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Watchdog rejects footballer’s complaint over stabbing story

IPSO_logo_newThe press watchdog has rejected a footballer’s complaint that he was identified as the victim in a newspaper’s coverage of an incident in which he was stabbed.

Luis Santos was stabbed in the neck after thieves raided the dressing-room at half-time during a non-league game involving Alliance FC, a Crawley-based club made up mainly of Portuguese expats.

He was named in the Crawley News when his alleged attacker applied for bail in court, with details about the nature of his injuries and the circumstances in which they occurred having already been put into the public domain by the police and ambulance services.

But the complaints committee at Ipso, the Independent Press Standards Organisation, ruled that the paper had not breached his privacy.

Mr Santos had complained that the News breached clause 3 and 9 of the Editors’ Code of Practice, covering privacy and reporting of crime respectively, in an article headlined “Player is stabbed during half-time” published on October 28 last year.

The article also appeared online, with the headline “Named: The Crawley footballer lucky to be alive after being stabbed at half time during cup match”.

The story reported that Mr Santos was stabbed in the neck during half-time at a match in which he was playing in for his non-league club.

The piece included comments from the team’s assistant manager, who said Mr Santos was “back home recovering. He was released from hospital on Sunday but will have to go back to see how the stitches are healing and there is a chance he may need to have a skin graft.”

The article reported that Sussex Police had appealed for any witnesses to the stabbing or burglary, and that a 17-year-old had been arrested and charged with wounding with intent.

Mr Santos was concerned that the newspaper had identified him as the victim of the attack, and published details about his medical status and treatment, and claims about his further treatment.

He said he was left a voicemail by a reporter from the newspaper, who had offered him the opportunity to discuss the attack. He did not respond, as he wanted to protect his anonymity.

Mr Santos accepted that the newspaper could have published information provided by the manager or assistant manager of the club, but said that the individual described as the “assistant manager” in the article had no role in the club, but was just a friend who often watched matches, and helped at the club.

The newspaper said that on October 26 it used Twitter to contact a player at the football club who had commented on the incident, and asked “would you or anyone at the club be happy to chat?”

The player sent it a telephone number, and named an individual as assistant manager.

The newspaper said it spoke to this individual, who confirmed that he was the assistant manager, and made the comments which were then used in the article, adding that it was generally accepted that a football manager, or assistant manager, whether at a professional or amateur level, had a duty to represent his player to the media.

On October 26, it said, it published an article reporting the incident, without identifying Ms Santos. That article quoted an ambulance spokesperson as saying that Mr Santos had “suffered injuries, including a wound to his neck”, and that paramedics took him to hospital as a priority due to his potentially serious injuries.

Before the article under complaint was published, the reporter left Mr Santos a voicemail making it clear that the newspaper intended to publish a follow-up story and seeking his comment.

Mr Santos had several opportunities to express his concerns about the article, but did not do so, the newspaper said.

It added that there was a clear public interest in reporting the crime, including naming the victim, where the police were appealing for witnesses.

The newspaper provided a copy of the court register from Crawley Magistrates Court, which stated that a bail application was heard for an individual charged with “unlawfully and maliciously wounded Luis Santos with intent to do him grievous bodily harm”.

The decision to identify Ms Santos and report the nature of his injuries was made by the editor and the senior reporter, based on the facts known to them at the time, said the newspaper, adding that the police witness appeal stated that the complainant had been stabbed in the neck “causing serious but not life-threatening injuries”.

Ipso’s complaints committee said Ms Santos’ identity was made public when the defendant’s bail application was heard in court. There was no specific reason for protecting his anonymity, such as those defined by the Editors’ Code or by law, and his concerns about being identified as the victim did not raise a breach of Clause 3.

A number of details about the nature of the injuries, and the circumstances in which they occurred, were put in the public domain by the police and ambulance services before the article in question was published. Where these details were already in the public domain, publishing the first-hand account of the incident from the “assistant manager” did not intrude in to Mr Santos’ privacy.

The committee said the principal issue for it to consider was whether the newspaper failed to respect Mr Santos’ privacy by reporting the “assistant manager’s” comments about his medical treatment. These comments did not represent additional private information about Mr Santos – they simply illustrated the severity of his injuries, the details of which were already in the public domain. Reporting these residual details was therefore not intrusive.

In any event, the newspaper had obtained the information by speaking on the record to a man it had reasonable grounds to believe was the football team’s assistant manager. It had not failed to respect Mr Santos’ privacy.

The committee added that clause 9 (ii) related to the potentially vulnerable position of children who were witnesses to or victims of crime. Mr Santos was an adult so clause 9 (ii) was not engaged.