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Photo complaint upheld by PCC

A photo of a 14-year-old boy at school was taken by a weekly newspaper without permission.

The move has led to a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission by the head teacher being upheld.

The complaint, under Clause Six of the editors’ Code of Practice – regarding children – was upheld against the Brecon and Radnor Express.

The Commission ruled that the picture, to illustrate a story “School calls in the cops”, was taken without the permission of the school authorities, which breached the code, despite the mother giving her permission.

A second complaint, of inaccuracy against the paper, was rejected.

The September article concerned the ongoing story of a 14-year-old pupil who had not been allowed to wear a non-uniform hooded top to school. His mother had objected to the school’s decision and police had been called to the school to deal with a disturbance.

Brecon High School head teacher Colin Eves said that the photo accompanying the article, which included the 14-year-old boy, was taken without permission from the school, although the pupil was at school at the time.

He said the caption was inaccurate, as police officers actually had been called to deal with a disturbance involving the boy’s mother and not to escort the boy back to class.

But the Express stated the picture had been taken with the permission of the boy’s mother and maintained that it had not been taken on school property.

It also felt that the picture was in the public interest.

But it clarified the caption by printing a subsequent correction.

The PCC ruling said: “Regarding the complaint that the picture had been published without the permission of the school authorities, the Commission noted that the newspaper’s justification rested on three contentions: that the pupil’s mother had given permission for the photograph, that it had been taken on public property and that it had been in the public interest.

“In this case, the Commission considered that it was clear from the evidence that the photograph had been taken at school and it was not in these circumstances for the mother to give consent. There was no permission from the school and consequently a breach of the Code had occurred.”

The Commission could not see how public interest was served by the photograph, which was “purely illustrative”.

It also decided the newspaper had provided a sufficient redress under the Code regarding the caption.

Mr Eves also complained about a number of other inaccuracies in the aforementioned article and two further articles headlined ‘Teacher forced asthma boy to remove top’ published on 20/09/01 and ‘Strict uniform code in place to help maintain good standards’ published on 27/09/01. His complaints included that the pupil was wearing his hooded top in the building and did not put it on to go outside; that the sweatshirt had not been ‘stored harmlessly in his bag'; that he had not been asked any questions by the boy’s mother and could not therefore have failed to give her an assurance that her son would be ‘taught normally’. However, the Commission did not feel that these inaccuracies and similar issues were so significant within the context of the article read as a whole as to raise a breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code, particularly as it would have been clear to readers that the articles were representing the views of the boy and his mother or the editor.

The head teacher also complained under Clause 4 of the Code that the journalist had harassed him and his staff for an interview. But the Commission did not consider from the evidence given that it could conclude that the Code had been breached.

Its ruling, however, added: “The Commission believed that it would have been better if this matter had been resolved amicably between the parties at an early stage and regretted the breakdown in relations that had caused this complaint to be made. It hoped that in the future good relations between the school and the paper could resume.”

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