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Complainant Name:
Mrs Leigh Blows

Clauses Noted: 3, 5

Publication: The Northern Echo


Mrs Leigh Blows complained to the Press Complaints Commission that two articles published by The Northern Echo had intruded into his grief and shock in breach of Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock) of the Editors' Code of Practice: the first, headlined "Lucky escape as glider crashes into field", had been published on the newspaper's website on 4 July 2011; the second, headlined "Crash pilot trapped for hour and a half", had appeared in print and online on 5 July 2011.

The complaint was upheld.

The article reported on the crash-landing of the complainant's husband's glider in a local field. He had been trapped in the wreckage for over an hour while the emergency services attempted to locate him. The 4 July report - published on the day of the crash - included a photograph of the site in which the tail number of the glider was visible. The report on 5 July included a photograph of the complainant's husband being treated by emergency services.

The complainant said that the 5 July photograph of her husband, who had been left with significant injuries, was extremely intrusive. It had been taken, she said, without consent on private land at a time when her husband had been in severe shock and pain. Her husband (who had not been named in the story) had been clearly identifiable in the photograph through a combination of his facial features, distinctive clothing and the tail number of his glider. This had led to a number of distressing telephone calls from friends. In addition, the complainant was concerned about the 4 July photograph: by showing the tail number, it had effectively identified her husband on the day of the crash as the victim to those who shared his interest in gliders and who communicated with him using this number.

The newspaper said that significant local resources had been devoted to the search and rescue process, including the police, fire and ambulance services. The published photographs had been taken and supplied to the newspaper by a local search and rescue team, which had been involved in the search for the complainant's husband: the team had supplied media outlets with pictures from rescue sites for years. Although it had not been aware of this at the time of publication, it also noted that parts of the operation had been filmed by the BBC and subsequently broadcast (with consent) as part of a programme about the work of the emergency services. The newspaper said that, before publication, it had made enquiries with the police and received a detailed account of the victim's injuries, from which it had determined that they were serious but not life-threatening. While it understood the complainant's position that the 5 July photograph had been intrusive, it was satisfied that its publication had not been gratuitous.

The complainant said that the film crew at the scene had specifically obtained her husband's consent to record the events. It had subsequently taken care to confirm his consent and to ensure that the resulting programme was accurate.



Clause 5 of the Editors' Code of Practice states that publication must be "handled sensitively" at times of grief or shock. Although the photographs had been taken by a third party, the newspaper (by publishing them) took responsibility for their content and how they had been obtained.

The Commission noted the complainant's concerns that the 4 July photograph had effectively identified her husband as the individual concerned with the glider crash to others he knew. However, the image contained no personal information about the complainant's husband and did not feature him personally.

The Commission did not consider that the publication of a photograph showing the general scene of the crash - which had been the subject of an intensive search by a number of rescue workers - represented a failure to be sensitive on the part of the newspaper. The Commission did not find a breach of Clause 5 in relation to the 4 July photograph.

However, the 5 July photograph had identified the complainant's husband and had shown him in a state of shock and upset, receiving medical attention for significant injuries.

The Commission has previously made clear that timing is an important consideration in complaints made under this Clause, because one of its functions is to protect individuals in the period when they are most vulnerable following significant incidents.

There was a difficult balance to strike here, as the Commission had strong regard for the important role of newspapers in informing their readers about significant events in the public interest. This had clearly been the intention of the newspaper, which was reporting on a matter of clear relevance to its readers. Nonetheless, the Commission was not persuaded that the publication of a revealing photograph of a person receiving medical treatment, published so soon after the accident without consent, could be said reasonably to be sensitive. The complaint was therefore upheld in relation to the 5 July photograph.


Mrs Blows also complained that the newspaper had failed to show respect for her husband's private life in breach of Clause 3 (Privacy).

The complaint was not upheld.

The Commission considered the complaint under Clause 3 (Privacy) separately, as footage showing the complainant's husband during the incident had later been broadcast, with consent, as part of a television programme. The complainant had distinguished between the publication of the photograph and the broadcast of the footage: the latter had occurred months after the incident, after detailed negotiation at a time when her husband was fully able to consent. The Commission noted that the newspaper had been unaware at the time of publication of the presence of the BBC on the scene.

Nonetheless, Clause 3 states that "account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information"; in addition, the Commission must have regard for "the extent to which material is already in the public domain, or will become so". The Commission could not avoid the conclusion that - as the complainant's husband had consented to the broadcast of this footage, which was on its face far more intrusive than a single image of the incident - the material in question could not now be said to be private. The complaint under Clause 3 was not upheld.

Relevant rulings

A woman v Leicester Mercury / Nottingham Post, 2010

Kirkland v Wiltshire Gazette & Herald, 2008

Date Published:

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