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Complainant Name:
Mr C Whitfield

Clauses Noted: 4, 6

Publication: The News (Portsmouth)


Mr C Whitfield, head teacher of Oaklands RC School, Stakes Hill Road, Waterlooville, Hampshire, complained that reporters from The News (Portsmouth) visited the school and, in the course of their enquiries, harassed a member of staff in breach of Clause 8 (Harassment) of the Code of Practice and approached pupils without the permission of the authorities, in breach of Clause 12 (Interviewing or photographing children).

The reporters visited the school after allegations had been made that a teacher had taken drugs into the school. The complainant objected that they had arrived at the school uninvited, had asked to see the head teacher and had been told that a message would be passed to him. They were then escorted from the school building but later returned and asked to see another member of staff. They were left in the building and were asked to stay where they were but were then found on another part of the school site and again tried to contact the member of staff. A teacher at the school alleged that, when confronted by him, their behaviour amounted to harassment through their "confrontational body language" and the pressure that they put on him to answer. The complainant believed that the visit amounted to trespass.

On a second visit, the complainant stated that a reporter had "accosted" children in the school drive and had asked them to verify that a photograph he showed them was of the teacher about whom the allegations had been made. He had later approached school secretaries and asked them the same question.

The editor responded that, on the first visit, reporters had identified themselves to reception and had waited for an hour while a member of staff looked for the deputy head. They had assumed that he must have left the school and looked for someone else, identifying themselves to staff on each occasion. They were finally told that the head teacher was not on the
premises and left.

With regard to the second visit, the editor responded that the reporter had firstly approached the school office and had asked for confirmation that the photograph was of the teacher concerned. Staff refused to verify this. As a result, on his way out of the school he had asked two boys - aged 14 or 15 - who had confirmed the identity. Outside the gate he asked a boy of 17 or 18 who gave the same answer. The editor said that none of the pupils had been put under any pressure.



The Commission noted that on each of their visits to the school, the reporters had made clear their identities and the purpose of their questions. It did not believe that the way in which enquiries were made about this matter of public interest constituted harassment. The question of trespass is not a matter for the Commission to consider under the Code.

The Commission takes the view that Clause 12 of the Code, which governs approaches to children at school, should be strictly followed, and held that the approaches to pupils by the reporter as he left the school grounds were in breach of the Code. However, in view of the nature of the short question asking whom the picture depicted and in all the circumstances of the case, the Commission did not find it necessary to censure the newspaper.


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