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Complainant Name:
Mr and Mrs L Matheson

Clauses Noted: 3

Publication: Press & Journal (Aberdeen)


Mr and Mrs L Matheson complained through solicitors Middleton Ross & Arnot of Dingwall, Ross-shire, that a court report in the Press & Journal on 6 January 1998 headlined "Karate man injured in road rage flare-up" included their full address, in breach of Clause 3 (Privacy) of the Code.

The complainants appeared as witnesses in an assault trial and were quoted in the piece speaking out on behalf of one of the drivers involved in the incident. The newspaper report contained the complainants' full address which they considered had made them vulnerable to intimidation, and indeed their car had been vandalised.

The editor considered the complaint frivolous and outside the remit of the Commission, as the law permitted publication of the address which had been given in court.

Not Upheld


Before dealing with the substance of the complaint, the Commission wished to place on record its concern that the editor had failed in his response to the complaint to differentiate between his legal responsibilities and his obligations under the Code. The Code gives protection to people over and above that afforded by the law. This is particularly so in relation to vulnerable groups of people such as children, patients and victims of sexual assault. The defence that something is allowed in law is not therefore always sufficient under the Code. Indeed, that is one of the strengths of effective self regulation over statute.

In this case, the information was clearly in the public domain and the editor was legally entitled to publish it. The common sense strictures of the Code, however, mean that the editor should also have considered the vulnerability of those involved to increased risk and whether the publication of an address was intrusive - a point not covered by the law.

That said, the Commission believed that there was in this instance no breach of the Code. It is the accepted and usual practice of some local and regional newspapers to carry at least the street name of people involved in a trial, which can avoid confusing two people of the same name. Furthermore, in local communities the location of someone's home can be easy to find, although that is not in itself a sufficient defence under the Code. The detail was not therefore intrusive and there was no evidence that those involved had been subjected to increased risk to which their appearance in Court had not exposed them in the first place.

The complaint was therefore not upheld.


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