Clauses Noted: 3
Publication: Ross-shire Journal
Mr and Mrs L Matheson complained through solicitors Middleton Ross & Arnot of Dingwall, Ross-shire that a court report in the Ross-shire Journal on 9 January 1998 headlined "Conon driver beaten up at traffic lights" included their full address in breach of Clause 3 (Privacy) of the Code.
The complainants appeared as witnesses in an assault trial and were quoted in the piece speaking out on behalf of one of the drivers involved the incident. The newspaper report contained the complainants' full address which they considered had made them vulnerable to intimidation, and indeed their car had been vandalised.
The editor responded to the complaint by explaining his newspaper's policy to print full names and addresses given in court, provided there is no contrary direction from the sheriff. In the present case all who were present on the day would have heard the complainants' address and the sheriff made no direction. The editor also explained that in an area where Highland clan names are common, if a full address is not given then confusion can arise over identification of the person mentioned. Further, the town in which the complainants live and where the trial took place has a small population: their house would therefore be easy to locate in any event.
In this case, the information was clearly in the public domain and the editor was legally entitled to publish it. The requirements of the Code, however, mean that the vulnerability of those involved to increased risk and whether the publication of an address was intrusive - a point not covered by the law - should also have been considered.
That said, the Commission believed that there was in this instance no breach of the Code. It is the accepted and usual practice of some local and regional newspapers to carry at least the street name of people involved in a trial, which can avoid confusing two people of the same name. Furthermore in some local communities - such as this one - the location of someone's home can be easy to find, although that is not in itself a sufficient defence under the Code. The detail was not therefore intrusive and there was no evidence that those involved had been subjected to increased risk to which their appearance in Court had not exposed them in the first place.
The complaint was therefore not upheld.
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