographer and reporter outside the second address; they were parked on the public road across from the house. The publication said neither photographer took any photographs during this time.

28. It also said that, on the following day, a reporter and photographer attended the second address for approximately four hours, leaving after midday, and again did not take any pictures. It said there was also a reporter and photographer outside the second address during the same time period, parked on the public road across from the house. It said that neither photographer took any photographs.

29. The publication said this behaviour did not constitute intimidation, harassment, or persistent pursuit, and that none of the reporters or photographers had left their cars or approached anyone while outside the properties. It also said that at no point had the complainant or anyone else requested the photographers leave or that they desist from taking photographs. The publication also disputed the complainant’s allegation that there had been a third location that the reporters attended.

30. While the publication did not accept a breach of Clause 3, it argued that there was a public interest which justified its attempts to photograph the complainant, and the publication of the photograph. It said this was because the complainant had been released from prison after serving half her sentence – a contentious public issue. It noted she had been convicted for embezzling almost £25,000 from pro-independence groups while serving as an SNP MP, and that the trial had been high-profile – with the complainant initially pleading guilty and attempting to withdraw her plea. This was then followed by a successful appeal and a further six-week trial – all of which, the publication argued, incurred a huge public cost. Therefore, it said, there was a public interest in reporting that the complainant had been released early from prison and in obtaining a photograph of her following her release. It said this had been considered in advance of the attempts to photograph her; the public interest was discussed in person by the news editor and his deputy, who agreed that the public interest justified any potential intrusion.

31. The publication also did not accept a breach of Clause 2. It said the published photograph was taken from a public car park across the road from the house, and the photographer had a clear view of the complainant when she was outside the house. It further said that the image did not reveal the house’s address; that the complainant was not engaged in a private act when the photograph was taken; and that she could be clearly seen by any member of the public. While it did not believe these actions constituted a breach of the Code, it argued that there was public interest in photographing and publishing this image for the reasons explained previously. 

32. The publication also did not consider the journalists’ presence outside the complainant’s parent’s home intruded into either the complainant’s or her parents’ reasonable expectation of privacy. It said the reporter and the photographer were respectively parked down the road and in the public car park and did not leave their cars, and no one acting on behalf of the publication approached the complainant. It also disputed that any photographs had been taken of the complainant’s parents, or that they had been followed; it said the photographers were there to try to photograph the complainant, not her parents – as they were not relevant to the story.

33. Turning to the information in the article which the complainant alleged intruded into her private and family life, the publication said the article did not reveal any identifying details about the complainant’s husband’s car or her parent’s house’s location. The article simply stated the colour and model of the car, and was not distinguished as the complainant’s husband’s car. It said her parents’ address was described only as “Inverkeithing, Fife”. This narrowed the location to a town which has a population of 5000 and therefore would not reveal the specific location of the house.

34. In regard to Clause 1, the publication said the image was not significantly inaccurate, misleading or distorted and had not been photoshopped; rather, it said it had been used as an inset in the normal way.

35. The complainant said that it was unclear why the photographer needed to confirm it was her car leaving the motorway if he was not planning on pursuing them. She also said that the fact that one of the cars had caught up to her within ten minutes suggested it would have been a high-speed pursuit. The complainant then said that the photographer would have seen them rejoin the motorway and he continued to follow them after this.

36. The complainant further speculated that, if the photographer and reporter had not been following her car and were instead using a sat nav they should have arrived at the second address significantly before she had.

37. The complainant said although the publication did not accept the reporter and photographer had followed her for the entire journey, it had accepted that she was followed for a significant part of the distance between her parents’ home and her parents-in-law via the local communities they took detours through.

38. The complainant said that the photograph which eventually appeared in the publication was the one taken on 13 May. She said if this photograph was considered sufficiently suitable to appear, and to satisfy the public interest defence adopted by the publication, it was not necessary or appropriate to inflict a further two days of “stalking and harassment” by the reporter and photographer outside her parents’ and other family members’ homes.

Relevant Clause Provisions

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.

iii) A fair opportunity to reply to significant inaccuracies should be given, when reasonably called for.

iv) The Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.

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.

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

39. The Committee welcomed the publication’s initial acceptance that the reporter had acted inappropriately; the apology during its direct correspondence with the complainant; and the offer of a public apology. However, it expressed regret that this offer did not reflect any acceptance of inappropriate behaviour or a breach of the Code.

40. The Committee first considered the complaint under Clause 3, specifically, the complaint that the complainant and her family had been pursued by a reporter and photographer on a journey to Glasgow in a manner which was intimidating and harassing. The Committee noted that the publication had accepted that the reporter and photographer had followed the complainant at various points in this journey. It also had regard for the contemporaneous messages the complainant had sent her mother, which indicated where the cars were in relation to the complainant at various points in the journey and which supported her position that the reporter and photographer were close to her vehicle – as she had been able to decipher their number plates. The Committee therefore accepted that there had been a pursuit by car that had lasted several miles.

