Clauses Noted: 3, 5
Publication: Lancashire Evening Post
Mr William Salisbury of Preston complained that an article and accompanying photographs published in the Lancashire Evening Post on 3 May 2000, headlined "Girl fights for her life after horror smash", which reported a road accident involving his wife and daughters, constituted an invasion of privacy in breach of Clause 3 (Privacy), and was insensitive in breach of Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock) of the Code of Practice.
The complaint was not upheld.
The front page article and accompanying photographs reported a traffic accident that had occurred the day before, in which a woman and her two daughters were seriously injured.
The complainant, who is the husband and father of the victims, said that the photographs were unnecessarily graphic and intruded into the shock felt by the family. The complainant objected to the clarity of the images, in which the faces of the complainant's wife and eldest daughter were visible. The complainant also considered that the publication of the photographs along with the names and addresses of the victims did not respect the family's privacy, especially given that there had not been time to inform all friends and relatives about the accident.
The newspaper apologised to the family privately about the clarity of the photographs and explained that this was due to the unusual circumstance of an image that had been taken on a digital camera appearing sharper in print than on a computer screen. The editor added that although he would have obscured the faces of the family had he seen the precision of the images prior to publication, the photographs had been taken on a busy main road where a large number of onlookers were clearly able to see the crash. The newspaper denied that the publication of details about the injured had been intrusive, since the hospital had made the information known to the press once the family had been informed.
The Commission understood that the family did not object in principle to the reporting of the incident, and considered the complaint that particularities in the article and photographs had been intrusive as separate objections. The Commission referred to a previous adjudication concerning the publication of the details of victims at an accident scene, and considered the three criteria that are generally used to make a decision under Clause 5 of the Code. These are whether a publication can be shown to have broken the news of an injury or death to a victim's immediate family, whether a publication has trivialised an incident or reported it in a gratuitously humorous way, and whether there is any evidence that victims have been distressed by the presence of the press and the taking of photographs at the scene of the accident. The Commission noted the concern that the complainant had not had a chance to inform everyone who knew the victims about the accident by the time of publication the following day. However, the Commission understood that the hospital had released information about the victims only when their immediate family had been notified, and that the publication of names and addresses of accident casualties would not normally be considered an invasion of privacy under the terms of the Code. Furthermore, the Commission was not aware that any close family members had found out about the incident as a result of reading the article. The Commission did not consider that the article presented the accident in an insensitive or distressing way, but saw that it appeared to be a straightforward news report of an incident which had occurred publicly.
The Commission considered the matter of the photographs, and was pleased to note that the newspaper had apologised privately to the complainants about the precision of the images. The Commission sympathised with the complainant's distress at the detail of the pictures, but did not find any evidence to suggest that the victims had been troubled by the presence of the press at the accident scene. Observing that the pictures had been taken on a public highway, the Commission considered that - although such decisions were never going to be easy ones for editors and require sensitivity to the circumstances of any particular case - the photographs were not sufficiently detailed to raise a breach of the Code under Clause 3.
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