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Complainant Name:
Mr W Bohdanowicz

Clauses Noted: 1, 3

Publication: Stevenage Mercury


Mr W Bohdanowicz of Watton at Stone, Hertfordshire, complained that articles in the Hertfordshire Mercury and in the Stevenage Mercury on 19 September 1997 headlined " Couples joy at death of Diana" and "Couple celebrate Diana death" , respectively, contained inaccuracies and intruded into the privacy of the complainant and his wife. The complaints fell to be considered under Clauses 1 (Accuracy) and 4 (Privacy) of the industry's Code of Practice. Mr Bohdanowicz also asked the Commission to consider follow-up pieces on 26 September in the Hertfordshire Mercury headlined "Diana party couple slam neighbours" and in the Stevenage Mercury headlined "Diana funeral couple accuse neighbours" which contained quotations from him extracted from his correspondence with the PCC in the course of its investigation into his original complaint.

The stories in both newspapers, which were virtually identical, described how the complainant and his wife had offended their local community by celebrating publicly the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. They had allegedly asked their neighbours whether they wanted to join them in a party on the day of the funeral. Both articles were illustrated with the same photograph of the couple's house. The street name was also given, as was the complainant's profession and place of work.

While the couple admitted there had been bunting on their house, they denied they had played loud music on the day of the funeral or that they had invited neighbours to a party. In particular Mr Bohdanowicz objected to the Hertfordshire Mercury quoting a woman saying that he, Mr Bohdanowicz, had expressed a wish that the two Princes had been with the Princess in the accident. He also objected that the newspaper had contacted his wife about the piece when she was at home alone quite late in the evening, but had made no direct contact with him.

The editor of the newspapers replied that the material was taken from a significant number of sources. Locals had also complained to the Chairman of the Parish Council and to the headmaster of the school where Mr Bohdanowicz teaches. Further, the couple had had the opportunity to refute what was being said about them when the newspaper approached the school and when the complainant's wife was contacted by telephone.

Not Upheld


As regards the allegations of inaccuracy, the Commission considered that at the heart of issue was whether the couple had had the opportunity to discuss matters with the newspaper prior to publication in order to give them an opportunity to comment: on the evidence considered by the Commission they had had this opportunity, although it appeared that the complainant's wife had been unwell at the time. Further, the couple had not denied that after the Princess had died, bunting decorated their house. Also, the newspaper had named people it had interviewed to establish the story and there had been no complaints to the Commission from people quoted in the article. Therefore the Commission considered that the thrust of the story must have been accurate, in particular in-so-far as those quoted were clearly giving their own recollection of events. The Commission therefore concluded that there was no significant inaccuracy in breach of the Code.

Dealing with the issue of intrusion, the Commission considered that the story was in the public interest, and by virtue of the fact that there had been complaints about the celebrations from neighbours, the matter was in the public domain. It therefore found no unwarranted intrusion in the story or in the naming of the couple who were central to it.

The Commission then considered the follow-up pieces which referred to alleged disagreements the complainant and his wife had had with their neighbours. The complainant questioned the newspaper's basis for this but his essential concern was that some of his correspondence with the PCC had been published, for example his explanation about the bunting and his denial of the party plan and invitations. The editor of the newspapers responded to this concern by saying that the additional material had been published legitimately as it served to put across the complainant's point of view, which had been lacking in the original story.

The Commission is conerned to ensure that during investigations correspondence between the parties is kept confidential. Those involved must have a reasonable expectation that they can write freely on this basis. In the very rare cases that have arisen the Commission has censured the publication concerned for acting in a manner which could undermine effective self-regulation. While in this instance the Commission did not condone what the newspaper had done, it accepted that the material was published in good faith to provide the complainant's side of the story.

The complaints were therefore not upheld.


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