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Complainant Name:
A couple

Clauses Noted: 1, 3

Publication: The Sun


A couple complained that an article published in The Sun on March 13 1999 headlined "The prison governor and his jailbird" was an intrusion into their privacy in breach of Clause 3 (Privacy) of the Code of Practice. They also complained that the article contained inaccuracies in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy).

The complaint was not upheld.

The complainants both worked within the prison service and the article revealed their relationship. Newhall Prison, of which one partner was governor, was the setting for a television documentary series called 'Jailbirds' and they had appeared in some of the earlier episodes. The other partner had been an officer at the prison and had been in a relationship with another officer before starting the relationship.

The complainants, whose complaint last year that the newspaper was harassing them was found by the Commission not to have breached the Code of Practice, outlined the areas of perceived inaccuracy. They said that the article erroneously gave the impression that the relationship began while both of them worked at the same prison; that it began as the filming of 'Jailbirds' took place; and that after the relationship became public the couple and the prison officer's former partner all switched prisons. Such allegations were damaging to their reputations. The governor had not been asked to comment 'yesterday' and could not therefore have refused to do so as the article stated. The complainants said that the article was an invasion into their privacy without any public interest defence to justify it. Photographs accompanying the article further invaded their privacy. They also wished to resubmit their complaint of harassment and complained about the derogatory use of the phrase 'jailbird'.

With regard to the public interest the newspaper said that the prison had been the scene of a number of incidents involving staff and inmates which had affected the morale of staff and prisoners. It had little doubt that the relationship, which affected three people who would have been familiar to prisoners, would have become known to inmates and would similarly have affected morale among staff. As a senior public servant in a position of trust, the governor should have expected his private life to be the subject of some scrutiny. The newspaper did not believe any inaccuracies to be significant within the terms of the Code when the essential facts were that the couple had moved in together at the home which the officer had previously shared with another officer from Newhall prison. In any case the article had not said that the relationship began when filming was taking place - merely that it 'blossomed'. Furthermore, as prison rules do not prohibit relationships between members of staff the revelations could not have damaged the pair professionally. One reporter had visited the governor at home just before publication of the article and another had visited the home last year, which had given rise to the complaint about harassment, when neither of the complainants had wanted to discuss the matter. It was not therefore a matter of any significance to say that one partner had refused to comment 'yesterday'.

Not Upheld


The Commission noted that the attention of the public had been drawn to Newhall prison through the transmission of the series 'Jailbirds' in which the complainant had featured. The Commission considered that these circumstances, where the prison and its governor had attracted greater public scrutiny than might otherwise be the case, lent further justification to the newspaper's probing of the story - as, indeed, did the action of the BBC in removing scenes featuring the governor from the series because of the relationship. The Commission agreed with the newspaper that there were some grounds of public interest to justify the reporting of the complainants' relationship although it was not convinced by the newspaper's contention that the govenor's role in itself reduced the protection that he could expect under the Code. Instead, it was the particular circumstances of the case and the role of the BBC that added to the public interest. The story highlighted a situation where a governor of a high-profile prison had moved in with a former officer whose ex-partner (with whom she used to live) was also a former officer. The Commission doubted whether it would have been possible to keep such an unusual set of circumstances private from inmates and members of staff who would have known all three people involved. Although the complainants had disputed the implied chronology of the relationship, the Commission did not consider that this was significant as it did not alter the burden of the story. The Commission considered that there would have been a sufficient public interest for publishing the story whatever the precise date of the start of the relationship. The Commission was not satisfied that the published photographs of the complainants were taken where they could have had a reasonable expectation of privacy.

The complaint of harassment was dealt with by the Commission at the appropriate time and the Commission saw no grounds to revisit its decision. The complaint regarding the use of the word 'jailbird' was a matter of taste and as such not one which fell for consideration under the Code.


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