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Complainant Name:
A woman

Clauses Noted: 1, 3, 5, 12

Publication: Stroud News & Journal


A woman complained to the Press Complaints Commission, via her representative, that an article published on the website of the Stroud News & Journal on 25 July 2014, headlined "Wedding guest drowned after tiff with lesbian lover", had made discriminatory and irrelevant references to her sexuality and that of her partner, in breach of Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors' Code of Practice; was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy); had intruded into her grief in breach of Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock); and intruded into her privacy in breach of Clause 3 (Privacy). 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 article was a report 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 article's headline. 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 the article 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 not been given equal weight in the newspaper's report, so as to give a fair account of proceedings. 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 complainant had contacted the newspaper directly about her concerns prior to complaining to the PCC. The newspaper had immediately apologised for the headline use of the word "lesbian" and had amended the headline to "Wedding guest drowned after tiff with partner". The newspaper said that, in hindsight, it could see that the reference to the complainant's partner's sexuality had been unnecessary, and it understood why it had caused the complainant distress. It had now made clear to staff that such references were unacceptable. It apologised for the distress the reference had caused to the complainant, and wrote her a private letter of apology.

The newspaper did not believe that its article was inaccurate. It was not disputed that there had been an argument between the complainant and her partner, after which the complainant had died. It had not intruded into the complainant's privacy, or attempted to contact her.

Not Upheld


The article was a report 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 article 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 her partner was 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 article under complaint was a summary of 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 headline, which tended towards being salacious in tone. 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 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, after which the complainant's partner had tragically died. 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 article had included excerpts from the complainant's statement to the inquest, which said that "the argument was literally a very small one". It had also noted the complainant's partner's father's statement that she had "left the family unit" and they "saw little of each other". The Committee was satisfied that the article had not misrepresented what had been heard at the inquest, in the manner identified by the complainant. There was no breach of Clause 1.

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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