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Complainant Name:
Mr Iain Hutchison

Clauses Noted: 8

Publication: News of the World


Mr Iain Hutchison, Consultant Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon, and Mr Austen Smith, Senior Registrar, both of the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery at the Royal Hosptal of St Bartholomew, The Royal Hospital & The London Chest Hospital NHS Trust complained that a News of the World reporter approached one of their patients in hospital without properly identifying himself and without permission took photographs of the patient. One of these was subsequently published in the newspaper on 11 February 1996, with the headline "Tragic Barbara may lose an eye", in breach of Clause 6 (Hospitals) of the Code of Practice.

The patient had suffered injuries in the Canary Wharf bomb blast in February 1996. The complainants described how their patient had, one day after her return from the operating theatre, been disturbed by a flash-bulb and had asked the man she then saw in her room to leave. A staff nurse said the man had given his name on arrival, introducing himself as a friend of the patient. The Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon and another Senior Registrar had both confirmed that they had not spoken with anyone they knew to be a reporter.

The newspaper said that the reporter had attended the hospital with a man who said he was the patient's brother and appeared to be fully briefed on the patient's condition. The reporter therefore felt he had been invited to see the patient by a "responsible person" in line with the requirements of the Code. Another man who claimed to be the patient's employer accompanied them. The reporter said he waited in a reception area while the other two men went to ask permission from the ward sister or ward doctor for the reporter to be allowed onto the ward; the two men returned, telling him that permission had been granted and that the patient's Consultant would also speak to the reporter.

The reporter exchanged a few words with the patient and, according to him, she consented to having her photograph taken. The reporter later took notes when the Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon was speaking, and had also interviewed him. He thought the Consultant knew he was a reporter from the outset.



Clause 6 (Hospitals) of the Code states that journalists or photographers making enquiries at hospitals should identify themselves to a responsible executive and obtain permission before entering non-public areas.

The Commission agreed with the newspaper that it was important to describe how the devastation caused by such a terrible explosion destroyed lives and property, and that it had a duty to portray the victims' suffering as well as the role of the emergency services and the caring professions. The Commission considered such reporting took second place to the welfare of the patient which was paramount.

The Commission noted the editor of the newspaper had described in a letter to the complainants how the patient was drifting in and out of consciousness when approached by the reporter. This was corroborated by the evidence of the patient. The Commission considered that this underlined the necessity for the provisions of Clause 6 strictly to be adhered to. The Commission was not persuaded the reporter in this particular case had followed the provisions of the Code: it was not enough to assume that his identity was known or to rely on the comment of an individual who was clearly not a responsible executive, although the reporter had done so in good faith.

The complaint was upheld.


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