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Complainant Name:
A woman

Clauses Noted: 1, 3, 5, 12

Publication: The Daily Telegraph


A woman complained to the Press Complaints Commission, via her representative, that an article published in The Daily Telegraph on 24 July 2014, headlined "Mother drowned after row 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 it 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 included in the newspaper's report, which resulted in an unfair account of the proceedings. She also said that her partner had not made plans to meet friends at a hot tub shortly before her death, as the article claimed; the complainant had such plans, and she was not expecting her partner to arrive. She said that the article had belittled her relationship with her partner. This had caused her extreme distress and upset, as had the suggestion that she was at fault; this breached Clause 5. The complainant did not detail the grounds for her complaint under Clause 3 (Privacy).

The newspaper did not accept any breach of the Editors' Code; it said that the couple's sexual orientation had been noted at the inquest, and it had been made clear that the complainant's partner's family had experienced difficulties accepting the women's relationship. In the context of the report, it did not regard the point regarding the hot tub as significant; the article was not misleading regarding the primary facts laid out at the inquest. Lastly, it said that its article had not intruded into the complainant's privacy, and she had not been approached by the newspaper at any point.

Nonetheless, it acknowledged that the words "lesbian lover" were inappropriate in this context. Given the distress caused to the complainant, the newspaper offered to write her a private letter of apology. It also said that the newspaper's Compliance Department would be raising the issue of language regarding sexual orientation in feedback sessions with the editorial team.

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 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 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. 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.

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, 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 omission of details about the complainant's partner's relationship with her family from the report, which focused on the events that immediately preceded the death, was not significantly misleading. The Committee understood that the complainant denied that her partner had been missed after failing to show up to meet her in a hot tub. However, as it was established that the complainant had been using the hot tub with friends on the evening in question, the Committee did not conclude that there had been a significant inaccuracy in this regard, such that a correction was required under Clause 1 (ii) of the Code.

While the Committee noted that the complainant had cited Clause 3 of the Code, she had not specified her concerns in this regard. As such, it did not consider this aspect of the complaint further.

Date Published:

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