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Complainant Name:
A man

Clauses Noted: 1, 3

Publication: The Sunday Times


A man complained to the Press Complaints Commission that an article headlined "Farm inspector sacked after anti-cull tweets", published in The Sunday Times on 29 September 2013, intruded into his private life in breach of Clause 3 (Privacy) and was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors' Code of Practice.

The complaint was not upheld.

The article reported that a Government farm inspector had lost her job following a complaint from the National Farmers' Union (NFU) over critical comments she had tweeted about the badger cull. It said that it had emerged during her disciplinary hearing that many of these comments responded to tweets directed at her by a supporter of the badger cull, who used the name "Yokel Peasant" and the Twitter handle "@rantingratman"; the inspector complained he had "provoked" her. The newspaper identified the complainant as the author of the @rantingratman tweets, and noted that he lived near the border of two (named) English counties and worked in pest control.

The complainant said that his name and address were not available on his Twitter profile, so the newspaper's decision to identify him intruded into his private life and put him and his family at risk of reprisals from anti-cull activists. He complained further that the article had incorrectly implied that he was responsible for the inspector's sacking, when in fact she had commented on the cull previously and continued to do so; he was not responsible for her breaching the Civil Service code. The newspaper should have obtained his comments before publication.

The newspaper denied that it had intruded into the complainant's privacy. It said a simple internet search identified @rantingratman as the complainant: one web page listed the complainant's "best tweets", identifying him by his full name and Twitter handle, and a second included a testimonial attributed to the complainant using both his real name and his Twitter handle. A further search revealed his address. During the exchange between the complainant and the former farm inspector, she had referred to him by his first name, and the complainant had asked whether she still worked "for my former employer", disclosing that they were "old colleagues from my [Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food] days". The newspaper said it had made efforts to contact the complainant before publication, but had been unsuccessful. The article had not implied that the complainant was responsible for the farm inspector losing her job; he had been mentioned only to explain the context of her tweets.

The complainant denied that he was not entitled to privacy because his name and Twitter account could be linked through a web search: the newspaper had broadcast his identity to a far larger audience than would have undertaken such a search themselves. While he had previously included his first name in his Twitter profile, he had never disclosed his surname. He denied that the newspaper had attempted to contact him about the story before publication.

Not Upheld


Under the terms of Clause 3 (Privacy), "everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence, including digital communications". The Code also notes that "the PCC will consider the extent to which material is already in the public domain, or will become so". The complainant's tweets were in the public domain, and the complainant had not objected to the fact that the newspaper had referred to them. Rather, the issue was whether the newspaper's identification of him as the author of the material constituted an intrusion into his private life.

The primary consideration here was the nature of the material. The Commission did not consider that the complainant's views on the cull constituted private information. The Commission further noted that material freely obtainable through a simple search revealed his identity as the author of the comments, and that he had referred on Twitter to details of his professional background and current work that were likely to contribute to his identification. In these circumstances, he did not retain a reasonable expectation of privacy as the author of the material, and identifying him did not constitute a failure to respect his private life. Similarly, the references to the broad geographical area in which he lived and his profession - which was cited in his Twitter profile - did not raise a breach of Clause 3.

Further, the article was not significantly inaccurate or misleading. The complainant had not denied participating in the exchange, and he was not in a position to deny that the farm inspector had claimed to be "provoked" by it at the hearing. The article had not suggested the complainant had otherwise been involved in the disciplinary hearing, nor had it implied any wrongdoing by the complainant, given that the concerns regarding the inspector's actions related entirely to their appropriateness given her professional role, which was very different from the complainant's own. In these circumstances, the newspaper had not been obliged to obtain the complainant's comments before publication, and there had not been a failure to take care not to publish inaccurate or misleading information. The complaint was not upheld.

Date Published:

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