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Complainant Name:
A woman

Clauses Noted: 3, 14

Publication: Clevedon People


A woman complained to the Press Complaints Commission that her identification, contrary to her instructions, as the author of a letter published in the Clevedon People in early 2011 had intruded into her privacy in breach of Clause 3 (Privacy). The Commission also considered the issues raised under Clause 14 (Confidential sources) of the Editors' Code of Practice.

Following a breach of Clause 3, the newspaper had taken sufficient remedial action. There was no breach of Clause 14 of the Code.

The complainant had sent the newspaper a letter for publication, by email, in which she discussed the future of a local wood. The email stated that her name and contact details should be withheld. However, in error, the complainant's name was published. The letter was signed "Name and address is supplied", in accordance with her request, but a stock photograph used to accompany the letter was captioned with an attributed quote from her. The complainant said that, in her rural community, the subject matter was sensitive and the newspaper's identification of her as the author of the letter had caused difficulties for her and her family and significant distress.

The newspaper explained that the publication of the complainant's name had been a production error and apologised to her in direct correspondence and again formally following the Commission's involvement. Upon request it took steps to ensure that the letter would not be republished in any form.

The complainant was concerned at the newspaper's initial delay in responding to her direct complaint and the manner in which it handled the complaint, which she did not consider to be in accordance with the spirit of the Code. She was also upset at its decision to write directly to her following her complaint to the Commission.

Sufficient remedial action offered


While the letter had been submitted expressly for publication and had set out the complainant's thoughts on the subject of general interest, it was evident that the newspaper was aware of the complainant's wish not to be identified as the writer of the letter. The publication of the complainant's name had been an unintentional error, and it had clearly caused considerable distress. In the Commission's view, greater care should have been taken to ensure that the complainant's name was not attached to the letter. In the particular circumstances of this case, the publication of the complainant's name demonstrated a failure to respect her private life. This raised a breach of Clause 3 of the Code.

However, following the complaint, the newspaper had taken a number of steps to remedy the situation insofar as it was possible to do so: it had removed the letter from its archive; it had made an undertaking not to republish it; and it had apologised formally to the complainant. The Commission decided that, while the breach of Clause 3 was clearly regrettable, the action taken by the newspaper represented a sufficient form of remedial action.

Given the nature of the issue, the Commission also wished to consider, of its own volition, whether the error represented a failure on the part of the newspaper to protect a confidential source in breach of Clause 14 (Confidential sources) of the Code. The Commission has previously upheld a complaint in relation to the publication, without consent, of the name of an individual who had submitted a letter for publication [A man v Oxford Mail, 2010].

In its view, there was a distinction to be drawn between the two cases. The complainant in the current case could not be considered a confidential source of information, or a ‘whistleblower'; rather, she had requested anonymity to express her position on a subject of general interest. Her letter did not reveal anything of a personal or confidential nature aside from her opinions, which she had specifically sought to publicise. Furthermore, on this occasion, there had been no implicit relationship entered into between the parties that was suggestive of an agreement about confidentiality (as there had been in the earlier case). The Commission could not establish any breach of Clause 14.

Relevant ruling:

A man v Oxford Mail (2010)

Date Published:

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