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Complainant Name:
Mr William Ackroyd

Clauses Noted: 1, 3, 6, 10

Publication: Woman


Mr William Ackroyd of Manchester complained that, prior to an article about his family, "My baby cost me my marriage", which appeared on 18 November 1996 in Woman magazine, photographs of two of his children were obtained without proper consent in breach of Clause 7 (Misrepresentation) and Clause 12 (Interviewing or photographing children) of the Code of Practice. He also complained that the article was inaccurate and misleading in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) and that the use of names and photographs intruded into his family's privacy in breach of Clause 4 (Privacy).

The article was presented as his ex-wife's story of the deterioration of their relationship. It contained intimate detail of alleged discussions during her pregnancy after a failed sterilisation operation. The complainant denied the article was a true representation of events. He said the prominently featured family photograph in the article was taken when they all met at a family contact centre: his ex-wife had asked the two children in the complainant's custody to pose with her and the other children for the family portrait. The complainant was not present when his ex-wife explained to them it was a prize she had won: one of the two children refused to take part; the photographer gave the other child £2.00 after the session. The complainant believed the contact centre should have been properly informed that the photographer was from the press.

The magazine said the article was essentially about how the woman dealt with an unwanted pregnancy and it had been unnecessary to seek the complainant's view. It was not critical but sympathetic to the complainant, describing the distress the couple must have felt. The magazine apologised to the complainant for any distress caused but denied improper behaviour by its representative. When the photographer had identified himself to staff at the centre as a photographer they had asked him not to take pictures on the premises so he had found a suitable location outside. He denied misleading the children but naturally tried to persuade the boy, who was reluctant, to take part; he promised crisps to a younger son if he sat still and afterwards gave each child who took part £2.00 to be fair. He denied talking about a raffle prize. Other photographs were supplied by the complainant's ex-wife.



Dealing with the complaint under Clause 12, the Commission considered that, in view of the custody arrangements, proper consent should have been sought for the photograph session. Under the terms of Clause 12, a journalist should not photograph a child without consent of an adult responsible for him or her. In this case it was the complainant who had custody of two of the five children, one of whom was photographed without permission. While the Commission could not comment on the legal aspects of the custody, it considered the photographer had adequate notice that the children's mother may not have been the appropriate parent to give the consent required by the Code. This part of the complaint was upheld.

The Commission found no evidence that the photographer had deliberately withheld information from staff to mislead the complainant. It noted his denial of complicity in a ruse about a raffle prize and had insufficient evidence to prefer one party's recollection over another's. With regard to the complaints of inaccuracy the Commission was satisfied that readers would have understood the article to contain one person's perspective in the style usual for such readers' own stories. Concerning the complaint that all the published photographs together with the names of the family intruded into their privacy, these details and the additional family snaps were given by the ex-wife. While the Commission regretted that this was not done with the
complainant's agreement, it considered that in the circumstances the ex-wife was free to tell her story and so there was no unacceptable intrusion under Clause 4. The complaints under Clauses 1, 4 and 7 were rejected.

Note:- The Commission noted the origins of the article and that the magazine had avoided publication during the legal claim about the failed sterilisation. While it is outside the Commission's remit to adjudicate on legal issues, the Commission wished to express regret if it was the case that there were outstanding legal proceedings to be concluded between husband and wife at the time of publication, especially because children were involved.


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