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Complainant Name:
Mr Robert Payne

Clauses Noted: 3

Publication: Hertfordshire Mercury

Mr Robert Payne of Hertford complained on behalf of his eighteen year old son that a report published in the Hertfordshire Mercury on 1 May 1998 named the latter, who had been the victim of an assault and theft, and that the piece gave their address, all in breach of Clause 3 (Privacy) of the Code of Practice.

The report described in detail the assault on the complainant's son in which his wallet was stolen. The complainant considered that - as a result of what appeared - a friend of his son, who was a potential witness, was reluctant to get involved for fear of retribution. In fact because of the seriousness of the offence, the police had decided not to release details of the victim to the press: the complainant's son had not therefore ever been identified in the police press release. However, the editor responded that the details had been obtained from the police during the press conference, and that the reporting had been reasonable and responsible.


The Commission noted that the official police press release did not name the complainant's son. The newspaper should therefore have been on notice that, although it knew the victim's identity, careful consideration was necessary prior to publishing it. Indeed it is in just such cases where a "safety net" is provided by the industry's Code of Practice, which in essnce requires editors to check that adequate protection is afforded to individuals who may be vulnerable, often superseding what protection may be required by the law - one of the strengths of effective self-regulation over statute.

The Commission has consistently supported and upheld the right of the local press to assist, where possible and appropriate, in detecting crime, and to name people involved in incidents, often publishing their street name in order to avoid confusing them with others of the same name. However, as regards the decision to publish not only the victim's name but also his address, this seemed insensitive: police investigations were at an early stage and the official press release had omitted the detail. As a victim, the complainant's son was to some greater or lesser extent vulnerable, and in the circumstances there had been an intrusion into his privacy within the terms of the Code.

The complaint was therefore upheld.


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