Clauses Noted: 3
Publication: The Sun
Mr Chris Huhne and Ms Carina Trimingham complained to the Press Complaints Commission through solicitors that a photograph of Ms Trimingham published on the website and in the print edition of The Sun on 31 March, and a photograph of Mr Huhne published on the website and in the print edition of the newspaper on 1 April, along with the articles they accompanied, were in breach of Clause 3 (Privacy) of the Editors' Code of Practice.
The complaint was not upheld.
At the time of the photographs, Mr Huhne was serving a custodial sentence at HMP Leyhill, an open prison, following his conviction on one charge of perverting the course of justice.
On 31 March the newspaper had published an article headlined "Look who's been to cheer up Huhne", on its website and in its print edition, illustrated with a photograph of Ms Trimingham taken while she was visiting the prison. On the following day it had published an article headlined "Suits Huhne, sir" accompanied by a photograph of Mr Huhne walking in the grounds of HMP Leyhill. The photograph had also featured on the front page of the newspaper.
The complainants said that the photographs had been taken surreptitiously and without consent in places where they had a reasonable expectation of privacy; they estimated that the photographer had been standing at least 143 metres away to take the photograph of Mr Huhne. While the complainants acknowledged that he was a public figure, they denied that the publication of the photographs, which depicted him going about his daily activities in prison, could be justified in the public interest. The fact that another prisoner's face in the image had been obscured demonstrated that prisoners had an expectation of privacy. In the complainants' view, the newspaper's intention in publishing the images and the stories could only be to embarrass him. Similarly, there could be no public interest in taking and publishing the photograph of Ms Trimingham visiting her partner in prison; she should be able to make such visits without being concerned about the presence of photographers.
The newspaper said that photographs had been taken from public vantage points of two people at the centre of a high profile news story. It considered that it was in the public interest to show Mr Huhne was serving his sentence without any special treatment. Ms Trimingham had informed a reporter from the newspaper - who had contacted her regarding a different story - that she would be visiting Mr Huhne on that date. The photograph had been taken from a public road into the prison visitors' car park where a member of the public would have been able to see Ms Trimingham. The car park was not a private area - anyone could park there.
The photograph of Mr Huhne had also been taken from a public place where a member of the public would have the same view. The newspaper considered that if a member of the public could see the same thing from a public place, the newspaper should be able to publish. In such circumstances, it did not need the consent of the complainants to take and publish photographs of them. Although the photographer had used a 500 mm lens for clarity, the images could have been taken using a smaller lens and then simply enlarged. The newspaper had every right to report the behaviour of a high profile prisoner at an open prison, especially when a member of the public could do exactly the same. The other prisoner's face had been obscured only because the newspaper was unaware of his identity and could not, therefore, be sure there were no restrictions in place preventing the press photographing him.
The complainants' solicitor said Ms Trimingham had informed the reporter of her forthcoming visit only because she was correcting false information and offered to clarify the point with Mr Huhne at her next visit. It was not an invitation to be photographed at the prison. The size of the lens used by the photographer to take the photograph of Mr Huhne confirmed that it had been taken without his knowledge.
Clause 3 (Privacy) of the Editors' Code of Practice sets out that "it is unacceptable to photograph individuals in private places without their consent", defining private spaces as "public or private property where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy".
The parties agreed that the images had been taken, without consent, from public locations around the open prison. The complainants were in places where they were visible to other prisoners or visitors. Mr Huhne had been walking in the grounds of an open prison, bordered by a public footpath, without a security wall shielding him from sight. Ms Trimingham had been leaving the visitor centre and returning to the car park, which again was not obscured from members of the public using the footpath. The photographs had been taken from locations in which any member of the public could be positioned. . In these circumstances, the Commission could not agree that the locations in which the complainants had been photographed were private places for the purposes of Clause 3(iii) of the Editors' Code of Practice.
The terms of Clause 3 also make clear that everyone is entitled to respect for their "private and family life".
While the Commission acknowledged the complainants' position that the publication of the photographs was intended to embarrass them, Mr Huhne's trial, conviction and imprisonment - and the indirect but central role that his relationship with Ms Trimingham had played in the crime's coming to light - had been the subject of wide publicity. The information provided in the images included the location of Mr Huhne, the fact Ms Trimingham had visited him, and their appearances. His incarceration and the existence of their relationship were already matters well-established in the public domain. Although the Commission noted the complainants' position that to Ms Trimingham, visits to the prison were not an "innocuous" activity, the photograph of her taken near the prison's entrance simply showed her face and upper-body; this did not appear to pose any potential intrusion into her private life. Neither the photographs nor the articles revealed any additional information about the complainants or their relationship which was intrinsically private. The Commission concluded that the publication of the material did not represent an intrusion into the complainants' private lives.
The complaint was not upheld.
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