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Complainant Name:
Messrs McCluskey Browne on behalf of their clients

Clauses Noted: 1, 6

Publication: Sunday Mail

Complaint:

Messrs McCluskey Browne, solicitors of Portland Road, Kilmarnock, complained on behalf of their clients that an article in the Sunday Mail on 6 February 2000 headlined “Teacher, 45 seduces pupil, 17” contained inaccuracies and intruded into the privacy of the 17-year-old pupil, in breach of Clauses 1 (Accuracy) and 6 (Children) of the Code of Practice.

The complaint is upheld.

The article reported that a teacher had been suspended after allegations that he had been conducting an affair with a 17-year-old pupil. The complainants said there was no affair or sexual relationship between the pupil and teacher. The teacher was suspended and subsequently resigned after the pupil reported that she had been sexually harassed by him. Although the pupil was not named, her identity would have been obvious to anyone connected with the school or living in the area.

The newspaper said that the allegation of an inappropriate relationship between a teacher and a pupil was clearly a matter of great concern and public interest. A council spokesperson had confirmed that the teacher was suspended after complaints of ‘improper behaviour’. The information that there was an intimate relationship over a number of months between the pupil and the teacher came from reliable confidential sources. The pupil was not named in the piece and the decision to use a pixilated picture of her was only taken after careful consideration. The pupil’s identity was already known to many at the school and in her family circle. Those who did not know of the incident or her identity would not have been able to identify her from the story. Those who knew her identity were provided with no new information.

Decision:
Upheld

Adjudication:

The Commission recognised that allegations of inappropriate behaviour by a teacher are matters of utmost public interest. It also noted that the newspaper had taken some care to avoid identifying the pupil. However, the newspaper had published highly embarrassing and serious allegations – based entirely on confidential sources - which differed materially from the official position. It had also published a large photograph of the pupil which, despite the pixilation, together with other information in the article, in the Commission’s view, would be likely to identify the pupil to others at the school and in the wider community. It was not the Commission’s task to make any finding regarding the circumstances leading up to the suspension and resignation of the teacher in question. However, in view of the fact that the story concerned serious and sensitive allegations involving a school pupil, the Commission found that the newspaper had not taken sufficient care under Clauses 1 and 6 of the Code.

Report:
50



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