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Complainant Name:
Mr Chris Close

Clauses Noted: 3, 12

Publication: Daily Star


Mr Chris Close of Gateshead, Tyne & Wear, complained that a report "Debt riddle of Romeo nutcase" in the Daily Star on 12 February 1996 contained inaccuracies in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy), represented an unjustified intrusion into his privacy in breach of Clause 4 (Privacy) and was prejudicial and pejorative in breach of Clause 15 (Discrimination) of the Code of Practice.

The article told how Mr Close, whom it described as a "conman", went to MIND as a mental patient and ended as the director of its Newcastle Branch, a post from which he has subsequently resigned. The branch has now closed. The article said that his "climb up the ladder" came "after bedding the careworker treating him" with whom he had subsequently set up home and started a new mental health support group. It also drew attention to debts which had accumulated while he was director.

The inaccuracies complained of by Mr Close were: an implication that he was responsible for the charity branch's closure, as he had resigned five months before this; the description "conman" since he had committed the offences (described by the report as "fraud, wasting police time and making hoax phone calls") while suffering from mental illness, now effectively treated; the alleged application for Lottery money.

The newspaper said the story was based on allegations of former employees of the charity. One had given a written statement indicating the complainant had left the agency in a vulnerable position although the Commission received comments subsequently from two of the former employees who had spoken to the reporter and they said they had explained to him that although the complainant had left the charity with debts they did not believe he was to blame for its closure. With regard to the "conman" claim the newspaper said the complainant was quoted in the article referring to the crimes he had committed while mentally ill. They provided a transcript of a conversation in which the complainant said he had applied for Lottery money.



The Commission noted that the article connected the complainant with debts but not specifically with responsibility for the branch closure. It included his view of where blame lay. It also made clear that he had been ill when he committed the offences referred to and which gave rise to the description "conman". The Commission did not find that the complainant had made out his complaint of inaccuracy regarding the alleged application for Lottery money. With respect to these complaints the Commission found no significant inaccuracies under the Code.

The complainant considered it was unfairly unprejudicial and pejorative to call him a "nutcase" and the newspaper said the complainant had described himself as "cuckoo" and they did not believe "nutcase" was unfairly prejudicial. In the circumstances where the complainant was quoted referring to himself as a "seriously cuckoo guy" the Commission did not find the use of "nutcase" represented a breach of Clause 15. All these parts of the complaint were rejected.

The Commission also considered the complaint that it was inaccurate and an intrusion into his and his partner's privacy to say that he had "bedded" the "careworker treating him". He said there was an implication that his relationship with his partner was improper and he said she was not his "careworker" as described but rather he had volunteered to work at the Newcastle MIND project and she had been the co-ordinator of volunteer workers. The newspaper said they were justified in referring to the relationship as the couple had set up another organisation together and that a tape transcript showed that Mr Close's partner had agreed he was "referred" to her. The Commission considered the newspaper were justified in referring to the complainant's relationship as Mr Close and his partner have subsequently set up a new organisation together and in this respect it found no breach of Clause 4. However, the Commission saw no justification in describing the complainant's partner as his "careworker" and considered it would have been more appropriate to refer to her as a co-ordinator of volunteers. To this extent only, the complaint was upheld.


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