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Complainant Name:
A woman

Clauses Noted: 3

Publication: Edinburgh Evening News


A woman complained on behalf of herself and her parents that on 31 October 1997 the Edinburgh Evening News published certain details about the family in a piece headlined " Secret life of IRA man on the run", in breach of Clause 3 (Privacy) of the Code of Practice. The piece formed part of a series of articles over a period of three days giving an IRA informants account of living incognito in Edinburgh, while on the run. It described how, in 1992, he had lodged there with the complainant's parents. They were named, their street name given and the complainant's father was described as a former prison officer. The piece also revealed that the couples son-in-law was a former paratrooper who had served in Northern Ireland, and that they had a daughter living in Newry. The informant described helping the complainants mother after she had hurt her foot. The complainant's father was quoted saying he had not really liked the man and how shocked the couple had been when they had found out about his background.

In view of the informant's past criminal activity and the sensitive subject matter, the complainant considered that the newspaper should have protected her family's identity; their details had appared without consent and were of no public interest, the piece simply showing how adept the man was in continuing to con people, putting others totally at risk. She also objected to the illustrative photograph of the IRA informant standing next to her parents' street sign and to the way the reporter had obtained her father's comments - the reporter pushed a note through the door asking him to make contact about a man who had once lived in his house. Her parents had run a bed and breakfast and so her father was not immediately aware who the enquiry was about, nor was he aware that speaking openly could result in him being quoted, when he had asked not to be. The complainant also questioned whether the IRA informant had been paid money for his story.

In response to a letter from the complainant's mother the editor had apologised for any upset caused. However, he considered that at a delicate time in the Ulster peace process it was in the public interest to carry as much material as possible from a man with inside knowledge of the IRA and strong links with Edinburgh. The man's stay with the family was a vital ingredient in portraying how his life had changed, for example how he had helped the complainant's mother when she injured her foot. It was also ironic that one family member was a former paratrooper and another lived in the home-town the informant had to leave. In reply to the concern about the reporter's approach, standard practice had been adopted and the complainant's father had not indicated he did not want to be quoted. In response to whether there had been payment for the articles, the editor explained that the man featured had received out of pocket expenses during his stay in Edinburgh, not a fee as such.

Not Upheld


There were a number of ancillary matters relating to the principal complaint of intrusion with which the Commission decided it was necessary to deal.

First, it looked at the matter of whether the IRA informant had been paid for his story in contravention of Clause 16 (Payment for Articles) of the Code. The Commission considered that the public interest element to the story was clearly a significant one: there was therefore sufficient defence under the Code, and no need for the Commission to assess whether the payment of "expenses" was a breach of the Code.

Secondly, the Commission scrutinised the manner in which the reporter had approached the complainant's parents. Again, it appeared that there was no case under the Code. The matter was one of legitimate public interest - and it was quite right that the reporter made inquiries in line with the terms of Clause 4 (Harassment) of the Code. Furthermore, the complainant's father had been aware that he was speaking to a reporter, who had told him about the intended subject of the piece. The complainant's father had spoken willingly, although there was some difference of recollection about whether or not the contents of the conversation were on or off the record. However, any request that the conversation be off the record was clearly not indicated in the reporter's notes. That noted, the Commission was concerned that the complainant's family may not have had experience of being interviewed by the press nor been aware of the extent and prominence of the article which might be published. The Commission therefore sympathised with the complainants about the situation in which they had found themselves.

The substantive matter for the Commission to assess was whether there had been any intrusion in breach of Clause 3 (Privacy) of the Code. There clearly had been a good deal of information about the complainant and her family contained in the article. The article itself was also about a sensitive matter - but one of considerable public interest at a time when the peace process was underway. That an IRA informant had lived in the midst of an unsuspecting family was itself a matter of some public interest. Noting that the editor had apologised for any offence caused, the Commission therefore found that there ws sufficient justification for the article under the Code. The Commission asked the newspaper to take account in similarly unusual situations in the future of the lack of experience that some people may have in dealing with the press.

The complaints were not upheld.


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