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Complainant Name:
Schillings solicitors on behalf of Bernie Ecclestone

Clauses Noted: 3

Publication: The Mail on Sunday

Complaint:

Schillings solicitors complained on behalf of Bernie Ecclestone, his wife Slavica and his daughter Tamara Ecclestone that an article headlined "Bernie the battered husband" published in the Mail on Sunday on 25 August 2002 intruded into their clients’ privacy in breach of Clause 3 (Privacy) of the Code of Practice.

Only the part of the complaint regarding Tamara Ecclestone was upheld, while the remainder of the complaint was rejected.

The article was based on an interview with Mr John Keterman, the former boyfriend of Tamara Ecclestone, daughter of Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone. The complainants’ solicitors considered that the article intruded into the privacy of the family on the following four points: the marital relationship between Mr Ecclestone and his wife Slavica; domestic arrangements; security arrangements of the family home; and the intimate details of Miss Ecclestone’s relationship with her former boyfriend. They maintained that there was no public interest in the revelations, which concerned a family who had not placed such aspects of their lives into the public domain. In particular, Miss Tamara Ecclestone is not a public figure and does not court publicity in any way.

The newspaper accepted that a balance was necessary between a person’s privacy and the right of another person to freedom of expression. In this case, the story was of a man from a humble background who became connected to a family of wealth and power and was subsequently rejected. The newspaper considered that this man had the right to tell his story. It also maintained that the Ecclestones were public figures who had - in the past - talked to newspapers about personal matters including the tempestuous relationship between Mr and Mrs Ecclestone. Miss Tamara Ecclestone has also previously written about, and her father commented upon, her social life. The newspaper said that there was a public interest in freedom of expression, which could only be overridden if there were exceptional reasons in support of a person’s absolute privacy. It did not consider that in this case the level of intrusion was such as to tip the balance away from the newspaper’s right to publish and the boyfriend’s right to freedom of expression.

The complainants’ solicitors did not consider that the status of the Ecclestones provided justification for the intrusion. The article contained information that went far further than that established in the public domain and intruded into areas of family life that were protected by the Code. One article published by Miss Ecclestone did not give the newspaper the right to publish intimate details about her subsequent relationship. The solicitors also suggested that, although Tamara Ecclestone was seventeen, she was of school-age and as such protected by the spirit of Clause 6 (Children) of the Code.

The newspaper made the further point that there was great public interest in the life of Mr Ecclestone as a man of influence in the popular sport of motor racing and of extraordinary wealth. His profile was also increased by his involvement in Labour Party funding. The family itself is widely covered in the press on the grounds of its high-profile lifestyle. It considered that the article under complaint contained material reasonably related to that already published in the public domain. Miss Ecclestone has often been featured as part of the family and her social activities discussed in previous articles. The newspaper also suggested that, as Miss Ecclestone had turned 18 and left school when the article was published, she was not covered by the terms of Clause 6 of the Code.

The complainants’ solicitors maintained that they were not questioning the right of Miss Ecclestone’s former boyfriend to tell his story, only the fact that he had done so by intruding into the privacy of the family.

Decision:
Upheld

Adjudication:

The Commission considered that it was not a matter of dispute that the former boyfriend of Miss Ecclestone, on whose account the article was based, had a basic right - according to the principle of freedom of expression - to tell his story about his experiences with the Ecclestones. It was therefore the task of the Commission to decide whether the newspaper had properly dealt with any conflict between Mr Keterman’s right to freedom of expression and the Ecclestone family’s right to respect for their privacy.

First, the Commission considered the complaint in so far as it related to Tamara Ecclestone. While it noted that Miss Ecclestone has received publicity in the past on account of her lifestyle as the daughter of a very wealthy man, the Commission made clear - as it always has done - that the previous publication of matters into the public domain dealing with a person’s private life does not necessarily disentitle that person to any right of privacy. Intrusions must be justified by the newspaper concerned. The Commission considered that some of the new, personal material in the article relating to Miss Ecclestone was not validated by the fact that other matters about her private life had previously been established in the public domain. The newspaper, by making reference to some intimate details of the relationship - including an account of its sexual aspect - had, on this one point relating to a small section of the story, breached the Code.

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

The Commission then turned to the other significant plank of complaint: that the article made intrusive reference to the marital relationship between Bernie Ecclestone and his wife Slavica. It had to take into account the extent to which Mr Ecclestone and his wife had discussed similar matters in the past and the level of material relating to their relationship that had been otherwise placed in the public domain. It noted that Mr Ecclestone had given a number of interviews in which he had referred to details of his relationship with his wife. The Commission believed this demonstrated that Mr Ecclestone had not sought to protect this aspect of his life from publicity. Indeed, it noted that the newspaper could point to an interview, in which Mr Ecclestone had volunteered information about his ‘tempestuous relationship’ with his wife, and a further interview with Mrs Ecclestone herself, which referred to the marital relationship in similar terms. The Commission has always made clear that if people speak about private matters in their own terms, they must expect that others will discuss the same or related subjects in greater depth and in terms that may be less welcome. But the further coverage and context must be reasonably related to matters put into the public domain by the person concerned. It noted that Mr Ecclestone had not appeared in the past to object to published material which touched on similar subjects written from his perspective. The Commission did not consider that the material published went beyond the material in the public domain nor, having regard to the circumstances, including Mr Keterman’s own right to freedom of expression, did the Commission regard it as intrusive in terms of the Code. The Commission was, therefore, satisfied that this complaint had not raised a breach of the Code.

The Commission did not consider that the other aspects of the complaint raised an issue to pursue under the Code. In regard to the details not covered above, the Commission did not consider that the article’s cursory reference to the security system of the Ecclestone family home (which was not identifiable as a result of the article), or its discussion of various domestic arrangements, were intrusive in breach of Clause 3 of the Code.

Regarding the part of the complaint framed under Clause 6 (Children), the Commission noted that Miss Ecclestone was over sixteen years old and was not attending school at the time of the article. Although taking into consideration the young age of Miss Ecclestone in the above adjudication, the Commission did not consider that the complaint could properly be considered under this clause of the Code.

Relevant precedents

Carling v The Sun, Report 32 - hard copy only
Scott v News of the World, Report 33 - hard copy only
Pirie v News of the World, Report 49
Feltz v Sunday Mirror, Report 56

Report:
60



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