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Complainant Name:
Mr Nigel Cary, Force Solicitor for Surrey Police

Clauses Noted: 3, 11

Publication: Daily Mail

Complaint:

Mr Nigel Cary, Force Solicitor for Surrey Police, complained on behalf of an employee that an article headlined “‘Sex pest’ police chief” published in the Daily Mail on March 2 1999 identified someone who was allegedly the victim of sexual assault in breach of Clause 12 (Victims of sexual assault) and intruded into her privacy in breach of Clause 3 (Privacy) of the Code of Practice.

While the complaint was upheld in part, the Commission did not censure the newspaper, and found no breach of Clause 3 (Privacy).

The article reported that a criminal inquiry had begun following allegations of indecenct assault against a senior police officer. Initially, the Commission could not deal with the matter pending the outcome of the judicial proceedings, which resulted in the policeman’s acquittal. The complainant said that the woman who made the allegations against the officer had been identified by a photograph that accompanied the article because, although her face had been blacked out, it depicted her wearing a hat that would be familiar to her colleagues who might not necessarily have known that she had made the allegations. The complainant also thought that the photograph had been taken while the woman was in a place where she had a reasonable expectation of privacy.

The newspaper said that it had taken every step to ensure that the identify of the woman was not revealed. It doubted that the picture of the hat – which was one of many thousands of a similar style – would have identified the woman to anybody who did not already know the background to the case and that she was the woman who had made the allegations. The photograph of the woman was taken in a public street as she was about to get into her car, and not therefore in a place where she had a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Decision:
Upheld

Adjudication:

With regard to the complaint about the photograph, the Commission – in line with previous decisions – did not consider that a public street was a place where the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy under the terms of the Code. There was therefore no breach of the Code in the taking and publication of the photograph.

Turning to the question of whether the woman was identifiable as a result of the photograph, the Commission had no reason to doubt the complainant’s assertion that she had been identified to a number of people who had not previously known that she had made the allegations. However, the Commission had to bear in mind that there was also no reason why the newspaper should have been aware that the hat was worn to such an extent that a photograph of it would have identified the woman to those who did not know that she had made the allegations. While the effect of the photograph might therefore have been inadvertantly to identify her in breach of the Code - although no evidence had been provided that such general identification had taken place - the Commission was satisfied that the newspapaer had gone to reasonable lengths to protect her identity. It did not therefore censure the newspaper. However, as the photograph had apparently identified the woman to at least one colleague and as the story could have been written without publishing it, the Commission considered that it would have been wiser not to have used it.

Report:
54



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