Clauses Noted: 16
Publication: Take a Break
Mr and Mrs T Martin of Essex complained that a woman whose story had been featured in Take a Break on 15 May 1997 was a convicted criminal but had been paid £200 for it in breach of Clause 9 (Payment for articles) of the Code of Practice.
The article was presented as the story of a woman who, when working as a prison nurse, formed a relationship with a prisoner whom she later helped to abscond to the continent while on a hospital visit. It described the start of their relationship, their flight from the hospital and their subsequent arrest after returning to the UK. The nurse was convicted of assisting an escaped prisoner.
The complainants are the parents of the young man killed by the prisoner. They objected that the magazine had paid the woman £200 for her story, in view of Clause 9(ii) of the Code of Practice which states that "Payments or offers of payment for stories, pictures or information, should not be made directly or through agents to convicted or confessed criminals or to their associates - who may include family, friends and colleagues - except where the material concerned ought to be published in the public interest and payment is necessary for this to be done." They objected that the woman who was paid for her story was a convicted criminal.
The magazine responded that the nominal sum of £200 compensated the woman for the time required to interview and photograph her. They believed that her offence was a "crime passionel" which exposed human weakness rather than wickedness and was "on the very periphery of criminality". They said that there was a public interest served by the story in revealing the failings of administrative systems that let the couple form a relationship and leave the country.
The Commission recognised that the woman, as a reader, had given her own story about romance and love for her husband, for a small sum, on similar terms to the many readers' stories published in this and other magazines. Nonetheless, the woman and her husband were convicted criminals and the wording of Clause 9 - prohibiting any such payment - is clear. No overriding public interest for publication had been demonstrated.
The complaint was upheld.
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