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Complainant Name:
Ms S Brearton

Clauses Noted: 3

Publication: Telegraph & Argus


Ms S Brearton, Chairperson of the Fairweather Project, complained that an article in the Telegraph & Argus on 30 December 1996 headlined "Woman quizzed over arson attack at hostel" identified the location of a refuge for battered women and their children, unjustifiably intruding into the privacy of its residents, in breach of Clause 4 (Privacy) of the Code of Practice.

The report was illustrated by a photograph of a boarded-up window at the front of a fire damaged property and named the road in which the hostel is located.

The complainant said the photograph and name of the road would be sufficient to identify the location of the refuge given the combination of the details. She believed this endangered the women and children who had been living at the refuge, as well as future residents, as many of them were fleeing domestic violence and needed a safe haven and absolute confidentiality. The organisation had been forced to consider relocating the hostel as a result of the report.

The newspaper replied that it was its policy not to identify the full address of this kind of refuge. It did not believe this article had done so. The report only named the road - a main arterial route nearly three miles long - on which the property is located, and did not contain any landmark information. The photograph was deliberately tightly cropped on the boarded-up bay window. It looked similar to hundreds of other properties on that road and was not the only one boarded-up. The fire had left it uninhabitable and the occupants were rehoused elsewhere. As individuals are only housed on a short-term basis, it was not likely they would return to this address at all. The editor believed it unlikely that the report would be retained by any reader for potential use in tracing some future victim of domestic violence; once repaired the property would not be the same as in the photograph.

Not Upheld


The Commission recognised that this was a story about arson, the reporting of which was clearly in the public interest. Furthermore, it was likely that key facts about the fire - including the address of the property - would come into the public domain in any future legal proceedings.

Against that background, the Commission noted the editors stated policy not to identify the full address of the refuge; it also noted that he had taken care on this occasion to apply that policy by not including any landmark information in the report. In all the circumstances, the newspaper had behaved responsibly in seeking to ensure that the former refuge could not be identified. The complaint was therefore rejected.

The Commission took the opportunity to underline how important it was that the location of refuges such as this were kept secret. It commended policies of the sort deployed by this newspaper to ensure no information about the address of such projects was made public.


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