41. The Committee did not accept the publication’s position that both sightings on the motorway had been “chance sightings”, particularly where it appeared the complainant had been monitored by several journalists who remained outside the property she was staying in for up to three days. It further noted that, by the account of one of the photographers, they had followed the complainant’s car to confirm that it was indeed her vehicle – exiting the motorway to confirm that this was the case – and only stopped following her when traffic lights prevented them from continuing. The Committee also noted that the pursuit had taken place on a journey to and on a motorway, while the complainant’s child was in the car – a fact which at least one photographer was aware of. It considered that the nature of this pursuit would have been extremely intimidating and harassing for the complainant and her family – and, absent a demonstration that the public interest was proportionate to the intrusion, and that this had been considered prior to the pursuit, this would breach the terms of Clause 3.

42. The publication had argued that any potential breach of Clause 3 was justified in the public interest. For the Committee to find that a breach of the Code was justified in a public interest, it must be satisfied that the publication has demonstrated that it reasonably believed journalistic activity would both serve, and be proportionate to, the public interest and explain how the decision was reached at the time the journalistic activity was undertaken.

43. The publication said a discussion had been held in-person between the news editor and his deputy. However, as the discussion was a verbal one, it was unable to provide any documentation or evidence to show what had been discussed, precisely when the discussion occurred, and whether the proportionality of any action was discussed. The Committee did not consider the publication had sufficiently demonstrated that the publication had considered how the pursuit of the complainant would serve the public interest in a proportionate way prior to the pursuit of the complainant. The Committee particularly considered this to be the case where: a child had been present in the car, and there must be an exceptional public interest to override the normally paramount interests of a child; the pursuit had occurred on a high-speed road across many miles; and an image had been obtained of the complainant before this journey.

44. Taking all of the above factors into consideration, the Committee found that journalists acting on behalf of the publication had pursued the complainant via car in a manner which was persistent, intimidating, and harassing. This was a breach of Clause 3.

45. The Committee next considered the presence of journalists outside the two properties, and whether this breached Clause 3. The Committee recognised that the complainant and her family felt this behaviour was intimidating; however, the Committee noted that the journalists remained at all times in public locations – such as a car park – and they had made no approaches to the complainant or her family. The Committee also noted that the complainant had not asked the journalists to leave, and no one had made such a request on her behalf. For these reasons, there was no breach of Clause 3 on this point.

46. The complainant’s parents also believed a journalist had followed them in a car. The Committee acknowledged that the publication had confirmed the presence of the journalists outside the parents’ house; another home belonging to the complainant’s extended family; and during the journey to the second address. However, the publication had disputed that a journalist had followed the complainant’s parents. The Committee further noted that the complainant’s parents had not given a basis for their belief that the car which had followed them was being driven by a journalist acting on behalf of the publication: no photographs had been subsequently published as a result, and the complainant had not said that this car was one of the cars which they had subsequently learnt belonged to a journalist acting on behalf of the publication. In such circumstances, there was not sufficient information put before the Committee to link the car to the publication, and it did not identify a breach of Clause 3 on this point.

47. Turning to the complainant’s concerns about the journalists’ presence outside the house of her extended family, the Committee noted that the complainant was not acting on their behalf as an authorised representative, and therefore, it was not able to consider this aspect of the complaint further.

48. The complainant also believed the article had breached Clause 2, as it included a photograph of her in a private residential garden. The Committee noted that both parties accepted that the photograph of the complainant had been taken from a public road, and that the location where the complainant was at the time of the photograph being taken was visible to people using the public walkway. It also noted that the complainant was not pictured doing anything private; the picture simply showed her walking toward a car. There was no breach of Clause 2.

49. The complainant believed that reporting the make and colour of her husband’s car and the town where her parent’s property was located breached Clause 2. The Committee noted that the type of car the complaint’s husband drove was not private information about the complainant, as the model and colour of a car is not inherently private, and this information was not particular to the complainant; many individuals own such cars. Therefore, she did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy over this information. Similarly, the article simply stated that the complainant’s parents lived in Inverkeithing. In this instance, the Committee did not consider naming the town the complainant’s parents lived in intruded into the complainant’s or her parents’ private and family lives, and for this reason, there was no breach of Clause 2.

50. The Committee considered the complainant’s concerns raised under Clause 1 that an image of her had been "photoshopped” in front of a prison in the online version of the article. The Committee noted that the article contained two additional images which showed the complainant on the phone as well as a separate photograph showing the prison – which would suggest the image of the complainant in front of the prison was an inset image. It further noted that the complainant had attended the prison she was pictured in front of - and therefore - while this image may not have depicted a specific moment in time, it did not consider it was significantly misleading or inaccurate. For this reason, there was no breach of Clause 1.

Conclusions

51. The complaint was upheld under Clause 3.

Remedial action required

52. 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.

53. The behaviour employed by the photographer and reporter had been intimidating and harassing; the complainant was followed for a period of time, via car, while travelling with a young child. This was a serious and egregious breach of the Code.

