Ruling

22787-23 Wilson v eveningtelegraph.co.uk

  • Complaint Summary

    Bruce Wilson complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that eveningtelegraph.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Obsessive Blairgowrie husband installed camera to spy on wife”, published on 16 February 2023.

    • Date complaint received

      29th May 2024

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 12 Discrimination, 2 Privacy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 22787-23 Wilson v eveningtelegraph.co.uk


Summary of Complaint

1. Bruce Wilson complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that eveningtelegraph.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Obsessive Blairgowrie husband installed camera to spy on wife”, published on 16 February 2023.

2. The article reported on a court case in which the complainant was a defendant. The article subheading read: “An obsessive husband installed a hidden camera in his house after becoming fixated with the thought of his wife having an affair.” The article went on to report that he “used the spycam to keep his partner of 20 years under surveillance, Perth Sheriff Court heard”. It reported that the court “heard he shouted, swore, made offensive and derogatory remarks, slammed doors and accused her of infidelity. Court papers state he installed a camera at their home ‘to monitor her movements.’”.

3. The article quoted the Fiscal Deputy, who reportedly said during the case: “Officers seized a wireless camera which was recovered from the downstairs hallway. The accused was interviewed and made admissions of controlling, coercive and abusive behaviour towards the complainer. He said the camera was installed in order to monitor the complainer’s movements.” The article also quoted the complainant’s legal representative, who reportedly said “his client is getting medical help. ‘His obsession with his wife allegedly having an illicit relationship was at the core of this matter. He was using alcohol as a form of self-medication and that clearly was not working.’” The article concluded by reporting that the sheriff had “placed [the complainant] on supervision for 18 months and imposed a conduct requirement that he must get treatment for alcohol abuse and counselling. The sheriff further imposed a two year non-harassment order.” The article included two images of the complainant.

4. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. He said that, while a web camera had been discussed during the court case, it had not been proven that it had been used. He also said the camera had not been described as a “spy cam” during court proceedings.

5. The complainant further said that the article was one-sided in breach of Clause 1. He said it had omitted statements made by his lawyers and had inaccurately reported the prosecutor’s statements, taking them out of context. He also said he was never given an opportunity to tell his side of the story. The complainant said the article had portrayed him as an abusive, horrible man, but his actions were an isolated incident. The complainant said his children had suffered as a result of the article.

6. The complainant also said that the article breached Clause 2 as the images which were included were taken from a private Facebook account.

7. In addition, the complainant said the article breached Clause 12 as he had been experiencing mental health issues and this was mentioned at court as a reason for his offence. He said the article was not sensitive to his mental health issues, and did not reflect his account of events. He said that the backlash from the public and comments which were made had led to his mental health worsening.

8. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that the headline was supported by the article which explained: “Bruce Wilson used the spycam to keep his partner of 20 years under surveillance, Perth Sheriff Court heard.” The publication said that the reporter had attended court and made contemporaneous notes of the proceedings. It shared the notes during the IPSO investigation, to demonstrate it had taken care over the accuracy of the article. The publication highlighted the following quotes from court which appeared in the notes it had provided: “Officers seized a wireless camera which was recovered from the downstairs hallway”; “[The accused] was interviewed and made admissions of [controlling, coercive and abusive] behaviour towards [the complainer]” and “Stated wireless camera installed to monitor [complainer’s] movements”. It accepted that the term “spy cam” was not heard at court but said it would be commonly understood to describe the type of wireless camera device retrieved by police from the complainant’s house and therefore was not inaccurate. However, as a gesture of goodwill, it offered to amend the term 'spycam' to 'webcam'.

9. The publication said that whether the camera was used was redundant – the purpose of the camera was clear and, by his own admission to the police, the complainant had installed it in order to monitor his wife’s movements. The publication argued that it was therefore not significantly inaccurate to describe the device as a spycam and to report that an “[o]bsessive Blairgowrie husband installed [a] camera to spy on wife”. It said the headline conveyed the complainant’s admitted intended use of the camera.

10. The publication said the complainant had pleaded guilty to engaging in an abusive course of behaviour, a statutory offence under the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018. The publication considered the article provided a fair, accurate and contemporaneous account of the proceedings brought against him and from which he was ultimately convicted.

11. In regard to Clause 2, the publication said that the images appeared on a public-facing social media account with no privacy settings in place. It provided screenshots of the complainant’s Facebook profile to support its position. The screenshots showed these images had been posted on Facebook, and a globe icon which accompanied them indicated that they were not private. It further said that the images only depicted the complainant’s likeness and that there was nothing to suggest he had a reasonable expectation of privacy over their use.

