Ruling

22632-23 Murray and Yorkshire Water v Sunday Mirror

  • Complaint Summary

    Vanda Murray and Yorkshire Water complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Sunday Mirror breached Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Four toilets and a steam room for ‘shortages’ boss”, published on 3 December 2023.

    • Date complaint received

      8th May 2024

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      2 Privacy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 22632-23 – Murray and Yorkshire Water v Sunday Mirror


Summary of Complaint

1. Vanda Murray and Yorkshire Water complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Sunday Mirror breached Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Four toilets and a steam room for ‘shortages’ boss”, published on 3 December 2023.

2. The article, which appeared on page 12 of the newspaper, reported on the complainant Vanda Murray’s residence and her position as Chair of Yorkshire Water. It opened by reporting: “A water firm boss who warned of shortages due to changing weather patterns has four toilets and a steam room at her luxury home”. The article went on to report further details about the property: “[A] floor plan of Ms Murray’s […] mansion shows the four toilets and steam room, as well as a wine store, games room and snug”. The article also reported the county where the complainant’s home was located.

3. The article also featured a photograph of the complainant’s residence. The photograph, which appeared to have been taken from the end of a driveway, showed the front of the complainant’s house partly obscured by four trees.

4. The article also appeared online, in substantially the same form, under the headline: “Water boss who warned of 'shortages' has four loos and a steam room in luxury mansion”. The online version of the article also featured the photograph of the complainant’s house; this version of the photograph was more zoomed in than the version which appeared in print, and showed less of the house.

5. On 1 December, prior to the article’s publication, the publication contacted Yorkshire Water seeking comment on the story. In a follow-up email on the same day, it stated that details of the complainant’s address were available on a Rightmove listing for the property, a link to which it provided. It stated that:

“The floor plan shows [the complainant’s] property has a steam room, as well as four toilets (three of which are in bathrooms on the first floor, another on the ground floor). The floor plan shows the property also has a wine store, games/family room, a study, a snug and five bedrooms, one of which features a walk-in wardrobe. We intend to publish details about the property, including its steam room, in our story.”

6. The publication also added in this email that it did not intend to publish the complainant’s specific address, and that Land Registry documents showed she owned the property in question.

7. Yorkshire Water responded, on 1 December, expressing concerns that there was no public interest in the story. It also stated that publishing the article could cause safety concerns. The complainant also questioned where the publication had obtained the Land Registry documents.

8. On 3 December, following the publication of the article, the complainant complained directly to the publication. On 5 December, in response to the complaint and as a gesture of goodwill, the publication removed the photograph of the house from the online article.

9. The complainant said that, in publishing the article, the publication had breached Clause 2. It stated that the publication of the image of her residence, as well as details regarding the property, was a “wholly inappropriate intrusion” into her private life, and could cause safety issues for her.

10. The publication did not accept a breach of Clause 2. It said that all information reported in the article was publicly available. To support its position on this point, it supplied IPSO with the property’s Rightmove page, which also included a floorplan for the property. The floorplan included the parts of the property listed in the article – the Rightmove page also listed the street, town and county of the property. The publication also said that the photograph of the complainant’s property was taken from a public street and showed the house as it would appear to passersby on that street; it did not disclose any private or personal information about Ms Murray.

Relevant Clause Provisions

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.

Findings of the Committee

11. The Committee recognised that the photograph included in the article showed the front of the complainant’s property and that the complainant had not disputed that the image was taken from the street outside the house. The Committee did not consider, therefore, that the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy regarding this photograph; the front of her property could be seen by any passerby, and the façade itself did not reveal any information about the complainant, or the complainant’s family or home life, which was private. For these reasons, the Committee did not consider that the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy in respect to the publication of a photograph of her property, and its publication did not represent an intrusion into her private, family or home life. There was no breach of Clause 2 on this point.

12. The Committee then turned to the inclusion of details of the complainant’s property, and whether these breached the terms of Clause 2; specifically the inclusion of information regarding the rooms in the property, and the county where it was located. In general, people do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy regarding their address. However, there are certain circumstances in which the publication of details of an individual’s home may be intrusive. In this case, the Committee recognised that certain individuals, including those with a high public profile, may be exposed to security problems if their address, or details allowing their address to be identified, are published. As such, this may be information over which they have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

13. The publication had supplied IPSO with the property’s Rightmove page, and the Committee noted that the details of the complainant’s property listed in the article – such as the “four toilets and a steam room” – were all included on the floorplan on the Rightmove page. The Committee also noted that the complainant’s full address had not been reported in the article; rather, it only named the county in which she lived, and the further information in the article – a photograph of front of the house and details regarding its room – was not sufficient, in the Committee’s view, to reveal the exact location of the complainant’s home. In addition, the complainant had not appeared to dispute, prior to publication, that Land Registry records showed that she owned the property. In these circumstances, the Committee was of the view that the information reported was already in the public domain, and the reporting of it did not constitute an intrusion into the complainant’s private, family or home life, by its publication. There was no breach of Clause 2.

Conclusions

14. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

15. N/A


Date complaint received: 06/12/2023

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 18/04/2024