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Complainant Name:
Ms Cathy Powell

Clauses Noted: 3

Publication: News of the World


Ms Cathy Powell of Peterborough, complained under Clause 3 (Privacy) of the Code on behalf of her boyfriend, that an article in the News of the World on 18 January headlined "Are these people all victims of mobile phone sickness?" featured him, after he had clearly withdrawn his consent for use of the material.

The article about the possible dangers of some mobile phones gave six people's stories, that of the complainant's boyfriend being the main feature, describing how he had developed a malignant tumour. The complainant said she had contacted the newspaper for information after seeing a number to call for people with health problems associated with mobile phones. Her boyfriend himself then spoke with the newspaper, but afterwards he and members of his family requested that nothing be published.

The newspaper responded that the complainant's boyfriend had willingly given an interview on a subject of great public interest, and that the resulting article could play a significant part in establishing the dangers associated with mobile phones. Having come into possession of the material, the newspaper said it believed it should publish it.The newspaper did not respond to the complainant's suggestion that assurances had been broken about size and positioning of the feature and there were differing recollections as to how staff had dealt with approaches from the family.

Not Upheld


The Commission had considerable sympathy with the man featured and his plight. It understood why he and his girlfriend had contacted the newspaper to talk to them on a matter of great public interest - and similarly why they may have regretted doing so. It therefore wished to remind all newspapers that ordinary members of the public unfamiliar with dealing with the press may not be fully aware of the implication of their actions.

However, the Commission took the view that it is extremely difficult to protect an individual's privacy when personal information is freely given to a newspaper especially when this involves an issue of genuine public interest. In recent adjudications the Commission has ruled that there has been no breach of the Code where the complainants have volunteered information to a newspaper - and then regretted doing so or withdrawn consent.

However tragic the circumstances, the principles involved in this complaint were no different. The newspaper was conducting a legitimate investigation, had openly sought information from those affected, had conducted an interview within the terms of the Code, and then published the material which had willingly been volunteered.

The complaint was not upheld.


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