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Complainant Name:
Mr and Mrs R Anstee

Clauses Noted: 1, 3

Publication: Sunday Mercury


Mr and Mrs R Anstee of Coventry, complained that an article in the Sunday Mercury on 16 December 1996 headlined "For us the agony really happened" was an invasion into their privacy in breach of Clause 4 (Privacy) of the Code of Practice and contained misleading and inaccurate material in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) .

The article was written in the wake of a Government Christmas anti drink-driving advertisement featuring a girl scarred in an accident caused by her drunken boyfriend. The editor had expanded on the story by featuring a local tragedy, researched initially from cuttings, involving the complainants' daughter; she had been killed nine years previously in a car driven by her fiancé, who had been drinking. The article included quotations from the complainants and a picture of the crashed car in which their daughter had died.

The complainants said they had never made the remarks attributed to them. The article wrongly suggested they had given an interview when they had made it clear they did not wish to have anything to do with it, or to provide photographs. They said that publication was an invasion into their privacy.

The editor said that a reporter had telephoned the complainants, identified himself and explained the reason for his call. He discussed the advertising campaign and drink-driving in general with them before asking if they wanted to do an in-depth article. His notes from this conversation provided him with the quotes he used in the article. The editor said that the facts he published had been widely reported in the past and he believed the story added weight to the Governments campaign of persuading people of the potential horrors of drink-driving.



The Commission considered that there was a genuine public interest in reinforcing the important message of the Governments campaign and recognised the newspaper had chosen to do so by highlighting a local case. It noted that the details of the dreadful accident were already in the public domain.

However, it was clear that the complainants did not wish to be interviewed and had distanced themselves from the article - although the Commission noted the difference of recollection between the parties as to exactly what was said on the telephone. In view of the complainants reluctance to become involved in an article focusing on their daughters death, the Commission considered the approach taken in the article - and in particular the headline - distorted the complainants involvement with the piece.

The Commission believed that a story of this sort, used to underline the dangers of drink-driving, was an important public service. That, however, did not justify a breach of the terms of the Code. Given the particular presentation of this published piece, which distorted the complainants involvement, the Commission upheld the complaints.


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