Ruling

23437-22 A woman v The Worcester News

    • Date complaint received

      27th April 2023

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      2 Privacy, 6 Children, 9 Reporting of crime


Decision of the Complaints Committee – 23437-22 A woman v The Worcester News


Summary of Complaint

1. A woman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Worcester News breached Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 6 (Children), and Clause 9 (Reporting of Crime) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article published in October 2022.

2. The article reported that an individual had been charged with several offences. The article named the alleged victims of some of the offences; one of the named individuals was the complainant’s daughter.

3. The article also appeared online in substantially the same form; this version of the article was published on the same day as the print version. The online version of the article was amended 4 hours after its publication to remove the names of the alleged victims; this was done prior to a complaint being made to IPSO.

4. Prior to contacting IPSO, an individual acting on behalf of the complainant contacted the newspaper on the morning of the article’s publication to make it aware that the article included the name of a child victim of an alleged crime.

5. The complainant said that the article had breached Clause 9 by including her daughter’s name; she did not consider that, in doing so, the publication had paid particular regard to her daughter’s potentially vulnerable position as an alleged victim of a crime – as required by the terms of Clause 9 (ii). She said that it was only once the police had become involved that the publication had removed the name of her daughter, and that it had ignored calls from another parent acting on her behalf.

6. The complainant also said that the article had breached Clause 2 and Clause 6; she said that her daughter was easily identifiable from the article to others in her community and that it had caused her undue stress and intrusion. She further noted that the publication had not apologised, which she considered disrespectful to her daughter and herself.

7. The publication said it did not accept a breach of the Editors’ Code. It first noted that there is no automatic right to anonymity for children in court cases; anonymity is only granted once a court order has been issued and – at the time of the article’s publication – there was no such order in place.  It also provided the court listing document upon which the article was based; this listed the name of the complainant’s daughter.

8. Turning to the terms of Clause 9, the publication said that it was not aware at the time of publication that the complainant’s daughter was under the age of 18. It did not accept that it had ignored calls from any individual about the matter – it said that it had responded to two calls left on its voicemail on the morning after the article’s publication, and had called back requesting a call back to discuss the matter further. It also said that it had not removed the name because it had been asked to do so by the police; it had done so once it became aware that some of the alleged victims were children.

9. The publication went on to set out how it become aware that the article named a child, and what action it undertook when it came aware. The deputy editor had been briefed on the situation once they’d arrived at work the morning of the article’s publication, as the call had been received at this point. The deputy editor had then made the decision to remove the victims’ names from the article; this was done at around 9:25am, approximately 4 hours after the article’s initial publication at 5:00am. It said that it had removed all of the victims’ names from the article at this time, as it was not sure which of the named victims were under the age of 18. It had then made a diary note of the next court hearing relating to the case, and ensured that a court reporter attended in person to ensure that the team was fully aware of any orders made.

10. Taking the above factors into account, the publication also did not consider that the terms of Clause 2 or Clause 6 had been breached by the article’s publication.

11. The complainant said that her child’s name had previously appeared in the publication in another context and that – therefore – the publication should have been aware that she was under the age of 18.

12. The publication said that it had no way of knowing whether the complainant’s daughter was the same individual they had previously referenced, or just had the same name. It did not, accept therefore, that it could have reasonably known that the complainant’s daughter was under 18 prior to publication.

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.

Clause 6 (Children)*

i) All pupils should be free to complete their time at school without unnecessary intrusion.

Clause 9 (Reporting of Crime)*

ii) Particular regard should be paid to the potentially vulnerable position of children under the age of 18 who witness, or are victims of, crime. This should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings.

Findings of the Committee

13. The Committee understood that the complainant had significant concerns regarding her child being named as the alleged victim of a crime, given that she was still a minor. However, the Committee wished to note at the outset that Clause 9 does not prohibit children from being named in the context of legal proceedings, provided particular regard is paid to their potentially vulnerable position should they be a witness to, or victim of, a crime. Therefore, the question for the Committee was not whether the complainant’s daughter had been named – which was not in dispute – but rather whether, in naming her, the publication had paid due regard to her potentially vulnerable position as a child.

14. The publication had said that – at the time of the article’s publication – it was not aware of the fact that the complainant’s daughter was a child. The Committee noted that the child’s age had not been referenced in the court listing document which gave her name as the alleged victim of a crime and that – while she had appeared in a previous story published by the newspaper – the newspaper could not reasonably have known that this was the same individual. Therefore, in assessing whether the newspaper had breached the terms of Clause 9 (ii), the Committee examined the action undertaken by it once it had indisputably become aware of the complainant’s daughter’s age via voicemail messages.

15. Both parties accepted that an individual acting on the complainant’s behalf had contacted the newspaper the morning of the article’s publication. Having received this communication, the publication removed the names of all victims from the online version of the article. The Committee was satisfied that the action of removing all names from the article demonstrated a particular regard being paid to the potentially vulnerable position of child victims of crime, given that it was unsure of the ages of the victims and had therefore chosen to remove all names rather than risk continuing to publish the name of a child. The decision appeared to have made early in the working-day, after discussions with the deputy editor – demonstrating to the Committee that the matter had been escalated and dealt with quickly. In addition, the newspaper had ensured that court reporter attended the subsequent hearings in person, to ensure that they were aware of any orders made by the court in relation to the complainant’s daughter’s age. Taking all these factors into account, the Committee was satisfied that – once it became aware of the age of the complainant’s daughter – it had paid particular regard to her potentially vulnerable position, and there was therefore no breach of Clause 9.

16. The terms of Clause 2 protect the rights of individuals to a private and family life free from unnecessary intrusion without consent. In this instance, while the Committee understood that the complainant was concerned that the name of her daughter had been published in the newspaper, it had first been published and therefore put in the public domain by the courts – by way of the inclusion of her name in a court listing. Where the name of the complainant’s daughter had already entered the public domain in an official capacity, publishing it did not represent an intrusion into her private and family life on the part of the publication. There was no breach of Clause 2.

17. The terms of Clause 6 make clear that children’s time at school should not be subject to unnecessary intrusion as a result of press coverage. In assessing whether there had been a breach of this Clause, the Committee were mindful that the publication had not been aware that the complainant’s daughter was a child – nor that she was still in full-time education – prior to the article’s publication. Once the publication had become aware that the complainant’s daughter was a child, it had removed her name from the online article. The Committee also noted that the child’s name had been released in court listing documents, and that it was not the publication itself that had made the initial link to the offence. Therefore, the Committee considered that the terms of Clause 6 had not been breached – the publication had taken clear steps to minimise any intrusion to the complainant’s daughter by removing her name from the online article, and the publication had not initially revealed the information about the child being an alleged victim of an offence.

Conclusions

18. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

19. N/A


Date complaint received: 12/11/2022

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 11/04/2023