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Complainant Name:
Messrs Dibb Lupton Alsop, on behalf of Ms Carol Smillie

Clauses Noted: 5

Publication: Sunday Mail

Complaint:

Messrs Dibb Lupton Alsop, Solicitors of Manchester, complained on behalf of Ms Carol Smillie that an article published in the Sunday Mail on January 16 2000 headlined “TV star Carol’s grief over mum” was an intrusion into her grief in breach of Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief and shock) of the Code of Practice.

The complaint was upheld.

The article, on the front page and two inside pages, reported the funeral of Ms Smillie’s mother and was accompanied by pictures taken outside the crematorium. The complainant’s solicitors said that the piece was an unjustified intrusion into Ms Smillie’s grief which had been compounded by its prominence. Photographers at the church had earlier been asked to leave but the mourners had not seen the ones at the crematorium, who were clearly some way away using long lens photography.

The newspaper said that the funeral had been announced publicly in a newspaper and that it was not uncommon for newspapers to report on the funerals of prominent individuals or their families. At such times the prominence of the article was a matter for the editor. The paper’s own photographer left when asked to do so and did not take any photographs, although a freelance photographer subsequently offered the photograhs that were published. There would have been no sense of intrusion at the time as the presence of the photographer had not been detected. They published a short statement in a subsequent issue which said that it was not their intention to cause further distress to Ms Smillie or her family.

Decision:
Upheld

Adjudication:

In considering this complaint, the Commission considered a number of factors. Firstly, the editor would have been aware – by the fact that his own photographer had been asked to leave – that the family did not appreciate the presence of photographers. This should clearly have indicated not only that their physical presence was objectionable but also that published pictures of the occasion would not have been welcome. Secondly, the Commission considered the point that, because the funeral involved a celebrity and had been announced in a newspaper, it could in some way be taken to be a public event. It was not persuaded by this argument. The funeral was not of a celebrity but of the relative of one – and Ms Smillie had not sought to exploit it for publicity and had indicated strongly that it should remain private. Indeed, the article itself noted that it was a ‘private service’. Thirdly, the Commission considered the newspaper’s contention that the question of prominence is a matter for editorial discretion. In normal circumstances the Commission would agree with this viewpoint. However, the article itself acknowledged that this was a time of grief and as such should have been ‘handled with sensitivity’ in accordance with the Code. In this case the prominence of the article had a direct impact on the sensitivity with which the matter was reported and the result was a breach of the Code. The publication of a short statement in a subsequent edition was not in the Commission’s view a sufficient remedy to the complaint and the complaint was upheld.

Report:
50



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