Clauses Noted: 1, 3, 4, 10
Publication: News of the World
Mrs S I Wicks, of London E17, complained that an article headlined "The Probation Officer. She eyed me up in court." in the News of the World on 4 February 1996 contained inaccuracies, did not distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact, represented an unjustified intrusion of her privacy, that the reporter had taped a private telephone conversation, that he had used subterfuge, that she had been harassed by the newspaper and that the newspaper had paid a criminal for the story. The complaint was raised under Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 3 (Comment, Conjecture and Fact), Clause 4 (Privacy), Clause 5 (Listening Devices), Clause 7 (Misrepresentation), Clause 8 (Harassment) and Clause 9 (Payment for articles) of the Code of Practice.
The story appeared with two others under the heading "Scandal of forbidden love behind bars". The introductory paragraph stated that the three stories illustrated how prison rules were flouted and prison security threatened by staff who had sex with prisoners. The story referring to the complainant presented her ex-husband's claims of how they had started a relationship whilst he was in police custody and she was his probation officer.
The complainant denied her ex-husband's allegations that any improprieties had occurred and said, although he had kissed her once, all her visits to the cell had been carried out in accordance with her job responsibilities. She said she had been employed by the probation service in an administrative role only and her responsibilities were not the same as those of a probation officer. She said the reporter had obtained her ex-directory number and had telephoned her posing as a solicitor representing her ex-husband. The reporter had taped her subsequent conversation with her ex-husband without her knowledge or consent. She said the taped conversation did not support her ex-husband's allegations and the piece presented his claims as if they were facts.
The newspaper said the complainant had described herself as a probation officer's assistant and her duties had included visiting prisoners in cells. They confirmed they had secretly taped the telephone conversation, but justified this in the public interest as they maintained that the complainant's behaviour had been unprofessional and this had been the only way to confirm the allegations. They said the transcript of the conversation provided sufficient evidence to show there had been a relationship of sorts in the cells, which led six weeks later to marriage, and the complainant's denial of sex in the cells was included in the article. They denied the reporter had posed as a solicitor representing the ex-husband.
The complainant said publication of her ex-husband's claims concerning intimate details of her sexual behaviour and the failure of their marriage was not in the public interest and that his claims were inaccurate. She objected that the published photograph of her was taken without her consent. She said the newspaper had sought further information from her but, when she denied her ex-husband's allegations, had said the article would be published anyway. She considered this was harassment. She believed her ex-husband had been paid for the story.
The newspaper said the photograph had been taken in a public place. They denied that they had harassed the complainant and said that her ex-husband had not been involved in any criminal activity when they paid him for his story.
The Commission considered whether or not the newspaper had provided sufficient evidence to substantiate the ex-husband's allegations. Whilst the Commission considered that the newspaper were justified in investigating the allegations of an improper relationship between a prisoner and a probation officer, it did not find that the transcript of the telephone conversation adequately supported these allegations. It noted that the complainant had disputed the level of intimacy alleged by her ex-husband to have occurred and denied that she had acted unprofessionally.
The Commission found that the complainant had not been given sufficient opportunity to deny these serious allegations. It also found that the publication of her ex-husband's claims concerning the complainant's sexual behaviour had not been justified as being in the public interest. The Commission found that the complainant had not made out her complaint of harassment in the terms of Clause 8, nor did it find that the photograph had been taken in circumstances which would raise a breach of the Code. It noted that the newspaper denied the complainant's ex-husband had been engaged in criminal activity when they paid him for the story and had seen no evidence to the contrary.
Apart from the findings contained in the previous paragraph, the complaint was upheld.
<< Go Back