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Complainant Name:
A man

Clauses Noted: 1, 2, 3, 10

Publication: Sunday Mail


A man from Edinburgh complained that two articles published in the Sunday Mail on 14 and 21 November 1999 headlined “Despair of girl junkie” and “Dewar aide’s stepson is on the run after drugs charge” were inaccurate in breach of clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code of Practice and an invasion of privacy in breach of clause 3 (Privacy). He also complained of breaches of clauses 2 (Opportunity to reply), 10 (Innocent relatives and friends) and 11 (Misrepresentation).

The complaint was not upheld.

"Despair of girl junkie"

The article reported that the complainant's 18-year-old daughter had spoken to the newspaper about her heroin addiction, her relationship with her father - at the time of publication, Chief of Staff to Scotland’s First Minister - and the relationship between her parents.

The complainant denied that he was in dispute over finances with his wife or that they were “in the middle of a messy divorce”, that he was ever a publican, that he was an election agent, or that his family lived in squalor. He denied that he had sent his daughter to South Africa, not allowing her to return, or that he was effectively in charge of the First Minister’s office.

While he was contacted by the newspaper prior to publication and given the opportunity to comment, his comments were not reported in the first edition.

He said that the article was an invasion of his privacy and that of his family which did not serve the public interest. He had no role in public life and he believed that the article was damaging to his daughter's health. He submitted a letter from her in which she stated that she was tired and depressed when she had spoken to the reporter. She had asked him not to publish anything about her problem with drugs and did not believe that such a story should have been published while she was ill.

Solicitors for the newspaper responded that information regarding the complainant’s relationship with his family had been given by his daughter in her interview in which she had also given her opinion of her visit to South Africa. The newspaper was prepared to correct the descriptions “publican” and “election agent”.

The complainant had been given the opportunity to comment and the newspaper was prepared to correct any significant inaccuracies or give him the opportunity to comment.

The solicitors said that the complainant's daughter had contacted the newspaper of her own accord with the story. Consideration had been given to the fact that she was a recovering drug addict but the newspaper concluded that she had been talking freely about matters that concerned her and that her judgement was not impaired. Transcripts of the interviews were sent to the Commission.

"Dewar aide’s stepson is on the run after drugs charge"

The second article alleged that the complainant’s stepson is on the run from the police “to escape drug dealing charges”.

The complainant denied that his stepson was “on the run” or that a warrant for his arrest was outstanding. He viewed the article as an invasion of privacy and objected that it had identified himself, his two daughters and his wife. He said that telephone calls had been made to his family home by individuals purporting to represent utility companies, seeking information about the whereabouts of the complainant’s stepson. He believed that these calls were in fact made by the newspaper.

The solicitors said that a correction had been published making clear that the warrant for the arrest of the complainant’s stepson had been withdrawn.

Not Upheld


With regard to the first article, the Commission noted that it was not disputed that the complainant's daughter had initially contacted the newspaper of her own accord in order to give her story. The Commission is often faced with the task of balancing the right of a person to tell their story with the right to privacy of others involved in that story. In this instance the Commission believed that any intrusion would apply most directly to his daughter - who had given the story and who had not complained, until nearly six months after publication, of any invasion of her privacy. However, while the Commission noted the daughter's comments about the circumstances of her speaking to the newspaper, it was clear from the transcripts of the interviews that she had been happy to talk to the reporter at the time and was not coerced into speaking about matters she wished to remain private. In taking this view, the Commission took into account that the complainant's daughter's comments had been received several months after her father’s submission of the complaint. For this reason, the Commission could not attach the same weight to them as to the newspaper’s evidence. There was no reference in the transcripts to any wish for details of her drug addiction to be withheld. The Commission noted that the newspaper remained willing to allow the complainant the opportunity to reply to the article and to publish corrections of any significant inaccuracies.

As regards the privacy of the complainant, the Commission took the opportunity to stress that civil servants and special advisers are not public figures and are entitled to expect the same degree of respect for their private lives as others. While a degree of public interest would be created where an area of policy on which they advised conflicted with their private life, this was not the case in this instance. However, the complainant’s daughter had chosen to put aspects of the family’s private life in the public domain and the Commission did not believe that any intrusion was therefore a result of enquiries by the newspaper.

With regard to the second article, the Commission noted that a correction had been published which made clear that the warrant for the arrest of the complainant’s stepson had been withdrawn. In such circumstances, the clause of the Code regarding “Reporting of crime” does not apply. As with the previous article, the Commission did not regard the article as an invasion of the complainant’s privacy or that of his family. There was no evidence to suggest that any subterfuge had been used by reporters working for the Sunday Mail.


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