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Weeklies rapped for revealing sex offender’s dad was council chairman

scales-of-justiceThree sister weeklies were wrong to identify a parish council’s chairman as the father of a sex offender, the press watchdog has ruled.

The Independent Press Standards Organisation has upheld a complaint against the Haslemere Herald, Liphook Herald and Bordon Herald after they named and published a photograph of the local politician in a story about his son’s court case.

The Heralds had argued the man’s relationship to his son, a television producer, was already in the public domain, and that he was genuinely relevant to the story because he was a prominent public figure in the area.

But IPSO rejected this and ordered the Tindle-owned titles to publish corrections on the same pages as the original story had appeared in the respective publications.

The story in question reported the TV producer had admitted sexually assaulting a woman, and noted the defendant was the son of the former chairman of a local parish council.

It also contained a photograph of the defendant and his father, which was captioned: “[named defendant] with dad, and ex-parish council chair, [named father]”.

The story included a quote from the defendant, taken from a previous interview, which referred to both his “dad” and “mum” having appeared as extras in a programme he was working on.

The defendant’s mother was not named, while the story also referred to the illness of the defendant.

Complaining under Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief and shock) and Clause 9 (Reporting of crime) of the Editors’ Code of Practice, the defendants’ parents, who were unnamed in IPSO’s ruling, said the Heralds had identified them as relatives of someone convicted of a crime.

The father said he had not consented to being named and photographed in the article, and the mother had not consented to being referred to.

They said that neither of them was genuinely relevant to the story because they played no role in the crime and had not attended court proceedings, adding their relationship with their son was not known further afield than their village.

The couple also believed they had a reasonable expectation of privacy over their relationship to their son, and said they were in a state of grief and shock due to their son’s illness and the stress of the court case.

Denying a breach of Code, the Heralds believed the defendant’s father was genuinely relevant to the story because he was a prominent public figure in the area due to his work for the district and parish council over three decades.

It claimed the parents were relevant to their son’s career and their relationship with him was, in the view of the titles, well established in the public domain to the extent that Clause 9 would have no useful purpose.

Furthermore, they believed that due to the father’s position, his inclusion was in the public interest and said that the editorial team had discussed this issue in advance of publication, and concluded that the previous story connecting the parents and their son rendered them relevant in this instance.

The Heralds added the quote: “My mum also made an appearance as an extra in the second series” did not identify the defendant’s mother, adding they did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy because the parents had publicly disclosed their relationship with their son previously.

The titles expressed their condolences to the parents over what their family was going through, but noted their son’s illness was spoken about in court as the reason for the delay in proceedings.

They said that they had reported the story sensitively and had not sensationalised the facts, noting the reporting was restrained and responsible, and had omitted details they were legally entitled to publish.

IPSO found it was accepted the parents had no part in the crime, or their son’s trial.

While they had on occasion in the past featured in stories which disclosed their relationship to their son with regard to his position as a producer, the Committee considered that this fell short of making them genuinely relevant to the story under complaint.

IPSO acknowledged there may be occasions where the nature of a familiar connection is so well-established in the public domain that the purpose for which Clause 9 is intended, of protecting innocent friends and relatives from association with crime and allegations of crime, is no longer relevant.

However, in this case, the relationship between the complainant and his son clearly fell short of this threshold.

IPSO found no breaches of Code on the other points raised.

The complaint was upheld, and the full adjudications can be read here.