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Complainant Name:
Mrs Teresa Norris, Mrs P A'Court, Mr and Mrs Knight and Mr and Mrs Dobson

Clauses Noted: 3, 4

Publication: New Nation


The Rt. Hon. Eric Forth MP on behalf of his constituent Mrs Teresa Norris, Mrs P A'Court, Mr and Mrs Knight and Mr and Mrs Dobson, complained that an article in New Nation on 14 September 1998 headlined "Do you know where they live?" was in breach of Clause 3 (Privacy) and 4 (Harassment) of the Code of Practice.

The complaint was rejected.

The piece appeared in an opinion column in which the named columnist asked if readers knew the home addresses of the five men accused of murdering the black teenager Stephen Lawrence. The columnist suggested that there were many who would like to visit them and offer their suggestions as to how their media image, "or indeed their facial features", may be enhanced.

The complainants are the parents of the five men. They objected that the columnist asked for information which would have identified their home addresses and, they believed, put them at risk. Although their addresses had been read out at the Inquest into Stephen Lawrence's death and at the Macpherson Inquiry, it was a different matter to advertise for them in a newspaper which would be read by more people than attended either the Inquest or the Inquiry. They denied that their sons had consulted a "spin doctor". They said the newspaper had gone on to publish their addresses in a subsequent article.

The newspaper said that the addresses were read out at the Inquest and the Inquiry and were therefore in the public domain. The reference to enhancing the men's image was a reaction to news that they had been to see a "spin doctor" to improve their image. The reference to enhancing their facial features was a tongue-in-cheek reference to what many people were suggesting at the time. None of their readers replied to the request as they all saw it for what it was - a rhetorical piece typical of a controversial columnist.

Not Upheld


The Commission had to consider whether the article represented an unjustified intrusion into the complainants' privacy or whether the newspaper had sought, without justification, to obtain information through intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit. The Commission also had regard to the spirit of Clause 10 (Innocent relatives and friends) - although clearly there was no breach of this clause as innocent members of the men's families were not named or otherwise identified in the piece.

Whilst the Commission accepts that newspapers generally have the right to publish individuals' addresses, it has in the past criticised a newspaper for publishing the details of a person's address in Wales in the context of a comment referring to how homes owned by English people in Wales have been burnt down (Blom-Cooper v Evening Standard, PCC Report 7). In reaching its decision on that occasion, the Commission took into account the newspaper's claim that the address was listed in easily available publications. The Commission nevertheless found the newspaper's behaviour in that case "reckless".

The complaint under consideration here is different in a number of ways from the earlier complaint. In this case, the Commission noted that the information about the complainant's addresses had been put firmly in the public domain by the Inquest into Stephen Lawrence's death and by the Macpherson Inquiry. The background to the complaint was a high profile case which had attracted a great amount of media attention, including reporting and comment. Many of the details of the case were widely known, including personal information about the five men accused of the murder. The Commission considered that the newspaper was entitled to publish the robust comment of the named columnist on a matter which was clearly in the public interest. It recognised that the case had provoked high emotions in many people and expects that, in cases such as this, editors will take care to consider the vulnerability of innocent family members. However, in view of the wide reporting of the case and the fact that the information about the complainant's addresses was already in the public domain, the Commission did not find that there was a breach of the Code.

Any complaint that the article may have been an incitement to racial hatred would be a matter for the police.


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