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Daily breached rough sleeper’s privacy with medical details, watchdog rules

A regional daily breached a rough sleeper’s privacy by revealing part of his medical information, the press watchdog has ruled.

The Independent Press Standards Organisation has upheld in part a complaint against Stoke-on-Trent daily The Sentinel after ruling the newspaper had identified the homeless man, although it did not directly name him.

The man also successfully argued The Sentinel had unjustifiably revealed he was using drug and alcohol services, despite the paper’s claim there was a public interest in reporting this.

The newspaper had reported on the experiences of an outreach team visiting rough sleeper camps as part of a “week of action” in which it named a specific rough sleeper camp, including naming the street it was located near, without naming the man.

The camp at which the man was living

The camp at which the man was living

An accompanying council comment stated the authoirty was “aware and working closely with the male”, adding it was “trying to get the gentleman housed in his own property as he [was] not in the best health” and that he said he was “engaging with the drug and alcohol service”.

A representative acting on behalf of the man, who was also not named in IPSO’s adjudication, complained that the story had breached Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice, on the grounds that referring to him clearly identified him even though it did not include his name.

They went on to say that they had immediately recognised the rough sleeper as being the “man” referred to in the article, and so had between 10 and 15 other people in their peer group, as well as three people who worked in support roles professionally.

The man had not been asked whether he consented to information about him engaging with drug and alcohol services being published, and the representative said that reporting this information to do so was a breach of his privacy.

Denying any breach of Code, The Sentinel did not consider that the man was identifiable from the information included in the story.

The newspaper noted he had already publicly spoken about and been named in relation to homelessness and provided two stories from 2013 and 2015 relating to his previous court cases, in which he was referred to as a “recovering drug addict” and that he was “clean of class A drugs” and “reduced his alcohol intake”.

Therefore, The Sentinel said that while it did not consider that the man was identifiable in the story, the fact he had a history with drugs and alcohol was already in the public domain.

It added there was a strong public interest in reporting and promoting the outcome of charitable help, and in improving public understanding of health and medical matters in relation to homelessness.

On balance, IPSO found that the information would identify the man to a local circle of people who were aware of him prior to the story’s publication, and to local readers who might then see him at the camp.

The Committee further found that neither of the court stories referring to the man receiving using “services” in relation to drug and alcohol use, and were from ten and eight years ago respectively.

IPSO did not, therefore, consider the man’s current engagement with drug and alcohol services to be in the public domain, and it considered reference to his medical information without his consent to be an unjustified intrusion into his privacy.

As it appeared The Sentinel was not aware of the name of the complainant at the time of publication, the Committee ruled the anonymisation of the man’s identity was not relevant to the public interest defence.

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