12. The publication also did not accept a breach of Clause 12. It said its role in the court system was to report on proceedings accurately and fairly, and it did not introduce its reporter’s own thoughts or views into the copy from the courts. It said the complainant’s mental welfare was therefore not something for it to comment upon, but that it did report the mitigation for the offence put forward in his defence by his solicitor. It said the article said “Solicitor [named individual], defending, said his client is getting medical help. ‘His obsession with his wife allegedly having an illicit relationship was at the core of this matter. He was using alcohol as a form of self-medication and that clearly was not working.’”. Further, it said that part of the sheriff’s disposal was for the complainant to seek treatment for alcohol abuse and counselling, which gave context to the situation. The publication said it reported on each element of the case in good faith and within the accepted boundaries of court reporting.

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.

Clause 12 (Discrimination)

i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's race, colour, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.

ii) Details of an individual's race, colour, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.

Findings of the Committee

13. The Committee noted that the complainant accepted a camera had been installed in his property to record his wife, and the fact that this had been heard in court was also supported by the contemporaneous court reporter’s notes. However, the complainant said it had not been proven at court that the camera had been used to film his wife.

14. The Committee did not consider the following claims to be inaccurate: “husband installed camera to spy on wife”; “husband installed a hidden camera in his house”; “Court papers state he installed a camera at their home ‘to monitor her movements’”; and “’he said the camera was installed in order to monitor the complainer’s movements’”. This was because it was not in dispute that a camera had been installed for surveillance reasons, and that this had been heard during court proceedings.

15. The article had also claimed that the complainant “used the spycam to keep his partner of 20 years under surveillance, Perth Sheriff Court heard”. While the Committee acknowledged the complainant’s position that the camera’s use had not been proven at court, the Committee noted that the camera had been installed with the purpose of recording his wife and “to monitor her movements”. It was not in dispute that the purpose of the camera’s installation was to keep his partner under surveillance, regardless of whether the court had proven that such surveillance had actually occurred before the camera was seized by police. It also noted that the reporter’s notes appeared to support the article’s claim on this point, where they read: “wireless camera installed to monitor [complainer’s] movements". The Committee therefore found that care had been taken over the accuracy of this claim, and that it was not significantly inaccurate, misleading, or distorted where it was not in dispute that the camera had been installed for the purpose of keeping the complainant’s partner under surveillance. For this reason, there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

16. The Committee next considered whether it was inaccurate to refer to the camera as a “spycam” where it had not been referred to as this term at court. Where the camera’s intended use was to record the wife, and where the complainant had admitted he had installed it to “monitor her movements”, the Committee did not consider the term was inaccurate. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

17. The complainant said the article was one-sided and had portrayed him as an abusive, horrible man. He also said that he had not been given the opportunity to set out his side of the story. Newspapers have the right to choose which pieces of information they publish, as long as this does not lead to a breach of the Code. This extends to choosing which pieces of information to focus on, even if the selection of material chosen for publication might portray someone in a negative light. In any event, the article included comments from the complainant’s defence, including the circumstances he’d put forward as mitigation, and was ultimately a report of court proceedings in which the complainant had been found guilty. The Committee also noted that newspapers may wish to approach the subject of articles prior to publication in their obligation to take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, however there is no standalone right of reply. In such circumstances, there was no breach of Clause 1.

18. The Committee considered the images which the complainant said breached Clause 2. The images simply depicted the complainant’s likeness and did not show him doing anything in which he may have an expectation of privacy. The publication had also shown that the images were visible to the public on the complainant’s Facebook account, and that there were not privacy settings in place preventing people from viewing the photographs. As such the Committee did not consider the images constituted private information in breach of Clause 2, or that he had a reasonable expectation of privacy with regard to the images.

19. Turning to the complainant’s concerns under Clause 12 that the article was not sensitive to his mental health issues and did not reflect his account. The Committee noted that the article had listed his use of alcohol as a mitigating factor: He “was using alcohol as a form of self-medication and that clearly was not working.” The article also recorded that the sheriff had “imposed a conduct requirement that he must get treatment for alcohol abuse and counselling”. These did not constitute pejorative or prejudicial references, rather, they were factual claims about the complainant’s medical history that had been heard in court. Further to this, as these references had been heard at court, they were genuinely relevant to the story and the publication was entitled to report this aspect of the case. For this reason, there was no breach of Clause 12.

Conclusions

20. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

21. N/A


Date complaint received: 19/12/2023

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 13/05/2024