Clauses Noted: 3, 4
Publication: Somerset Guardian
Mr D R and Mrs M A Breese of Somerset complained that a report in the Somerset Guardian on 31 October 1996 headlined "Girl dies in second tragedy" about their niece's tragic death in a road accident included details about them and of their address which intruded into the family's privacy, and that the making of inquiries prior to publication resulted in harassment, all in breach of Clauses 4 (Privacy) and 8 (Harassment) of the Code of
The article was about the police investigation of a car crash in which the couple's niece died, but it also described the shocking family circumstances when her mother had been killed twelve years previously. The complainants said the reference was irrelevant to the story about the car accident and distressing to the family. Their own names and address had also been included in the article objected that when they told the reporters who were knocking at their door they had no wish to talk, the reporters went to the local shops for comment.
The editor said reporters had left the complainants' house immediately they had declined to speak but had found people in the local pub openly discussing the killing of her mother. He conceded that the story might have been more sensitively handled, apologised to the complainants and advised his staff to take greater care with such stories in future. However, he said he felt that - given the degree of local knowledge evidenced by the discussion of the facts in the pub - no matter how tragic the events were, details of them were very much in the public domain. If the newspaper had not referred to the earlier event, some of its readers would have wondered why. The complainants replied that there was a vast difference between knowledge in the village and front page publication to the newspaper's larger readership.
The Commission sympathised with the complainants, who had clearly found the publication of the articles very distressing. However, it found that the personal details relating to the family's previous circumstances were already in the public domain and a subject of local discussion. It noted that the editor himself conceded that the revival of the story of the mother's death might have been insensitive toward the feelings of the complainants and their family and it regretted that the editor had chosen to include so much detail of events leading up to that death which it believed was unnecessary in the circumstances. However, because the information had already been published it did not find there had been an unwarranted intrusion in breach of the Code in this respect or in respect of the brief reference to the house and village where the complainants live. Furthermore, it found no evidence of harassment.
While recognising the tragic background to this matter, the Commission did not therefore find the Code had been breached.
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