Clauses Noted: 3
Publication: Hertfordshire Mercury
A man from Hertfordshire complained that an article headlined "Hoaxer's thirst for a champagne lifestyle" published on February 19 1999 in the Hertfordshire Mercury identified his property and that of his mother-in-law in breach of Clause 3 (Privacy) of the Code of Practice.
The complaint was not upheld
The article reported that the complainant's son had been convicted of blackmailing his grandmother, Mrs B. He had faked his own kidnap and then sent a ransom note to her.
The complainant said that the publication of a photograph of Mrs B's house along with the text which named her village was an invasion into her privacy. The village was small and the house was clearly identifiable. Furthermore, a report the previous October at the time of the complainant's son's arrest, which was not the subject of a contemporaneous complaint to the Commission, had given a more specific address for Mrs B. In light of the fact that his son had been involved in drugs, the complainant said that Mrs B's security had been compromised. He further complained that the article printed his own address, although not the number of the road, and that his security too was therefore under threat. He said that although their addresses had been put into the public domain the editor should have realised the significance of the special circumstances and not published any details likely to lead to the identification of their homes.
The editor said that both addresses formed part of the court case and had been given in open court. During the case, nobody had approached the paper to ask them not to publish the addresses. However, he enclosed nine articles which related to the case of which only one had included even a partial reference to the addresses. He published the photograph of Mrs B's house because it showed that the complainant's son was prepared to extort money from someone who was apparently not very wealthy.
The Commission noted that the addresses had been put into the public domain as a result of the case against the complainant's son. As such, the editor was legally entitled to publish them and the Commission's task was therefore to consider whether under the Code the complainant and his mother-in-law could have expected greater protection than the law allows.
Although the Commission could understand the complainant's desire to protect his family from any perceived threat, it could not in this case criticise the newspaper. There did not appear to be any evidence that publication had subjected them to any further risk than could in any case have been expected as a result of the court case. Furthermore, the Commission has previously noted (Matheson v Ross-shire Journal, PCC Report 42) that it is the accepted and usual practice of local newspapers to carry at least the street name of people involved in a trial, in order, in part, to avoid confusing two people of the same name. The Commission noted that the newspaper had gone no further than this in the text of the article. With regard to the publication of the photograph of Mrs B's home, the Commission was not convinced by the newspaper's argument that its use was necessary in order to show the relative impecunity of the person whom the complainant's son was prepared to blackmail.
However, it noted that only the name of the village had been published in conjunction with the photograph and did not consider that there was any evidence of increased risk. The Commission does not generally hold that the publication of a photograph of someone's house, taken from a public place, constitutes an invasion into their privacy.
Although the Commission regretted any distress that had been caused to the complainant or his mother-in-law, it did not consider that the newspaper had breached the Code of Practice and the complaint was not therefore upheld.
The complainant also complained about an article published in the News of the World in June which he said was misleading as it implied that the case had only just taken place rather than some months previously. However, the Commission did not consider that readers would have been significantly misled given that there appeared to be no dispute that the substance of the article, which related to the complainant's son's conviction, was accurate.
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