Press Complaints Commission
spacer spacer
SEARCH FOR     Or try the cases search  
Cases Banner
  spacer
Making a complaint
Code of Practice Information
Cases
Code Advice
 

Complainant Name:
Frank O’Sullivan, the Chief Executive of Taunton & Somerset NHS Trust

Clauses Noted: 3, 8

Publication: Daily Mirror

Complaint:

Frank O’Sullivan, the Chief Executive of Taunton & Somerset NHS Trust, complained that a photograph of one of the Trust’s patients, which accompanied an article headlined “Millie’s dad kicked her mum’s head so hard she is virtually a vegetable but he was jailed for only four years” published in the Mirror on 9 February 2001, had been taken without the Trust’s permission in breach of Clause 9 (Hospitals), and also invaded the privacy of the patient in breach of Clause 3 (Privacy) of the Code of Practice.

The complaint was rejected.

The article highlighted a brutal case of domestic violence, in which a woman, Lisa Taylor, had been kicked and punched in the head by her boyfriend, Steve Clark. Mr Clark had been convicted of grievous bodily harm and had received a prison sentence of four years. The article sought to draw a contrast between what it considered to be Mr Clark’s relatively light punishment, and the horrific injuries suffered by Ms Taylor, who suffered severe brain damage and, in clinical terms, is only one degree away from being in a permanent vegetative state. The article stated that doctors were of the opinion that Ms Taylor may never recover. A picture accompanying the article showed Ms Taylor in her current state.

It was about the photograph accompanying the article that the Taunton and Somerset NHS Trust was concerned. The Trust’s Chief Executive, Frank O’Sullivan claimed that because Ms Taylor was unable to give her consent for the taking of a photo, and because she was a ‘vulnerable adult’ (as defined by the Social Services) for whom the Trust was legally responsible in respect of maintaining her privacy, permission for the taking of a photograph should have been obtained from the Trust. The fact that no permission was obtained meant that the photo breached Clause 3 of the Code, as well as Clause 9 (ii). Mr O’Sullivan also argued that the photograph had been taken in breach of Clause 9 (i), since the photographer had not identified himself to a responsible executive nor had he obtained permission before entering a non-public area.

The newspaper stated that its photographer had taken a picture of Ms Taylor at the invitation of her parents, who wished to publicise the appalling aftermath of domestic violence. Whilst it accepted that the photographer had not obtained permission from a responsible executive for either entering a non-public area or taking the image, the newspaper claimed that there was a legitimate public interest in taking and publishing the picture, as it exposed the brutal nature of the attack on Ms Taylor.

Decision:
Not Upheld

Adjudication:

The Commission noted that a photograph of Ms Taylor had been taken without the consent of the Taunton & Somerset NHS Trust and that it was the Trust that was responsible for her welfare in the final instance. It further noted that no permission had been obtained from a responsible executive of the Trust by the journalist before entering the hospital. The Commission’s task was therefore to consider whether the public interest justified a breach of the terms of the Code.

In concluding that the photograph was taken and published in the public interest, the Commission noted the strong feelings of the woman’s own parents. While they may not have legally been responsible for their daughter’s welfare, their own role in the matter was something that the Commission had to take into account. They were entitled to express their disgust at what they saw as the leniency of the sentence, and the photograph graphically illustrated the severity of their daughter’s injuries and allowed readers to contrast these injuries with the alleged leniency of the sentence. Readers may not have been able fully to appreciate the gravity of the situation – and the consequent strength of the parents’ feelings – had the photograph not been published. As a result, the Commission considered that the taking and publishing of the photograph, at the parents’ behest, was justified in the public interest.

*************************************************************************************

In making this decision the Commission wished to make clear that it took into consideration the many special circumstances of the case. It emphasised that public interest exemptions to Clause 9 are likely to remain rare since the Code is particularly strict on protecting those who are most vulnerable in hospital, and recognised that the clinical judgement of hospitals must generally be paramount. The Commission will continue, therefore, to expect a very strong public interest defence from newspapers that breach Clause 9 of the Code of Practice.

Report:
54



<< Go Back
 
    spacer
Home ] Cases ] Site map ]