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Complainant Name:
Gary and Danielle Lineker

Clauses Noted: 3, 4

Publication: The Sun


Gary and Danielle Lineker complained to the Press Complaints Commission through their legal representatives that The Sun breached Clause 3 (Privacy) and Clause 4 (Harassment) of the Editors' Code of Practice in the course of investigating a story for possible publication.

The complaint was not upheld.

On 18 January 2013, Mr Lineker tweeted to his 1.3 million Twitter followers that he was leaving the site "for personal reasons". The following day, the newspaper contacted Mr Lineker's agent regarding a claim that his departure had been prompted by an allegation about his private life. Mr Lineker's agent refused to confirm or deny the claim. Representatives of the newspaper subsequently made further attempts to verify the allegation by contacting relatives, neighbours of the couple, and others, before deciding not to proceed with publication.

The complainants denied the allegation and did not accept that there was any possible public interest in investigating or publishing it, even had it been true. The complainants contended that the investigation, including the newspaper's contact with their representatives, friends, relatives and neighbours, had been intrusive in breach of Clause 3 and constituted harassment in breach of Clause 4. They noted that Mr Lineker's agent had made clear, at the first opportunity, that neither he nor his client would comment, and argued that the newspaper's decision to disregard express requests to stop contacting third parties about the matter amounted to harassment under Clause 4. The complainants contended further that the disclosure of the allegation to third parties amounted to a breach of Clause 3.

The newspaper explained that it had received a "tip" that Mr Lineker had left Twitter because of the allegation. It considered that there was a public interest in pursuing the story and sent a reporter to the complainants' home to seek their comment. Having received no response, the newspaper had contacted Mr Lineker's agent, who declined to comment. The reporter had then approached the complainants' neighbours, explaining that he wished to contact Mr Lineker about his decision to leave Twitter.

Later the same day, the newspaper also approached Mrs Lineker's step-father, who denied knowledge of the claim; the BBC press office; and Mr Lineker, personally. The BBC and Mr Lineker both said that Mr Lineker had left the social media site because it had been "taking up too much of his time". The newspaper also contacted another individual, who the newspaper understood might have had firsthand knowledge of the situation, who declined to provide further information. Shortly after the approach to Mr Lineker, his agent contacted the newspaper and accused its representatives of "harassing family members and people at their homes".

Several days later, the newspaper became aware of the identity of a further five individuals who might have been able to comment. The newspaper contacted one of the individuals at their home. The individual spoke briefly to the reporter, but did not confirm the truth of the allegation. The following day, despite a request by the complainants' representatives to desist from contacting their clients or third parties about the allegation, the reporter returned to the same individual's property and was told by a relative that the individual did not wish to comment further. The other four individuals contacted by the newspaper refused to comment. No further approaches were made and no article was published by the newspaper.

The newspaper did not accept that in making the enquiries, it had disclosed private information to any party or that it had otherwise breached the Code, and it did not consider that it was required to demonstrate any public interest in its enquiries. Mr Lineker's decision to leave Twitter, including his reasons for doing so, was a matter of interest to its readers and had caused comment elsewhere; it was entitled to investigate the matter further. Mrs Lineker, it contended, had forged a lucrative career as a direct result of her marriage, and the couple had given a number of interviews which placed their private lives in the public domain. The newspaper also noted that the Code recognises a public interest in preventing the public from being misled; it suggested that the explanations provided for Mr Lineker's decision to leave Twitter appeared to be contradictory.

The newspaper denied that it had harassed any of the individuals it had contacted and noted that no individual, other than the complainants, had complained. The newspaper said that the only direct contact with the complainants consisted of a call to the family home and an approach to Mr Lineker outside the BBC studios. Following the agent's call to the newspaper raising concerns about harassment, no further approaches had been made to the complainants.

The complainants said that the newspaper simply wished to satisfy the interests of its readership rather than contribute to any public debate. No false image of the complainants' private life had been projected that needed to be "exposed". The complainants had referred in published interviews to their personal lives only in general terms and had never disclosed details of their private lives. In any event, any decision by the couple to speak about an aspect of their lives publicly would not mean that they had permanently waived all rights to privacy in relation to that aspect.

Not Upheld


Over the period when the newspaper had conducted its enquiries, the complainants had faced the prospect that an allegation which they considered to be both false and highly intrusive might be published by the newspaper to its large readership. When such a sensitive story is involved, the investigative process, by its very nature, has the potential to cause significant distress. The Commission bore this in mind during its consideration of the complaint, which raised two principal issues: whether the newspaper's decision to pursue the story in itself raised a breach of the Editors' Code; and whether the methods employed by the newspaper had complied with the terms of the Code.

The Commission noted that the newspaper had sought to argue only that a potential, rather than an actual, public interest in publication existed. Had the allegation been true, the newspaper might have been entitled to report this fact in circumstances where the complainants had previously commented publicly about their private lives, although the Commission noted the complainants' position that they had not spoken about their private lives in detail. The Commission noted the complainants' concerns about the newspaper's putting the allegation to a number of third parties as part of the investigation. While the allegation was of a personal nature, the Commission was reluctant to restrict the freedom of journalists to conduct enquiries undertaken in order to investigate the veracity of an allegation and to assess whether a sufficient public interest justified publication. In all the circumstances, the newspaper's enquiries into the allegation did not raise a breach of Clause 3. The Commission emphasised, however, that its decision would not constrain its consideration of a future complaint, should a story about the allegation be published, either by The Sun or by another publication.

The Commission next considered the actions of the newspaper's representatives in light of the terms of Clause 4 (Harassment). The complainants had not themselves been the subject of repeated approaches by the newspaper's journalists. Rather, they were aggrieved at the newspaper's continued pursuit of the story, despite requests for it to cease its enquiries.

The Commission noted that each individual had been contacted on only one occasion with the exception of Mr Lineker's agent, who had been telephoned twice, and the individual whose home had been visited on two occasions. (The Commission had received no complaint from either of these parties.) While accepting that there might be instances where contact with third parties may contribute to a finding of harassment under Clause 4, the Commission could not conclude that there was evidence for such a finding in this case, given the nature and duration of the contact. There was no breach of Clause 4 of the Code.

Relevant rulings:

A man v Daily Mail (2012)

Freeth Cartwright Hunt Dickens on behalf of Melanie Douglas v Sunday Mercury (1997)

Date Published:

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