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Complainant Name:
Rupert Allason MP

Clauses Noted: 3, 4

Publication: Daily Mirror


Rupert Allason MP complained that a report headlined "Tory MP and his mistress" in the Daily Mirror of 9 May 1996 constituted an invasion of his privacy in breach of Clause 4 (Privacy) of the Code of Practice, and that he had been harassed by the newspaper in breach of Clause 8 (Harassment).

On 9 May 1996 the newspaper published a story about the complainant over the whole of the front page and covering five inside pages, alleging that he was conducting an affair with a named woman. It published a number of photographs of the couple on holiday, together with one of the accommodation in which it said they had stayed. It alleged that Mr Allason's 1992 General Election Address pictured him with his wife and children, and described him as being married with two young children. In later interviews the MP was quoted as saying that he was a family man and one who did not maintain a mistress. The newspaper also carried remarks in a later article from a number of his constituents in which they said they believed him to be happily married. In an editorial the newspaper described him as a hypocrite who had misrepresented his position and who should resign.

The complainant said that there was no public interest justification for invading his privacy. The newspaper's defence relied on the complainant's election address in 1992, and on an interview given by the complainant to The Tatler in 1994 which contained material regarding his family life and information from constituents. The complainant replied that the newspaper had not suggested he was guilty in 1992 of any of the offences cited in the editorial or that he had said anything untrue or hypocritical in 1996, and therefore had no defence for invading his privacy. The complainant said that knowledge of his current marital status had been made known for some considerable time to appropriate individuals within his constituency, but that he had not made any public announcement.

The newspaper did not allege that the impression given by the Election Address and quotations from the article were untrue at the time they were issued. Instead, it argued that there was a public interest justification for its story to prevent Mr Allasons constituents and (to a lesser extent) the electorate at large from being misled. It argued that as soon as Mr Allason ceased to be the happily married man that had been portrayed in his election literature, he had a duty to inform the electorate accordingly. His failure to do so, along with subsequent public remarks about his marital status, justified publication. It noted in addition that Mr Allason was still appearing with his wife in his constituency as late as December 1995 and pointed to the material, in the original newspaper article, that his constituents still believed him to be happily married.

Not Upheld


As a matter of principle, the Commission strongly believed that the mere fact that a person is a public figure did not in itself justify publication of intimate details of his or her private life unless the story could be demonstrated to be in the public interest - although Members of Parliament, as representatives of their constituents, clearly had to expect a greater degree of public scrutiny. The Commission did not believe it could plausibly be argued that a Member of Parliament had an absolute duty publicly to correct facts or impressions conveyed in interviews or an Election Address when they ceased to be accurate, especially when this might occur some time after the election concerned, provided that the MP did not appear to be continuing to foster that impression.

In this particular case, the Commission noted that there was no allegation that the Election Address was untrue at the time it was published. However, in testing the newspapers public interest defence, the Commission had to judge whether the complainant - by his words and actions - was either intentionally or unintentionally continuing to give the impression to his constituents up to the time the article was published that his marital status had not changed since 1992.

The complainant said that he had informed "those he believed appropriate to do so" about his separation from his wife. However, according to the newspapers evidence, he had appeared with his wife at a constituency function as recently as Christmas 1995. Similarly, a number of those questioned by the newspaper - including some of those who said they knew the complainant well - appeared to believe that the impression given by the Election Address about his marital status had not changed.

The Commission found that the complainant - whether intentionally or not - had left at least some of his constituents with the continuing impression that he was still happily married. The interviews with The Tatler and The Evening Standard in 1994, the fact that the complainant and his wife were still living together part of the time in London and that his wife was continuing to make appearances in the constituency, continued to reinforce that impression.

The Commission found that in the particular circumstances of this case, the newspaper had sufficient public interest justification under Clause 18 (iii) for its intrusion into the complainants privacy, and therefore rejected the complaint under Clause 4 of the Code.

Mr Allason had also complained under Clause 8 (Harassment) of the Code that reporters and photographers from the newspaper continued to pester him for comment after he had made it clear that he did not want to give an interview or say anything to the newspaper.

The reporter concerned denied there had been any harassment. He said that after the allegation had been put to Mr Allason, the MP made a comment which the reporter took as a warning not to publish. He followed him into a restaurant and gave him other opportunities to confirm or deny the allegation. After he had been told that Mr Allason had nothing to say he remained in the restaurant and gave him one further opportunity to comment which was declined. The newspaper denied that any journalists who had been present at the complainant's homes undertook any harassment and pointed out that the complainant had provided no details.

The Commission found that the facts provided indicated that the reporter concerned had used reasonable efforts on an experienced politician, well used to dealing with the press, in an effort to obtain confirmation or denial of the story and to give the complainant an ppportunity to comment. The events described did not amount to harassment under the Code. The complainant had provided no details of the alleged harassment at his homes.

The complaint under Clause 8 was therefore also rejected.


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