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Complainant Name:
A woman

Clauses Noted: 10, 16

Publication: Sunday Mail


A woman complained to the Press Complaints Commission that the Sunday Mail had published information obtained in breach of Clause 10 (Clandestine devices and subterfuge) and Clause 16 (Payment to criminals) of the Editors' Code of Practice, in an article headlined "Explosive dossier reveals how evil killer William Beggs runs the show at jail branded Monsters' Mansion", published on 1 August 2010.

The complaint was not upheld.

The article reported concerns that conditions within HMP Peterhead for convicted sex offenders were undermining efforts to rehabilitate inmates, based on a number of photographs of life inside the prison that had apparently been obtained using a hidden camera. Because the complaint was delayed, the Commission formally considered the matter in relation to the online version of the article only.

The complainant was the wife of an officer at HMP Peterhead who believed that he had unwittingly allowed the camera to be smuggled into and out of the prison. Shortly after the publication of the article, he had taken his own life. The complainant said a convicted criminal had received payment for the photographs and that the story had glamorised the prison inmates' lifestyles. The complainant also said that the clandestine nature of the images published would have been apparent to the Editor, and that it had not been necessary to publish them in order to demonstrate the seriousness of the concerns raised by the article.

The newspaper had initially argued that the Commission should not consider the complaint under Clause 10, as the complainant was not the subject of any of the photographs. The Commission had ruled as a procedural matter, during the course of the complaint, that it was appropriate to proceed with investigation and consideration of the complaint, including under Clause 10.

The newspaper did not accept any breach of the Code. It acknowledged that the photographs had apparently been taken without the knowledge of their subjects but took the view that their publication was fully justified by the public interest in the story. It explained that the photographs had been offered, unsolicited, by an anonymous source from outside the prison; it had not commissioned the images or provided the camera. A payment had been made to the source who had provided the images, but it emphasised that it had not agreed that any money would be paid to a convicted criminal. In any case, it did not accept that its coverage had exploited or glamorised crime; it had exposed failings within the prison service.

The newspaper noted that concerns had been raised about conditions in the prison prior to publication of the article, including about the use of prison facilities by inmates to make "spurious" legal complaints; the relationship between officers and inmates; and the effectiveness of the prison's Sex Offender Treatment Programme. The images showed prisoners' access to violent and sexually explicit DVDs and the presence of pornography, which had been criticised by a criminologist as undermining its aims to rehabilitate offenders. Similar criticism had been made by Members of the Scottish Parliament, and by relatives of victims. As such, the newspaper considered that there was an overwhelming public interest in the publication of this information, which would justify the use of a hidden camera, or any payment to a criminal or their associate.

Not Upheld


Under the terms of Clause 16, "payment, or offers of payment for stories, pictures or information, which seek to exploit a particular crime or to glorify or glamorise crime in general, must not be made directly or via agents to convicted or confessed criminals or to their associates - who may include family, friends and colleagues".

The Commission sympathised with the complainant's position, in light of the tragic loss of her husband following the publication of the article. Nonetheless, the coverage had publicised genuine and serious concerns about conditions at the prison and had led to widespread comment, including by Scottish Parliamentarians. It had not glamorised or exploited crime, and as such, there was no breach of Clause 16. The Commission took the opportunity to note, however, that had the pictures sought to exploit a specific crime, or to glorify crime in general, the publication would have been obliged to demonstrate fully its compliance with Clause 16 - an obligation that extends to all external contributors, including non-journalists.

Clause 10 states that the press "must not seek to obtain or publish material acquired by using hidden cameras". The Commission was satisfied that the photographs had been obtained through the use of a clandestine device, and indeed this was not seriously disputed by the newspaper. While the Commission acknowledged the newspaper's position that they had been supplied, unsolicited, their evident provenance meant that the newspaper had been obliged to demonstrate that publication was justified by a sufficient public interest.

The concerns highlighted by this article had informed an important debate about the treatment of sex offenders in the criminal justice system generally and at HMP Peterhead. The article had presented the views of an expert, David Wilson, as well as those of politicians and relatives of victims, which had been informed by the clandestinely obtained material. Such material was potentially relevant to concerns about public health and safety, and its publication - by furthering this debate - also served the public interest in freedom of expression itself. While the Commission noted the complainant's position that the article could have appeared without the photographs, it took the view that their publication had made a specific contribution: they clearly illustrated the nature of the concerns and the atmosphere within the prison.

The complaints under Clause 10 and Clause 16 were not upheld.

Date Published:

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