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Complainant Name:
A woman

Clauses Noted: 1, 3, 5, 12

Publication: Swindon Advertiser


A woman complained to the Press Complaints Commission, via her representative, that three articles published by the Swindon Advertiser were discriminatory in breach of Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors' Code of Practice. She also said that they were inaccurate and misleading in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy), intruded into her privacy in breach of Clause 3 (Privacy), and intruded into her grief following the death of her partner in breach of Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock). The first two articles, both headlined "Swindon woman drowned after tiff with lesbian lover", had been published on 23 July 2014 on the newspaper's websites ( and On 24 July 2014, a further article, headlined "Woman's death was a tragic accident" was published in the newspaper's print edition. The complaint was on-going as of 8 September 2014, at the time of the closure of the PCC. It was therefore considered by the Complaints Committee of the Independent Press Standards Organisation in accordance with the procedures of the PCC.

The complaint was not upheld.

The articles were reports of an inquest into the death of the complainant's partner. Her partner had drowned in a river following a wedding reception which she had attended with the complainant; the verdict was accidental death.

The primary focus of the complainant's concern was the online articles' headlines. She said that it was irrelevant that her partner was a "lesbian", and that the use of the word "lovers" was sensationalist and derogatory; this breached Clause 12. Further, she believed that they implied, inaccurately, that a minor argument she had had with her partner shortly before the incident was the reason her partner had walked to the riverside while intoxicated, leading to her death. She said that her partner had been deeply upset by her family's reaction to her sexuality, and in particular noted a recent argument which had troubled her further. She said that this had been heard at the inquest, but not been given equal weight in the newspaper's reports, so as to give a fair account of proceedings. She also said that she had not been involved in the argument outside the courtroom. She said that the article had belittled her relationship with her life partner. This had caused her extreme distress and upset, as had the suggestion that she was at fault; this breached Clause 5. The complainant was also concerned about the inclusion of her partial address, in breach of Clause 3 (Privacy).

The newspaper did not accept that its article had breached the Code. It said that it had removed the overt references to the complainant's sexuality when it had been contacted by her directly, prior to the complaint being lodged with the PCC. It said that the articles had put the argument between the complainant and her partner into context, and made reference to the difficulties the complainant's partner had been experiencing with her family. It also said that the reporter said that he had witnessed an argument after the inquest but that, given that this was now disputed, it had removed it from the online article.

Nonetheless, it acknowledged the distress caused to the complainant by the articles, and offered to write her a private letter apologising for the references to her partner's sexuality.

Not Upheld


The articles were reports of inquest proceedings, at which the complainant had given evidence discussing the difficulties her partner had been experiencing with her family due to her relationship, and the inquest had heard that the couple had been together on the night of her partner's death. The fact that the complainant was in a same-sex relationship was, therefore, a matter of public record. The newspaper was entitled, under the principle of open justice and the Editors' Code of Practice, to report on it.

The Committee had great sympathy for the complainant's distress that the online articles had highlighted their sexual orientation so prominently. However, Clause 12 (ii) does not impose requirements about the manner in which information relating to a person's sexual orientation is presented in an article; it instead restricts the circumstances in which such details can be included, to those times in which it is "genuinely relevant to the story". The fact that the complainant and her partner were in a same-sex relationship had formed part of the evidence heard at the inquest, and its relevance was therefore established beyond doubt.

Clause 12 (i) states that the press "must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's...sexual orientation" and the Committee recognised the complainant's concern that the phrase "lesbian lovers" could be seen to belittle her relationship with her partner. However, it was not satisfied that the manner in which the phrase was used had been prejudicial, or that the reference could be said to be pejorative of the complainant's sexual orientation. The complaint under Clause 12 was not upheld.

The Committee then moved to consider the complaint under Clause 5. The terms of Clause 5 (i) require that publication is handled "sensitively", while expressly allowing newspapers the freedom to report court proceedings. The articles under complaint summarised the inquest proceedings, and had not included any details that had not been heard in court. The Committee expressed significant concern regarding the use of the phrase "lesbian lover" in the headlines of the online articles, which tended towards being salacious in tone. However, where the relevance of the relationship to the proceedings had already been established, on balance the Committee concluded that there was no breach of Clause 5. Nonetheless, it welcomed the fact that the newspaper had acknowledged the complainant's concerns and made efforts to remedy the situation promptly, when contacted by her shortly after publication.

Clause 1 (i) of the Code states that "the press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures", and requires that significant inaccuracies are "corrected, promptly and with due prominence".

It was accepted that the complainant had had a minor argument with her partner shortly before her death. The Committee sympathised with the complainant's sensitivity to any potential suggestion that the argument had led to the death. However, it was accepted that the headlines accurately represented the sequence of events on the night in question. Further, the articles had made clear that the complainant had mentioned in her statement that her partner had been experiencing problems with her family, and the Committee was satisfied that the omission of further detail on this point had not been significantly misleading. Two of the articles had mentioned that the complainant's partner's father and family had "clashed angrily" with the complainant after the inquest. It was accepted that an argument had taken place among a number of people attending the inquest - although the complainant said that she was not involved - and its subject was not disputed. Further, the complainant said that she had spoken about her partner's disagreements with her family in her evidence. On balance, the Committee concluded that this was not a significant inaccuracy which would require correction under Clause 1 (ii) of the Code. Nonetheless, in light of the complainant's position, the Committee welcomed the newspaper's removal of the reference from the online article.

Lastly, the Committee considered the complainant's concerns about the publication of her partial address. It made clear that newspapers often publish full or partial addresses as a means of distinguishing people of the same or similar names. In the circumstances, the complainant's partial address could not reasonably be considered to be private; there was no breach of Clause 3.

Date Published:

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