Clauses Noted: 3, 4, 9
Publication: Daily Mail
The first wife of Fred West's brother John, complained through solicitors R & CB Masefield that an article in the Daily Mail of 30 November 1996 which included a photograph of her wedding to John West and some of her personal details under the heading "Secrets of the brothers grim" was an invasion of her privacy in breach of Clause 4 (Privacy) and Clause 11 (Innocent relatives and friends) of the Code of Practice. She further complained that journalists waited outside her home and that of her daughter in breach of Clause 8 (Harassment) of the Code of Practice.
The article was written in the wake of the suicide of John West during his trial for rape. The article said that John West had married the complainant, who was "soon frightened of his abuse and violence" and quoted a friend's allegations of John West's sexual liaisons with other women while his wife was in the next room. Accompanying the article were a number of family photographs including one of the complainant's wedding captioned "John West's wedding". The complainant pointed out that while she had been married to John West for less than five years, he was married to his second wife for twenty four years until his death - yet she was barely mentioned in the article. The complainant had divorced John West before the alleged crimes took place and had not been known as West for nineteen years. She had moved away from the area after the end of her marriage. The complainant said that she and her daughter had never given interviews regarding the West case, despite numerous offers and that she had done all that she could to protect her daughter and her grandchildren from publicity. Her daughter's father was John West but she had been adopted by the complainant's second husband. The complainant said that many people who had not previously known of their connection with the West family had identified her and her family from the article. She was also concerned that people may have been left with the impression that she gained financially from the article. The complainant also alleged that she and her daughter were harassed by journalists from the Daily Mail, who she said waited outside their homes and telephoned them repeatedly.
The newspaper said that the case of Fred West was possibly the most notorious murder case this century and that the story of John West formed part of the overall picture. In the aftermath of the crimes and alleged crimes, the public was entitled to know how and why they may have happened. Understanding the family history was an essential part of attempting to determine an answer. As a piece of the West family jigsaw, the publication of the wedding photograph and the identification of the complainant in the story were in the public interest because of the insight they gave into the life of a man who became an alleged criminal. Authors and historians would make reference to her and it was not right to deny any mention of her part in the story. With regard to the complaint of harassment, the newspaper said that many journalists might have contacted the complainant, but that no evidence had been offered to suggest that it was a journalist from the Daily Mail who had allegedly harassed her.
The Commission had to decide whether, in the light of the complainant's apparent efforts to protect her privacy, the public's right to know was served by her identification and the publication of a photograph of her wedding.
The Commission noted that the complainant had been married to John West only briefly and had sought to distance herself from her ex-husband even before the alleged crimes were exposed. However, it was arguable that all those who had been associated with the West family would - as the newspaper rightly pointed out - at some point be subject to legitimate public scrutiny. Although the Commission sympathised with the complainant, there was a public interest in newspaper reporting of the complex tapestry that made up the West family. The reference to her in the Daily Mail had been brief and sympathetic and the photograph was one of a number illustrating the family background of John West. The Commission did not therefore find that there had been a breach of Clause 4 or of Clause 11.
The Commission noted that the complainant might well have been subject to unwanted attention from some journalists and again sympathised with her; however, there was no evidence either that the particular journalist in question was from the Daily Mail, or that his behaviour had constituted harassment. The Commission therefore made no finding on this part of the complaint.
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