54. In circumstances where the newspaper had breached Clause 3, the appropriate remedy was the publication of an adjudication. The Committee also noted that the publication had told the complainant it would train its staff to prevent similar incidents in the future. In light of the seriousness of the breach, the Committee requested the publication follow-up with IPSO, in writing, once it had delivered this training, summarising the training and affirming its commitment to high editorial standards.

55. In considering the question of prominence, the Committee had regard to its Regulations, the Editors Code and to IPSO's guidance on prominence. It took into account the seriousness of the breach, and the public interest in remedying the breach. It noted that this was a serious breach, given the pursuit of the complainant while she was with her child, and that there was a public interest in making clear to the public that such journalistic activity is unacceptable and considered an egregious breach of the Code.

56. It also considered the actions taken by the newspaper to remedy the breach, following the publication of the article. It noted that the publication had apologised to the complainant, offered a private letter of apology from the editor, offered a donation to charity and a public apology. However, the publication had not accepted the journalistic activity had breached the Code.

57. Front page and front cover corrections are generally reserved for more serious cases, wherever the breach appears in the publication. Due prominence is not the same as equal prominence. The Committee considered carefully the full range of sanctions open to it, including whether the adjudication itself should be published on the front page. The article had appeared online and in print on page seven. Taking into account the location of the original article, in conjunction with the factors listed above, the Committee required that the adjudication should be published on page seven or further forward in the newspaper.  The adjudication should also be flagged on the front page of the newspaper, in a size and location to be agreed with IPSO in advance. This would direct readers to the full adjudication, while not taking up disproportionate space on the front page, which the Committee acknowledged is valuable editorially.

58. The adjudication should also be published online; a link to the adjudication should be published on the top 50% of the publication’s homepage for 24 hours. It should then be archived in the usual way. If the newspaper intends to continue to publish the online article, a link to the adjudication should also be published on the article, beneath the headline.

59. The headline of both versions of the adjudication must make clear that IPSO has upheld the complaint against The Scottish Sun and must refer to its subject matter; they must both be agreed with IPSO in advance. The flag on the front page of the print edition should also refer to IPSO having upheld a complaint against The Scottish Sun and be agreed with IPSO in advance.

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

Natalie McGarry complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Scottish Sun breached Clause 3 (Harassment) of the Editors’ Code of Practice on 18 May 2023.

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

The complainant said that the conduct of two reporters who worked for the publication breached Clause 3. She said that on 13 May 2023 she travelled, via car with her husband and child, to a property owned by other family members. She said that, on this journey, they were followed by a photographer, who pursued them in his car.

The complainant said that once she had joined the motorway, she became aware of another car. The complainant said that, during the motorway journey, the two cars swapped positions with each other to “sandwich” her car. She also said that the cars had left and re-joined the motorway at junctions to reappear in front and behind her car, and that this continued for nearly 40 miles.

The complainant said the behaviour of the reporter and photographer was intimidating, reckless, endangering and had put her family at risk driving at speed on a motorway. She said that the this was exacerbated by the fact that her young child was in the car – which she believed the photographer must have been aware of, as they would have seen the child entering the vehicle.

The publication did not accept that the reporter and the photographer behaved in the manner alleged by the complainant. It did not accept that their behaviour constituted intimidation, harassment, or persistent pursuit. The publication said the reporter saw the complainant’s car leave and drove in the same direction. He continued driving behind the complainant’s car for a few minutes, and the publication said there was a “significant distance” between the cars and at times there were other cars between them, so the reporter’s view of the car was obscured. The publication said the reporter was not following the complainant’s car, and he did not see the car again until he was driving on the motorway and overtook a car which he realised was the complainant’s.

It said the photographer was not in pursuit of the complainant when he saw her car on the motorway; rather, it was a chance sighting, and he did not pursue the complainant after he lost sight of her car at the red light. The publication confirmed that the photographer had seen the child enter the car, and therefore knew a child was in the complainant’s car.

IPSO noted that the publication had accepted that the reporter and photographer had followed the complainant at various points in this journey, and accepted that this pursuit had lasted several miles.

IPSO did not accept the publication’s position that both sightings on the motorway had been “chance sightings”. It further noted that, by the account of one of the photographers, they had followed the complainant’s car to confirm that it was indeed her vehicle – exiting the motorway to confirm that this was the case – and only stopped following her when traffic lights prevented them from continuing. IPSO also noted that the pursuit had taken place on a journey to and on a motorway, while the complainant’s child was in the car – a fact which at least one photographer was aware of. It considered that the nature of this pursuit would have been extremely intimidating and harassing for the complainant and her family.

Taking all of the above factors into consideration, IPSO found that journalists acting on behalf of the publication had pursued the complainant via car in a manner which was persistent, intimidating, and harassing. This was a breach of Clause 3.


Date complaint received:  18/05/2023

Date decision issued:  24/10/2023