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Complainant Name:
A woman

Clauses Noted: 1, 3

Publication: Southern Daily Echo


A woman complained that an article published in the Southern Daily Echo on 1 October 1999 headlined "Come home appeal to runaway mother" contained inaccuracies and invaded her privacy in breach of Clauses 1 (Accuracy) and 3 (Privacy) of the Code of Practice. The complaint under Clause 3 (Privacy) was upheld. The complaint under Clause 1 (Accuracy) was rejected.

The article reported the concerns of the complainant's family that she had gone "missing" and an appeal for her to return. The complainant said the newspaper had intruded into her privacy by publishing personal medical details without her permission.

The complainant said she was not "missing". She had left home for reasons which she described to the Commission. She had telephoned her family on the evening of her departure to say that she was well and explain her reasons and had sent a registered letter to her common-law husband the day after she left. She said the article also wrongly cast doubt on her mental state.

She said she had asked the police to contact the newspaper and ask them not to publish the piece. A friend had also left a message with the newspaper on her behalf explaining the situation. She suspected that her children had been prompted to speak by either the newspaper or her common-law husband.

The editor said the information was given to them by the complainant's common-law husband and the story was printed with the best of intentions. However, he regretted that these details were included in the article and had reminded staff that such information should not generally be included in news items without the subject's permission. He offered his apologies to the complainant.

The newspaper said it had never been their intention to cause the complainant any distress. The article was written in good faith in response to an approach from the complainant's common-law husband. The reporter who spoke to him and other members of the family was left with no other impression than that they were deeply concerned and wanted her to return. They had checked with the police prior to publication and learnt that she had contacted them and the police were satisfied as to her safety. They were not aware of any request to withhold the article. They had no reason to believe that her children had been prompted to make the appeal by her common-law husband and the reporter had not coerced them in any way.

The newspaper stood by the use of the word "missing" to describe a mother who had left her family home, even if her whereabouts were known by the police. They did not accept that the piece implied she was suffering from a mental problem.



The Commission welcomed the fact that the editor had apologised to the complainant and that he had taken steps to ensure that such information would not be published in the future without the subject's permission. However, the Code is clear on this point. The newspaper had published private information about a person's health without their consent and with no justification in the public interest. The Commission therefore had no option but to uphold the complaint.

The Commission noted that the piece was presented from the perspective of those quoted. Although the complainant disagreed with the way in which they had presented events, it was clear that this was only one side of the story and the Commission did not seek to make any finding on its validity or otherwise. It would be for those quoted to complain if they felt that their views had been misrepresented.

In view of the fact that the complainant had left home and that her children, family and estranged common-law husband appeared to have expressed their concerns, the Commission did not find the use of the term "missing" was materially misleading. The piece was no more than a plea for information. The Commission did not find any implication that the complainant was to blame in any way. Nor did it find that any of the remaining alleged inaccuracies would have been so significant as to raise a breach of the Code.


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