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Complainant Name:
Ms Syrita Collins-Plante

Clauses Noted: 1, 3, 4

Publication: The People

Complaint:

Ms Syrita Collins-Plante of West London complained to the Press Complaints Commission that an article published in the Sunday People on 1 April 2001 headlined “Lennox Lewis girl ‘beaten up by his minder’” was inaccurate and intrusive in breach of Clauses 1 (Accuracy) and 3 (Privacy), and that she had been contacted by reporters from the Sunday People in breach of Clause 4 (Harassment).

The complaint was rejected.

The article reported that a minder employed by the boxer Lennox Lewis had been arrested after an incident in a London restaurant, when he apparently discovered that the complainant was recording their conversation. She explained that she had been telephoned two or three times over several days in late February by a Sunday People journalist who had learnt of her friendship with Mr Lewis, despite telling him during the first call that she was “absolutely not interested in giving a story”.

During the week subsequent to the restaurant incident in mid-March, Ms Collins-Plante received one telephone call from the reporter and one from a second journalist, who also put a note through her door. Both were asked to desist, and the following day she was photographed as she left her home. The complainant telephoned the police but found the photographer still outside her house when she returned home. The article published the following day contained quotations whose authenticity was doubted by Ms Collins-Plante, and inaccurately and offensively portrayed her as a “star-struck young girl”.

The newspaper stated that the substance of the report – that an allegation of assault had been made after an incident in the restaurant, and that a twenty-four year old man had been arrested, interviewed and bailed – had been confirmed by Scotland Yard prior to publication. Given that both the altercation and the taking of the photograph had occurred in public places, the newspaper did not consider that any breach of the complainant’s private life had been established. It was contended further that the journalist had telephoned the complainant a second time in February after being asked by her to call back. The next approach was not until after the restaurant incident, when the complainant again asked if she could think about the journalist’s offer. No further approaches were made after a police constable telephoned on the complainant’s behalf to say that she did not wish to cooperate with any future story.

Finally, the newspaper added that a freelance journalist operating on the complainant’s behalf had approached the News of the World and the Mail on Sunday prior to the alleged assault. The complainant did not appear to have signed a contract with either newspaper, but the device used to record the conversation in the restaurant belonged to a News of the World journalist and it was understood that an agreement had been made that both the complainant and the freelance journalist would receive payment for cooperating with an article about the former’s relationship with Mr Lewis.

Decision:
Not Upheld

Adjudication:

Clause 4 is designed to prevent repeated approaches from journalists, especially when they have been asked to desist. The Commission was clearly not in a position to make a judgement about the precise number of times the complainant had been contacted, or whether or not she had made it clear to the newspaper that she did not wish to be approached again. However, it considered that the newspaper was entitled to seek the complainant’s response to the news event described in the article, and did not consider that the telephone calls and a note over a six week period before and after this incident could be described as persistent under the terms of the Code.

The Commission noted that the newspaper had confirmed the facts of the incident with Scotland Yard prior to publication, and that the complainant’s photograph had been taken in a public place. It did not consider reporting the fact of her friendship with Mr Lewis or an alleged assault in a public restaurant to be intrusive under the terms of Clause 3 or that descriptions of the complainant were significantly inaccurate in breach of Clause 1, and did not uphold the complaint.

Report:
55



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