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Complainant Name:
Mr Mark Etchells

Clauses Noted: 1, 4, 10, 12

Publication: News of The World


Mr Mark Etchells of the Desyre Foundation, Stoke-on-Trent, complained that an article headlined "Naked ravers used toff as a table at fancy dress orgy", published in the News of the World on 13 June 1999, was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code of Practice, had been obtained via subterfuge in breach of Clause 11 (Misrepresentation) and constituted harassment in breach of Clause 4 (Harassment). He further complained that the article was discriminatory in breach of Clause 13 (Discrimination).

The Commission also received complaints from a man who had attended the event described in the article and from SM Pride, a group representing consenting sadomasochists.

The complaints were rejected.

The article described how undercover reporters had visited a "summer fancy dress orgy organised by the most bizarre secret sex club in Britain". It described the events that had taken place at the Birmingham club as couples had sex and committed sadomasochistic or fetishistic acts.

The complainant said that the article contained many inaccuracies. He denied the accuracy of descriptions such as "naked", "ravers", and "orgy" and said that these were misleading. The person described as a "toff" had a broad Mancunian accent. Another man did not, as stated, pretend to be a table since his fetish is to be sat or stood on. Others were not dressed in German uniforms but American ones. Nobody was dressed as a light switch, though there was a man in attendance who is a "nationally recognised expert in electrical play". Neither was anybody dressed as "Wee Willy Winkie". He denied that any couples were having sex on the floor.

The complainant said that the newspaper had harassed those at the club because no photos of them should have been taken in a private place. He did not believe that there was a public interest justification to excuse the subterfuge used by the reporters to gain entrance. He objected to the use of the word "pervert" to describe himself and those in attendance, and believed that it was prejudicial and pejorative to their sexual orientation. The newspaper sent a video tape of some of the events that took place on the evening described. They said that this showed a wide selection of sex acts. The club is open to anyone over the age of 18 and any attempt at privacy by the organisers was "feeble indeed". They forwarded a print-out from the complainant's website which described the Desyre Foundation as "catering to a huge range of people, err, perverts here in the UK".

Not Upheld


The Commission took the view that the article described the account and perceptions of the undercover reporters who had visited the club. The video tape clearly showed that acts which could fairly be said to be sexual had taken place on the night and did not believe that it had been shown that there were any significant factual inaccuracies which required correction. The disputed descriptions were largely matters of editorial opinion.

The Commission did not believe that the club - attended by many people - was a place where there was a reasonable expectation of privacy. Although the reporters had not made their occupations clear, the Commission did not believe that it had been shown that they had overtly misled anyone or misrepresented themselves. Given the usage of the word "perverts" in the complainant's own website, the Commission did not view the description as prejudicial or pejorative in breach of the Code.


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