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Weekly rapped for publishing adopted child photo

A weekly newspaper has been rapped after publishing a photo of an adopted child without the consent of its parents.

Carmarthenshire County Council complained to the Press Complaints Commission on behalf of a couple about an article published in the South Wales Guardian on 4 August last year headlined “My Maxine is not evil – mum”.

They said the article contained a photo of their adopted child without their consent, in breach of Clause 6 (Children) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.

The article was an interview with the mother of Maxine Williams, who had been convicted of murder in 2008 and she spoke about her daughter’s appeal and the adoption of her daughter’s child as a result of the conviction.

It included a photograph of Ms Williams with the child, who was also named, taken when she was around 13 months old.

The adoptive parents of the child, who was three-years-old at the time of publication, said they had not given consent for the photo to be used and had only been made aware of it when a third party had alerted them after identifying their child from the article.

They said the publication of the article had caused distress and they were concerned about the future effect of publication on the child.

In response, the newspaper said the use of the photo had been authorised by the child’s biological mother and grandmother, the consequences of the crime were proper objects of public scrutiny, and the information about the child had not been unduly intrusive.

The newspaper offered to consult the complainants before republishing the child’s picture until she reached the age of 16 but the parents wanted an assurance that her name and photo would not ever be republished.

In its adjudication, the PCC agreed the paper had been entitled to present the views of the child’s grandmother on the subject of her removal from the family’s care and the publication of her previous name was not intrusive.

But it said the publication of the photo had breached Clause 6 (ii) of the Editors’ Code, which states a child must not be interviewed or photographed on issues involving their welfare unless a custodial parent or similarly responsible adult consents.

The Commission said the photo clearly involved the welfare of the child and consent had not been obtained from the custodial parents.

It added there was no exceptional public interest to justify such a breach of the code.

PCC director Stephen Abell said: “The Editors’ Code correctly goes to exceptional lengths to safeguard children and provides them with strong protection from intrusive attention.

“A breach of the Code such as this would require an exceptional public interest to override the normally paramount interests of the child.

“In this case, the Commission did not consider that there were exceptional public interest grounds specifically to justify the publication of the picture (even though it did recognise there was a general public interest in the story). The complaint was upheld as a result.”