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Complainant Name:
Mr Richard Evans

Clauses Noted: 3, 6

Publication: Bristol Evening Post


Mr Richard Evans, Corporate Press Officer of North Somerset Council complained that an article headlined "Probe after baby boy nearly dies" in the Bristol Evening Post on 21 August 1998 identified the baby at the centre of the story in breach of Clause 3 (Privacy) and Clause 6 (Children) of the Code of Practice.

The article reported on an investigation launched after a baby boy nearly died from a drugs overdose. It included criticism made by the baby's grandmother of North Somerset Council social services department, as well as their response. The complainant said the article should not have named the baby as at the time of publication he was the subject of care proceedings and was in foster care after an agreement between the local authority and the mother. He said this was an unjustified intrusion of the baby's privacy and was not in the baby's best interests, or those of his mother and his family. The Council had made clear their concerns to the newspaper prior to publication and suggested carrying the story without naming the baby. There was no advantage to identifying the baby as care proceedings had already been instituted and there was no longer any risk involved.

The newspaper said the baby's grandmother contacted them when the baby was still with his mother and that she was the source of the story. She disclosed the baby's name and gave the impression she would not object to him being named. The baby had, in any case, already been named in an article two days earlier which reported how the baby's aunt had called the emergency services and saved the baby's life. No care proceedings were underway at the time of the first article and there was no complaint about it. The follow-up piece, about which the complaint was made, reported the grandmother's criticism. The newspaper did not believe that the publicity would be contrary to the four-month-old baby's interests. There was an overriding public interest in bringing to the attention of the local community the identity of a baby who was at risk, thereby possibly preventing further harm.

Not Upheld


The Code offers specific protection for children and makes clear that, apart from in exceptional cases, the interests of the child in any story are paramount. Furthermore, the Commission has previously held that privacy should attach to an infant as much as to a child or an adult (Zachs v The Herald, Sunday Mail, The Express, Scottish Daily Mail, PCC Report, April - June 1997). In this case, the Commission did not consider that the article raised a breach of Clauses 3 or 6 of the Code because the name of the baby had clearly been put in the public domain with the consent of the grandmother, who was concerned for his safety. This was therefore a matter of substantial public interest - and none of the earlier articles had attracted a complaint from any of those involved. The newspaper was, in the circumstances, entitled to infer that those involved agreed that the naming of the baby was in the public interest and it would have then been unreasonable for the newspaper to censor this information simply because the custody of the child had changed.

The complaint was rejected.


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