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Complainant Name:
Mrs Janet M Rutherford

Clauses Noted: 3, 4

Publication: Daily Record


Mrs Janet M Rutherford of Glasgow complained that the Daily Record identified and published details about her 15 year old daughter in articles on 10 and 11 June 1996 headlined "Docs clash on Mad Cow scare girl" and "'Mad Cow' girl Helen goes back to school" respectively, and also linked the girl with a story about her brother which appeared on 17 June, all thereby invading the girl'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 Commission considered that there had been an intrusion into the privacy of the complainant's daughter and the family. Publication of the identity of the 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 along with other newspapers which were likely to carry the story, it was nevertheless unacceptable to breach the Code in this way.

The complaint of intrusion into privacy was upheld.

Under the complaint about harassment, the complainant described a period of intense media interest resulting in constant media presence near her home and her daughter's school for nearly two weeks. She supplied a copy of a letter to her and her husband from the newspaper's chief reporter asking if they wished to talk about their daughter and that, if they did so, the story would be treated in a sensitive way. She said the newspaper had also visited her sister's home requesting an interview.

The newspaper denied any harassment or persistent enquiries at home and the work place in breach of the Code but apologised if the complainant considered that the newspaper contributed to the family's stress. There had been no indication that an interview would not be forthcoming. The newspaper would have been sympathetic if the family had indicated this.

The Commission did not consider that there was clear evidence that the newspaper's representatives acting on their own had breached Clause 8 (Harassment) of the Code and made no finding on this part of the complaint.

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 work place 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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