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Complainant Name:
Ms A Anderson

Clauses Noted: 8

Publication: Luton on Sunday


Ms A Anderson, Acting Chief Executive of the Luton and Dunstable Hospital NHS Trust, complained that a reporter from Luton on Sunday gained access to the children's wards and school room without identifying himself and without consent, in breach of Clause 6 (Hospitals) of the Code of Practice.

As a result of the reporters investigation the newspaper published an article "Ward stalker: Undercover reporter exposes lax surveillance. Hospital kids in security risk" on 15 June 1997, which referred to the concerns of unnamed parents about security on the children's wards. The complainant explained that the hospital had been unaware of any complaints and that, had the reporter given them details, these would have been investigated. The hospital therefore objected to the newspaper's methods.

The newspaper replied that the hospital had a responsibility to protect members of the public in its care, especially children. No action was taken on six anonymous telephone calls to the newspaper in the two weeks prior to publication about lack of security at the hospital. However on receiving a signed letter from the mother of an infant patient, the newspaper decided to test security out. The reporter spent two hours in and around the childrens wards and was not challenged: if he had identified himself then the problem could not have been highlighted. The newspaper emphasised that at all other times its staff had identified themselves when visiting the hospital.

Prior to publication the newspaper said that the reporter had telephoned the then chief executive who did not believe the complaints. Following publication the reporter telephoned again but the hospital declined to comment, save to say that security was satisfactory. Indeed the newspaper understood that security did improve after the article.



The Commission noted that Clause 6 of the Code - which states that journalists or photographers making enquiries at hospitals or similar institutions should identify themselves to a responsible executive and obtain permission before entering non-public areas - is unequivocal and without possible defence of public interest. It had therefore clearly been breached as the newspaper's own evidence made clear.

However, the Commission understood the legitimate reasons why the newspaper sought to test hospital security in view of the concerns which had been expressed. While there had been a breach of the Code, the Commission did not consider, in the particular circumstances of the case, that the newspaper should be censured.


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