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Complainant Name:
Mr Michael Clarke

Clauses Noted: 1, 3, 4

Publication: Daily Mirror


Mr Michael Clarke, Company Secretary of Healthtime (UK) Ltd, Sleaford, Lincolnshire, complained that a report in The Mirror (formerly Daily Mirror) of 25 November 1996, headlined "We've been ad by Ken Clarkes brother" , was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy), an invasion of privacy in breach of Clause 4 (Privacy) and that reporters had harassed him and his wife in breach of Clause 8 (Harassment) of the Code of Practice.

Healthtime (UK) Ltd produces information boards for doctor's surgeries which contain advertisements for local small businesses. The article reported that Mr Clarke, the brother of the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, had been accused of leaving a string of small businesses high and dry as a result of failing to deliver boards for which clients had paid thousands of pounds . It stated that Mr Clarke was also struggling to meet the demands of former employees.

The complainant had complained in 1995 that he had been harassed and that his privacy had been invaded by the Sunday Mirror. His complaint was upheld by the Commission. He believed that the article in the Daily Mirror was a consequence of this. In this instance, he said that reporters had contacted clients of Healthtime (UK) Ltd making enquiries about their dealings with the company. He believed that this constituted harassment. A reporter and photographer approached him and his wife on their driveway at home and had taken photographs which had distressed his wife. He complained that their actions represented harassment and an invasion of the couple's privacy since their driveway was private property.

He objected to a large number of points of inaccuracy within the article: clients had not paid thousands of pounds ; no former employees were demanding money; the article unfairly implied that Mr Clarke had gained personally from the company; the local Job Centre was investigating complaints about the company; he had never joked that [his brother] would bail him out ; their premises were not besieged by customers demanding refunds ; Healthtime (UK) Ltd did not owe unpaid business rates; and a DTI loan was used against regulations to pay back an investor

The newspaper responded that their reporter had not harassed the complainant. They said that there was a public interest in their investigation of the firm's activities. With regard to the allegations of inaccuracy they replied that their description of thousands of pounds referred to the total sum paid by individual clients for services that had not been supplied; they were told by numerous former and current employees that they were owed money by Healthtime (UK) Ltd; Mr Clarke was clearly the driving force behind the company; former employees had informed them that Job Centres had received complaints; the description of dissatisfied clients who had besieged the company was metaphorical; information regarding business rates had been provided by the Planning Office; and employees had made the allegations regarding the use to which a DTI loan was put.

Not Upheld


The Commission noted that two former employees of Healthtime (UK) Ltd and seven clients of the company had been named in the article and their criticisms of the company had been quoted. No complaints about the article had been received from those named and no evidence had been submitted to suggest that any of the nine had retracted their criticisms. In view of the concerns that had been expressed about the activities of a company providing a service to small businesses, the Commission believed that the newspapers investigation of the company was in the public interest. It did not in any case consider that any reporters actions had constituted harassment or an invasion of the complainant's privacy; Clause 4 of the Code refers to "intrusions and enquiries into an individuals private life...": in this instance, the Commission noted that Mr and Mrs Clarke are respectively Company Secretary and Director of Healthtime (UK) Ltd. Given Mr Clarkes role within the company it was not unreasonable that he should be the focus of the article.

The Commission did not consider that the article contained any inaccuracy so significant as to represent a breach of Clause 1 of the Code. It was clear that the newspaper had been told by former employees that money was owed to them and that the Job Centre was investigating complaints about the company. The Commission considered that the article only implied that Mr Clarke had personally gained from the company in so much as he was an employee. The article had made it clear that any suggestion of regulations having been broken regarding the DTI loan was merely an allegation and that the council was investigating possible unpaid business rates. A number of the other descriptions were clearly figurative and unlikely to mislead in the context of the article.

The complaint was rejected.


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