Ruling

20569-23 Lightfoot v edinburghlive.co.uk

  • Complaint Summary

    Debbie Lightfoot complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that edinburghlive.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 3 (Harassment) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “West Lothian mum 'slurred her words and swayed' during school run”, published on 3 May 2023.

    • Date complaint received

      7th March 2024

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 2 Privacy, 3 Harassment

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 20569-23 Lightfoot v edinburghlive.co.uk


Summary of Complaint

1. Debbie Lightfoot complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that edinburghlive.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 3 (Harassment) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “West Lothian mum 'slurred her words and swayed' during school run”, published on 3 May 2023.

2. The article reported on the complainant’s court case. It stated the complainant had “admitted doing the school run while she was four and a half times the legal drink drive limit”, and that she was seen “’swaying’ and ‘unsteady on her feet’ after she arrived by car at a school in West Lothian”. It reported at the time of the incident, “a concerned individual phoned the social work department who advised that her child should be placed in care and police should be contacted.” The article then reported the prosecution told the court “police arrived at 3.54pm and saw the accused a short distance from the school entrance” and the prosecutor had said “on speaking to the accused officers noticed that she became upset and irate, stating that she hadn’t driven the vehicle”. It also stated the prosecution had “announced the Crown’s intention” to seek forfeiture of the accused’s car, of which the make, model and an estimated worth was given. The complainant’s number plate was also stated. The article stated the complainant “pleaded guilty on Wednesday to driving while over the 22 microgramme limit on 30 August last year.” It said the Sheriff “banned her from driving with immediate effect and deferred consideration of confiscation and the length of the disqualification to a sentencing hearing on 25 May.”

3. The complainant said the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1; she said no eyewitnesses had seen her arriving by car, and she had been unsteady on her feet due to medical reasons, which were not referenced in the article. Additionally, she said her child was not required to be placed into care. The complainant also disputed she was seen by the police a “short distance from the school entrance”, as she said she was present at the school building, in a meeting room with school staff at the time stated. While the complainant did not dispute she had become “upset and irate” when speaking to the police, she said this was in connection to a separate incident.

4. The complainant also said the article was in breach of Clause 1 because it focused on her preliminary hearing, when her final hearing, which had not occurred at the time of publication, was scheduled for 25 May. The complainant said the reference to the forfeiture of her car related to a previous incident which was not the subject of the hearing on which the article reported. She also said the outcome of the “deferred consideration” of her case on 25 May was a £500 penalty and two-year driving ban. She said two charges had been brought against her at the preliminary hearing but she was acquitted of the other charge.

5. The complainant said the article was in breach of Clause 2 because it contained photographs of her leaving court, which she said she did not consent to being taken. The complainant also said the article was in breach of Clause 2 because it disclosed information about her and her family’s identities. This information included: her full name; age; location; the make and model of her vehicle; the registration number of her car and speculation as to the value of her vehicle. She said the value of her vehicle was not information shared by the court.

6. The complainant also said the publication had breached Clause 3 during an interaction between her and her support worker with the reporter outside the court. The complainant said the journalist had approached her outside the court and had taken photographs of her without her permission. The complainant also said the photographer did not stop photographing her when she asked him to. She said when the reporter was questioned by her support worker, he failed to give his identity or explain why he was taking photographs of them leaving court. The complainant also said she was intimidated by the journalist.

7. Later in the investigation, the complainant’s support worker also provided a statement on the incident to IPSO. The support worker said her and the complainant were photographed by the reporter after leaving court. The support worker said she approached the reporter and asked him why he was taking photographs of them. She said his response was, “well it’s a good story, a drunk mum driving near a school”. The support worker said she then asked him to stop, and he walked away, and that “at no point did he identify himself or ask for consent.”

8. The publication did not accept a breach of Clause 1. It said the complainant did not dispute its account of the incident was an accurate reflection of what was heard in court; rather she disputed the accuracy of what was heard by the court.

