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Complainant Name:
Two employees of RBS's Global Restructuring Group

Clauses Noted: 3, 10

Publication: The Daily Telegraph


Two employees of the Royal Bank of Scotland's Global Restructuring Group complained to the Press Complaints Commission that articles headlined "Listen: RBS team argue with small business holders in conference call" and "RBS, the fight for survival and a legacy of bitterness who cried foul", published on the website of The Daily Telegraph on 25 November 2013, intruded into their privacy in breach of Clause 3 (Privacy) of the Editors' Code of Practice and contained information obtained using subterfuge in breach of Clause 10 (Clandestine devices and subterfuge) of the Code.

The articles followed news that Vince Cable had passed a critical report regarding the practices of the Royal Bank of Scotland's Global Restructuring Group (GRG) to the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority. The articles focused on the experience of one company, Trihealth, after it had been placed under the control of the GRG. They were accompanied by recordings of a telephone conversation between Trihealth executives and the complainants, who were identified in the article by their full names and as employees of "GRG Manchester".

The complainants acknowledged that there was a public interest in the broader story but argued that the newspaper's decision to identify them intruded into their private lives without serving any public interest, particularly as there was no suggestion that they had been acting in a discreditable or unethical way. As a consequence of being identified they had suffered from stress and had to take time off work, and had also had to remove themselves from directories and other web resources. Their names had been published on a number of anti-bank "protest" websites and blogs, and they had received security advice about how to protect themselves and their families. They were concerned about the impact that this would have on their private and professional lives, and noted that other news outlets had chosen not to name them. They had not been informed that the conversation was being recorded or consented to its disclosure; they therefore asserted that the publication of the recording had breached Clause 10.

The newspaper noted the background to the article: the Tomlinson Report had specifically alleged potentially abusive actions by the GRG against small and medium-sized enterprises. While the Tomlinson Report had contained no references to named businesses and staff, in the newspaper's view Trihealth provided readers with a vivid example of the GRG's workings, from which they could form their own judgment of RBS's actions and the Tomlinson report. The newspaper denied that its report touched upon the private lives of the complainants. Rather, it showed them executing RBS policy in a professional capacity, and the report alleged no wrongdoing by them. In a report such as this, the public interest lay in favour of publishing the identities of the individuals concerned unless there was a compelling reason not to; redacting the names could have created an impression that the complainants had acted unethically or caused other employees of GRG Manchester to be identified wrongly as the people concerned. It had been reasonable to expect that the impact of publication would be minimal, and a judgment had been taken that it was not appropriate to withhold their identities.

The recording had not been commissioned or solicited by the newspaper; the company had contacted the newspaper only after the recording had been made. The recording of a telephone conversation in such circumstances was normal, proper, and to be expected.

The complainants said that whilst a participant to a telephone conversation was entitled to record the conversation without the consent of the other participants, consent was needed to publish such a recording or disclose it to a third party. The complainants considered the newspaper's interpretation of Clause 3 was too narrow: in arguing that the newspaper had not published any details about their private lives, it had failed to appreciate the significant effect that their identification had on their personal lives. The removal of the names would not have implied unethical behaviour; readers would have simply assumed the names were irrelevant.

Not Upheld


Clause 10 (Clandestine devices and subterfuge) regulates the means by which journalistic material can legitimately be obtained. In this case, there was no dispute that the initial making of the recording had been legitimate. Trihealth executives had not engaged in misrepresentation or subterfuge, and while they had recorded the call without the complainants' consent, they had not used a device as a means of obtaining information to which they were not otherwise entitled. Rather, they had recorded a conversation to which they were an identified participant. It could not, therefore, be reasonably said that the executives had used a "clandestine listening device" to obtain the recording. Further, it was accepted that it had been passed to the newspaper legitimately: Trihealth had freely supplied it, unsolicited. The manner in which the recording had been obtained was not contrary to the terms of the Code, and the newspaper's decision to publish it did not, therefore, raise a breach of Clause 10.

The complainants had not raised a complaint that the publication of the recording itself was intrusive. Rather, their concern specifically related to their identification by name as the employees who had been recorded. 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 central consideration here was the nature of the information revealed about the complainants by naming them as the members of the GRG Manchester team involved in the incident: the fact that they were employees of GRG Manchester, the fact that they had worked on the Trihealth Account, and the way in which they had handled the call with Trihealth. While the Commission sympathised with the complainants for the distress that they had been caused by subsequent events, it could not agree that the details disclosed amounted to private information about them, nor that the publication of the recording constituted a failure to respect their private lives under the terms of the Editors' Code of Practice.

The Commission noted finally that the complainants had complained in addition of a breach of the Data Protection Act 1998. It made clear that its role is to consider complaints framed under the Editors' Code of Practice; it could not comment further on this aspect of the complaint.

There was no breach of the Code.

Date Published:

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