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Complainant Name:
Mr S Milbank

Clauses Noted: 3

Publication: The Mail on Sunday


Mr S Milbank of Romford, Essex, complained that on 29 December 1996 The Mail on Sunday published a photograph of his relative receiving resuscitation in illustration of an article headlined "Police life-savers on City heartbeat". The complainant considered this an intrusion into the family's privacy in breach of Clause 4 (Privacy) of the Code of Practice. His relative had died on a pavement in Piccadilly while on a family Christmas outing. The complainant had been present and he described how a photographer took the photograph despite being asked by a policeman not to do so. It was published a month later with no warning to the family and without their permission.

The newspaper responded that it had already apologised sincerely to a more immediate relative of the deceased for publishing the photograph. It had explained that the photograph was supplied by a freelance and had been placed in the newspaper's picture library for general illustrative use. The managing editor apologised again to the family through the Commission. He explained that the staff had not known that the patient in the photograph had died and also that the newspaper's usual policy of re-touching general photographs to render individuals unrecognisable had been inadvertently overlooked on this occasion. However steps had been taken to avoid repetition of the oversight and the photograph had been destroyed.



The Commission noted that the newspaper had apologised for the distress the photograph had caused the deceased's family by its serious oversight - which was the right course of action.

The Commission agreed with the complainant that in general editors should satisfy themselves as far as possible that material accepted from non-staff members is obtained in accordance with the Code. The Commission considered that in this specific case the newspaper should either have re-touched the photograph in some way to make the victim unidentifiable in order to avoid problems of this sort, or it should have made more rigorous checks on the provenance of this library photograph. It was pleased to note, however, that the newspaper had taken steps to avoid further publication of the photograph and others which might identify individuals in similar circumstances. The action taken by the newspaper - including its apology to the family - underlined how seriously it took the oversight; if it had not taken the steps described the Commission would have been minded to make a criticial adjudication.

In view of the action taken, however, the Commission decided not to censure the newspaper.


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