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‘Home from hell’ story justified breach of children’s privacy, IPSO finds

A regional daily was justified in intruding into the privacy of five children living in a “disgusting” and “dirty” home, the press watchdog has ruled.

The Grimsby Telegraph ran a story headlined “Filthy home from hell: Disgusting home where two-year-old has learned to put himself to bed” after being approached by the children’s maternal grandmother and aunt who was concerned at the conditions they were living in.

Neither the children or any of their adult relatives were named in the story, which was accompanied by photographs depicting overflowing bins and carpets, as well as surfaces covered in rubbish, inside the house.

But it led to a complaint from the children’s mother, who claimed her children had been identified as a consequence of members of the public commenting on the article on the Telegraph’s Facebook page and naming her.

Some of the photos of the house used by the Telegraph

Some of the photos of the house used by the Telegraph

The Telegraph had reported various claims made by the grandmother and aunt about the state of the house and the children’s care, including criticism of social services, while a published response from the local council stated it was investigating the case “as a matter of urgency”.

In its ruling, the Independent Press Standards Organisation found that the mother and children had been identifiable within their local community from the information contained in the story.

But clearing the newspaper of any wrongdoing, it went on to rule that this limited intrusion was justified because of the exceptional public interest in identifying the grandmother’s particular criticism of social services.

The watchdog also ruled that social media comments naming the children’s mother on Facebook fell outside of its remit because they had been deleted after being brought to the newspaper’s attention.

Complaining under Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 6 (Children) of the Editors’ Code of Practice, the children’s mother, who was unnamed by IPSO, said that the article was an unjustified intrusion into her and her children’s private home and family life because the photographs of the inside of her home were taken on private property without her knowledge or consent.

She said that her mother’s claims were inaccurate and gave a misleading impression of the children’s care and the state of her house at the time of publication, adding a journalist came round to the house for a comment before the article was published and saw how the house had changed, but did not reflect this in the article.

Denying a breach of Code, the Telegraph said that appropriate steps and care was taken to not identify the children or the complainant, or include any personal details that may lead to the identification of anyone involved, while all comments published on Facebook which named the children’s mother, and which were brought to its attention, were removed.

It believed there was an overriding public interest in the publication of photographs highlighting the poor living environment a number of young children were being raised in, as well as claims that social services were not taking appropriate action to ensure they were being cared for adequately.

IPSO found the Telegraph had disclosed sensitive details about the woman and her five children – including information which related to their upbringing, their home, and their relationship with each other – and acknowledged that steps had been taken to limit the extent to which all parties may have been identified, but considered that the publication of the constituted an intrusion, albeit to a limited extent, because readers commenting on the article had named her as its subject.

The Committee considered that there was an exceptional public interest in enabling the maternal grandmother and aunt to raise concerns about the welfare of the children, with the photographs illustrating these concerns in a way that would not been possible through words alone.

It added there was a further exceptional public interest in identifying the grandmother’s particular criticism of social services and found the photos had accurately reflected the interior of the house at the time concerns had been raised.

IPSO found each comment which was reported by the children’s mother had been reviewed by the newspaper and removed, meaning this aspect of the complaint fell outside of its remit because appropriate action had been taken.

The complaint was not upheld, and the full adjudication can be read here.

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