Clauses Noted: 1, 3, 4
Publication: Daily Mirror
A woman complained that an article headlined "How do you like it now, Mr Stanton?" in the Daily Mirror on 26 September 1996 contained inaccuracies in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) but also particularly that she had been harassed by the reporter in breach of Clause 8 (Harassment). In considering its adjudication the Commission also had regard to Clause 4 (Privacy) of the Code of Practice.
The article quoted comments by the complainant's husband, a barrister, which he had made in court while defending a man accused of stalking another woman. It described how the reporters had "stalked" the complainant for approximately two hours from her home to a school, in order to demonstrate the newspaper's disagreement with her husband's comments. The piece was illustrated by a photograph of the complainant at her front door.
The complainant said the reporters' conduct was "clearly designed to both harass and intimidate" her; their questioning was "intrusive" and they had refused to accept "no comment" as final. She did not believe there was a public interest justification for this as she was not connected with her husband's work. She said the piece made her vulnerable by naming her and the area she lived in, by including a photograph of her and by describing her home and car.
The newspaper said the piece was set in the context of its campaign on the issue of stalking and, in particular, was intended to draw attention to the "crassness" of the remarks made by the complainant's husband in court. It had not intended to intimidate or harass the complainant. It believed the reporters' behaviour was justified given the nature of her husband's remarks in court and hoped that its report had brought home to her, and presumably through her to her husband , the reality of stalking.
The complainant had made a number of points about inaccuracy in the articles - for instance that the photograph had not been taken on the day of the events described, but the night before. The Commission did not find that the alleged inaccuracies would raise any matter of such significance as to breach Clause 1.
The Commission agreed that stalking, the subject of the newspaper's campaign, was a matter of legitimate public interest. However, given that the complainant was clearly not responsible for what her husband said in court, and nor was she obliged in any way to comment on his remarks - which were made when quite properly defending his client in his professional capacity as a barrister - the newspaper should have desisted when the complainant had made clear she did not want to comment. The newspaper had admitted that it had pursued the complainant with the intention of giving the appearance of stalking and of making the complainant feel uncomfortable. The Commission found that - in this instance - the newspaper's tactics were completely unjustified. The complaint under Clause 8 was upheld.
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