9. The publication did not accept there were any inaccuracies regarding the developments in the complainant’s case after publication. Although the publication was satisfied the article was accurate, 13 days after being referred the case by IPSO, on September 25, it added an update to the text of the article, underneath the headline, making clear the outcome of the sentencing hearing:

UPDATE from sentencing on May 25: Lightfoot was fined £450 discounted from £500 with a fines enforcement order imposed. She was disqualified for 32 months, licence endorsed (discounted from 36 months) and certified as suitable to participate in the rehabilitation course.

10. The publication did not accept publishing an image of the complainant outside court constituted a breach of Clause 2. It said the photograph was taken in a public place where the complainant had no reasonable expectation of privacy, and the photograph simply showed the complainant’s likeness; it did not reveal any private or personal information. The publication also did not accept a breach of Clause 2 regarding the material in the article. It said everything mentioned in the article was heard in an open court, and therefore it was entitled to publish it.

11. The publication did not accept a breach of Clause 3. It initially said the reporter did not recall whether a support worker was present, but he was certain no request to desist was made.

12. Once the publication received the statement from the complainant’s support worker later in the investigation, it accepted she was present during the incident. However, it said the support worker's recollection demonstrated no breach of Clause 3 had taken place as the photographer was said to have desisted and walked away when asked, and was not asked to identify himself.

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.

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.

Findings of the Committee

13. The newspaper’s obligation was to report accurately what was heard in court; it was not responsible for the accuracy of what was heard by the court. The complainant did not dispute the article was an accurate report of what had been heard during the court proceedings. As such, there was no failure to take care over the accuracy of these aspects of the article, and the Committee did not identify any significant inaccuracies which would require correction under Clause 1.

14. Furthermore, under the principle of open justice, a newspaper can report on every stage of open court proceedings, including preliminary hearings, and whether a publication chooses to cover a preliminary hearing is a matter of editorial discretion. While there were developments in the complainant’s hearing, this information was not available to the newspaper at the time of publication. While the Committee welcomed the publication’s update to the online article on the outcome of the complainant’s case, there were no inaccuracies identified in the report when it was originally published. There was, therefore, no failure to take care not to print inaccurate information by the publication at the time. Additionally, given the article was updated promptly and with due prominence on September 25 to reflect the outcome of the complainant’s sentencing, there was no requirement for the publication to correct the article in line with its obligations under Clause (ii).

15. With regards to the photograph, the complainant had no reasonable expectation of privacy when stood outside the courtroom, and the published photograph did not reveal any private information about her. There was no breach of Clause 2 regarding the image of the complainant outside court.

16. The complainant’s name and address, and some of the details about her car – including the make and model of the vehicle and its registration number were heard in open court – and the complainant therefore had no reasonable expectation of privacy over this information. Furthermore, while it was not clear whether the estimated value of the complainant’s car was heard in court, the worth of a model of vehicle is easily accessible public information and in no way related to the complainant’s personal or private life. The complainant therefore had no reasonable expectation of privacy over this either. There was no breach of Clause 2 on any of these points.

17. The Committee turned to whether the interaction between the complainant, her support worker and the photographer constituted harassment. There were two issues the Committee considered when assessing whether the journalist had breached Clause 3. The first was whether the reporter had persisted in photographing the complainant after having been asked to stop, and the second was whether the photographer had refused to identify himself after having been asked. As all three accounts differed significantly, it was not possible for the Committee to establish what exactly had happened during the interaction. However, the account given by the complainant’s support worker was clear the reporter had stopped photographing her and the complainant when asked to desist, and she did not say he had failed to identify himself when asked. The reporter also denied having persisted asking questions or photographing the complainant after a request to desist was made. Although the Committee were not able to make a conclusive finding on this point, two out of the three accounts of the incident did not include behaviour that would amount to a breach of Clause 3. Considering this, and in the absence of any evidence to support the complainant’s position, the Committee did not consider there was enough evidence to find a breach of Clause 3.

Conclusions

18. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

19. N/A


Date complaint received: 25/08/2023

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 06/02/2024