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Complainant Name:
A woman

Clauses Noted: 4

Publication: The Sunday Times


A woman complained to the Press Complaints Commission that The Sunday Times had harassed her in breach of Clause 4 (Harassment) of the Editors' Code of Practice in May 2013.

The complaint was upheld.

The complainant was the sister of a man who had been convicted of a high-profile murder. 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.

The newspaper apologised for approaching the complainant in May 2013, which it said had occurred due to an error by the newsdesk, which had failed to keep a record of PCC advisory notices. When the reporter had been informed that the complainant did not wish to comment, he had provided his contact details and left. The newspaper suggested that the PCC should have issued a reminder of the advisory notice at the end of the trial, when the press would be most likely to approach the family. Nonetheless, it had since created a centralised database to keep a record of the advisory notices issued by the PCC, and its newsdesk had also been instructed to keep a record.



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 newspaper's further approach to her was, in this context, entirely unjustified and amounted to a clear breach of Clause 4.

The Commission was deeply concerned that the newspaper had not been keeping a centralised record of the advisory notices issued by the PCC prior to this complaint. It regularly received such messages and should have had in place an effective system to keep a record of them. The newspaper's creation of such a database was an appropriate, albeit belated step. The Commission emphasised that it would expect the newspaper to ensure that it was readily accessible and well-known to staff to prevent a similar incident from recurring.

The complaint was upheld.

Relevant ruling:

Fortier v Sunday Mirror (2004)

Date Published:

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