A weekly newspaper has been rapped after harassing and identifying the sister of a convicted murderer.
The Commission had upheld the woman’s complaint but editor Glenn Ebrey has hit out at its ruling, saying he is “extremely disappointed” by it.
The complainant was the sister of a man who had been convicted of a high-profile murder and her father had contacted the PCC in October last year and again in January, raising concerns about approaches by journalists to his family.
On each occasion, a private advisory notice had been sent out by the PCC explaining that the family, including the complainant, would not be speaking to the press and did not want to be contacted by journalists.
However, in June the Advertiser had sent a reporter to the complainant’s home and was informed by her partner that she was not available and did not want to comment.
The same month, the paper published a feature about the woman’s brother, who had been convicted of murder, and included her first name and the town in which she lived.
The complainant said that she was irrelevant to the crime and should not have been named in the article.
In responding to the complaint, the paper apologised for any upset caused by the approach to the woman’s home, saying it had received but not registered the advisory notices issued by the PCC, and it had not disregarded the family’s request deliberately.
When informed that the complainant did not wish to comment, the reporter had left immediately and had not returned.
The paper acknowledged that the woman did not deserve to be associated with her brother’s crimes but noted that the article had been a feature about his background and the fact the complainant still lived in the area made her relevant in that context. It added that it had not revealed the area of the town in which she lived.
The PCC upheld the woman’s complaint and said the paper had breached Clause 4 (Harassment) and Clause 9 (Reporting of Crime) of the Editors’ Code.
The Commission said that journalists must not persist in questioning, telephoning, pursuing or photographing individuals once asked to desist.
The paper had twice been informed that the complainant would “under no circumstances” comment on her brother’s crime and that she did not wish to be approached by any members of the press, so the approach to her home was unjustified.
Clause 9 about reporting of crime states that relatives or friends of people convicted or accused of crime should not generally be identified without their consent unless they are genuinely relevant to the story.
The Commission said that, in its view, the article had clearly identified the woman and she was an innocent party, irrelevant to her brother’s conviction. It said no public interest was served by publicly associating her with his crime.
Following the ruling, editor Glenn Ebrey told HTFP: “To say I’m extremely disappointed by the PCC adjudication is an understatement. Our reporter made one, single visit to the property and didn’t have any contact at all with the complainant.
“She was told by a third party that the complainant wasn’t at home and did not want to comment, at which point she left straight away. No other attempts were made to contact the complainant.
“Quite how this constitutes harassment by our reporter, I’m not entirely sure. I fear have been lumped in with some of the national papers, who did make more persistent attempts to contact the complainant.
“As for being relevant to the story? The piece was a backgrounder on a murderer’s early life and remaining links to our area. One, single line still saying a relative lives in Croydon is completely relevant in this context.
“We did not publish her address or even the part of Croydon she lives in – we merely narrowed it down to say she still lives in a town of 365,000 people.
“We, of course, abided by the judgement of the PCC and published the adjudication. And I would apologise for any distress we have caused the complainant, but I think this just about as daft and pointless a ruling as I’ve come across.
“I know the PCC is under pressure to bare its teeth in the current climate but, in my opinion, we’ve been treated unfairly in this case.”