Clauses Noted: 3
Publication: Daily Mirror
Mr Ian Stewart Brady complained to the Press Complaints Commission that an article headlined "Inside the mind of a madman" published in the Daily Mirror on 23 May 2011 contained material that intruded into his private life in breach of Clause 3 (Privacy) of the Editors' Code of Practice.
The complaint was not upheld.
The article contained extracts from letters sent by the complainant - a patient at Ashworth Hospital - to another individual, who had provided them to the newspaper for publication. The extracts included the complainant's views on a number of issues: his hope that the IRA might reactivate; his views on modern politicians, including Tony Blair and his role in the Iraq war; his belief that Islamist terror groups lacked commitment; his hatred of the modern obsession with food and television; his views on public health and class issues; and a reference to his enjoyment of European wine in the years before his crimes. The complainant had also made references to the conditions of his detention: his unhappiness about the lack of internet connection at Ashworth; his complaints about the quality of the hospital's food; his determination that no Ashworth staff would attend his funeral; and recollections of his incarceration in prison before being transferred to Ashworth. The complainant's solicitors said that their client was being detained under the Mental Health Act and that publication of his private correspondence had breached Clause 3 (Privacy) of the Editors' Code.
The newspaper said that the letters had been written to a member of public, who had corresponded with the complainant for some months. She had been disturbed by the content of some of the letters and had provided them for publication. In light of the nature of the complainant's crimes, there was a general public interest in knowing about his state of mind, particularly in connection to terror groups whose aim was presumably to kill innocent people. The newspaper also argued that there was a public interest in reporting the complainant's ongoing complaints about the staff at, and treatment provided by, Ashworth Hospital. Little of the published information related to medical matters, although the newspaper said that details about his treatment (and about his ongoing hunger strike) were well-established in the public domain as a result of previous reports. The newspaper also pointed to previous letters written by the complainant to members of the public, which had been published in media outlets.
Clause 3 of the Code states that everyone is entitled to respect for his or her "private and family life, home, health and correspondence". This means that the publication of private correspondence sent by one person to another can constitute an invasion of privacy. However, in reaching a judgment on such complaints, the Commission must take into account a variety of factors, including: the relationship between the correspondents; the nature of the published information and the reasons for publication; and the question of the public interest. The public profiles of the individuals concerned may also be relevant.
In this instance, the complainant was one of the most notorious individuals in the country, who had committed a series of serious criminal acts almost half a century ago. He had spent almost two decades in prison as a result of his convictions, before being transferred to Ashworth high-security psychiatric hospital, where he was detained under the Mental Health Act. His crimes, subsequent incarceration and detention at Ashworth had been the subject of intense media and public scrutiny over a considerable period of time. As such, the Commission considered that the complainant could be regarded as a ‘public personality', a figure whose criminal activities, detention, medical condition (especially relating to his mental health) and treatment were properly the subject of ongoing legitimate discussion and examination. There was, therefore, a general public interest inherent in publishing information that added to this discussion.
As to the specific material under complaint, the newspaper had received letters (provided by the recipient) which had been sent by the complainant, voluntarily, to a member of the public with whom he had corresponded over a consistent period. During his time in prison and in Ashworth Hospital, it appeared that the complainant had corresponded with many members of the public and numerous letters written by him had been published by media outlets in the past. In these circumstances the Commission did not think it was reasonable to conclude that the relationship between him and the recipient of his letters should be regarded as confidential. This was particularly the case as there was no evidence that the complainant and the other party in the correspondence were more than casual acquaintances. On this occasion, the complainant had been disseminating his thoughts on a wide range of issues to a person who had no strong relationship ties with him.
The final key factor for the Commission to consider was the precise nature of the information that the newspaper had revealed by publication of the extracted letters. It essentially fell into two categories: the complainant's views on the state of the world; and his views about Ashworth Hospital and his ongoing treatment there.
The Commission did not regard the information in the first category as especially personal, of a type that would generally warrant privacy protection. In any case, insofar as it gave an insight into the character of such a notorious individual, there was a public interest in allowing readers to examine his views on what were essentially matters of public debate. Given the complainant's past behaviour, there was some public interest in the publication of evidence of his existing violent and angry propensities.
In regard to the second category, the Commission concluded that this information was anodyne. There were no details about the complainant's medical treatment nor anything about intimate, personal relationships. And again, in light of the ongoing interest in the complainant's continued detention and persistent protests (which had involved him being on hunger strike for a number of years), there was a public interest in revealing his own thoughts about the hospital at which he was being held.
In all the circumstances of this case, which was an unusual one simply because of the background of the complainant, the Commission concluded that there had been no breach of Clause 3. The complaint was not upheld.
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