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Complainant Name:
Mrs Janet M Rutherford

Clauses Noted: 3, 4

Publication: Scottish Daily Mail

Mrs Janet M Rutherford of Glasgow complained that the Scottish Daily Mail identified and published details about her 15 year old daughter in a piece on 10 June 1996 headlined "CJD girl 'was a vegetarian'" and that a further piece on 11 June "CJD girl goes back to school next week" carried a photograph of her thereby invading her daughter's and the family's privacy in breach of Clause 4 (Privacy ) of the Code of Practice. The complainant also raised complaints under Clause 8 (Harassment) of the Code.

The article described how the complainant's daughter, diagnosed by her Consultant as suffering from CJD due to eating hamburgers, appeared to be making a recovery. There was controversy over the diagnosis which the Consultant had revealed on television six weeks previously although he had not named his patient. It was now revealed that the girl was a vegetarian. The second article also carried a photograph of the girl.

The complainant said that naming her daughter, publishing details about her and approaching friends and neighbours was an intrusion into the family's privacy. The newspaper denied this and said the story arose from friends wishing the public to know both that the girl was vegetarian and that there was some concern that the doctor may have been wrong to tell her family that the girl had CJD after using an allegedly unrecognised test.


The Commission considered that the identity of a patient was not essential to informing the public of the vital information about the illness and diagnosis, and indeed any doubts about the diagnosis. While the Commission had some sympathy with the newspaper's eagerness to publish a story along with other newspapers which were likely to carry it, it was nevertheless unacceptable to breach the Code in this way. The complaint of intrusion into privacy was upheld.

The complainant said a reporter had questioned her on this private matter at her place of work in front of customers and that a reporter had also questioned pupils at her daughter's school during their break.

On the complaint of harassment the newspaper said that its information was obtained from interviews given by school children with the full co-operation of the parents and from talking to a headmaster and other adults. There had been no harassment although they had made several attempts to contact the complainant having received no previous answer. Friends of the girl were prepared to talk, indicating they were over sixteen years of age.

The Commission noted that the complainant disputed the newspaper's account of its representatives' approaches to her daughter's classmates and considered approaches to her place of work and to neighbours were insensitive. Given the conflict of evidence, however, it made no finding under Clause 8.

Against that background, the Commission was concerned to learn of the harassment experienced by the complainant and her family from repeated and uninvited approaches at home, in person and by telephone, at the workplace and at her children's schools.

It noted that such pressure inevitably resulted from the combination of a few enquiries from each of many sources - and while it found no clear evidence of harassment from this newsaper, had much sympathy with the complainant. The Commission believed that this was an example of what was effectively collective (if unintentional) harassment - which could occur when a large number of enquiries from different sources were being made of people who found themselves at the centre of an interesting news story.

While in this case the Commission did not find evidence to justify criticising this or any other individual newspaper, it would not hesitate to do so if in a future case it became apparent that an individual newspaper or reporter either played a leading part in unjustified collective harassment or did not desist when personally asked to do so.


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