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Complainant Name:
A woman

Clauses Noted: 3, 6

Publication: Hemel Hempstead Gazette


A woman complained to the Press Complaints Commission that an article published by the Hemel Hempstead Gazette had breached Clause 6 (Children) and Clause 3 (Privacy) of the Editors' Code of Practice.

The complaint was not upheld.

The item under complaint was a brief court report of the complainant's conviction for failing to send her child to school regularly, which stated the complainant's name, age, partial address and the time period to which her offence related. The complaint was received more than 2 months after the publication of the article (which was not published on the newspaper's website) but the Commission agreed, as an initial matter, to waive its rules on delayed complaints in this instance.

The complainant said that the report had effectively identified her son. She considered that this had constituted an unnecessary intrusion into his time at school in breach of Clause 6 (Children) of the Editors' Code of Practice. She noted that a reporting restriction had been imposed on the case under section 39 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933, requiring that "no newspaper report of the proceedings [should] reveal the name, address or school, or include any particulars calculated to lead to the identification" of the complainant's son. The complainant had applied for the order because of concerns about her son's relationship with his father. The complainant explained that her son suffered from anxiety, and that his condition had been aggravated when they had learned about the publication of the item, from her son's father, about a month after it had been published. The complainant had contacted the police regarding her belief that the report had breached the reporting restriction and had been referred to the PCC.

The newspaper did not accept that Clause 6 had been engaged and pointed out that neither the child nor the school was identified in the report; nor had it detailed the complainant's family circumstances. It noted that it had received no complaint about the matter until it was contacted by the PCC months after the publication of the item. It acknowledged that it had been unaware of the reporting restriction and said this was due to "regrettable human error" by its reporter. Because of the delay, the newspaper had found it difficult to establish the reasons for this oversight, but it had reminded its staff of the importance of caution when handling court cases involving children.

Not Upheld


The imposition of reporting restrictions is relevant, in some instances, to the Commission's consideration of complaints under the Editors' Code of Practice about press coverage of legal proceedings; the fact that information heard in court was covered by a reporting restriction may provide support for a complaint that its publication was intrusive. Nonetheless, the Commission has no remit to establish breaches of court orders.

The complainant's explanation of why she had applied for reporting restrictions to be imposed in this instance was relevant to the Commission's consideration of her complaint, in that it demonstrated why she had concerns about the publication of identifying information about her in connection with the prosecution. However, the existence of the order was not decisive, particularly as the appropriate authorities had not pursued the matter despite having been alerted to the complainant's concerns - although the Commission noted that, should relevant information come to light as a result of any proceedings in relation to the order, it would be willing to consider reviewing this further.

The terms of Clause 6 (Children) state that "young people should be free to complete their time at school without unnecessary intrusion". Under Clause 3(ii) (Privacy), "editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual's private life without consent".

The complainant's concern for her son's position was understandable, and the Commission emphasised its alarm at the newspaper's admission that it had overlooked the reporting restrictions on the case. Nonetheless, it concluded, on balance, that there was no breach of the Code in this instance, for the following reasons.

First, the article had included limited information about the complainant, merely identifying her and noting the nature of her offence. Although her child had been identifiable by virtue of his connection to her, no direct reference to him had been made and no details about him had been published. Second, the complainant and her son had been unaware of the publication of the report until around a month after it had appeared in the newspaper's print edition; it had not been published online. While the complainant said that learning of the publication of the item had caused a return of her son's anxiety about the case, she had not provided further detail of any impact on him or his time at school.

While any upset caused to the complainant's son was to be regretted, the Commission was not able to establish that it had intruded into his family life or time at school in a manner that breached the Code. Given that the newspaper had simply reported the outcome of a criminal trial, the Commission was not of the view that the publication of the complainant's identity had been either unnecessary or unjustified. This was particularly the case in view of the vital role that local newspapers fulfil in covering court proceedings which might otherwise go unreported.

The complaint was not upheld.

Date Published:

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