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Complainant Name:
A woman

Clauses Noted: 4, 9

Publication: The Mail on Sunday


A woman complained to the Press Complaints Commission that the Mail on Sunday had harassed her in breach of Clause 4 (Harassment) of the Editors' Code of Practice in May 2013, and had published an article which identified her and her brother in breach of Clause 9 (Reporting of Crime) of the Code in June 2013.

The complaint was upheld.

One of the complainant's two brothers was convicted of a high-profile murder. (He was not a party to this complaint). Her father had contacted the PCC in October 2012 and again in January 2013 raising concerns about approaches by journalists to his family. On each occasion a private advisory notice had been circulated by the PCC explaining that the family - including the complainant - would not be speaking to the press and did not wish to be contacted by journalists. Nonetheless, in May 2013 the newspaper had sent a reporter to the complainant's home requesting her comment, causing her significant distress.

In June 2013 the newspaper published a feature about the complainant's brother and his crime. It included the complainant's first name, her marital status, the number of children she had, and her occupation, as well as the first name and age of her innocent brother. The complainant said that they were both irrelevant to the conviction and should not have been named in the article.

The newspaper apologised at the first opportunity for approaching the complainant in May 2013; it explained that a member of staff had failed to check its internal record of PCC advisory notices. It noted that people occasionally changed their minds about talking to the press. It also said the case had been an important one; it had been keen to explain the background to its readers; and its reporter had behaved courteously and professionally. Nonetheless, it had reviewed and altered its procedures for handling PCC advisory notices following the incident.

The newspaper did not accept any breach of Clause 9 (Reporting of crime). It denied that the article had identified the complainant, because it had not included her married name or stated where she lived. It had also included very limited information about the complainant's innocent brother. In any case, it believed that there was a public interest in discussing the possible causes of such a crime, which could include the family background of the criminal.

The complainant said that had she decided to speak to the newspaper, she could have contacted them herself. The newspaper's actions had been very upsetting and lessons needed to be learnt from her ordeal.



Under the terms of Clause 4 (Harassment) of the Editors' Code, journalists must not persist in questioning, telephoning, pursuing or photographing individuals once asked to desist. The Commission has made clear that it does not assume that a request to desist lasts indefinitely, and that circumstances can change such that a renewed approach may be justified. In this instance, however, the newspaper had twice been made aware that the complainant would "under no circumstances" comment on her brother's crime and did not wish to be approached by any members of the press. The further approach to her was, in this context, entirely unjustified and raised a clear breach of Clause 4. The Commission welcomed the newspaper's alteration of its procedures in regard to private advisory notices issued by the PCC and expected that such an error would not recur.

Clause 9 (Reporting of Crime) states that "relatives or friends of persons convicted or accused of crime should not generally be identified without their consent, unless they are genuinely relevant to the story". While the coverage had not noted the complainant's surname or the area in which she lived, the Commission was strongly of the view that the details included were sufficient to identify her and her innocent brother. While her family background might bear some relevance to her brother's crimes and was therefore potentially of public interest, the identifying details about the complainant did not contribute to this. This was a further breach of the Code.

Relevant ruling:

Fortier v Sunday Mirror (2004)

Date Published:

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