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Reporter entitled to photograph defendant from bus stop, IPSO rules

Christophere BanksA regional daily journalist was entitled to take a photograph of a court defendant while hiding behind a bus stop, the press watchdog has ruled.

The Independent Press Standards Organisation has found in favour of the Bolton News over its coverage of the trial of Christopher Banks at Bolton Crown Court.

Banks, who had been accused of sending a threatening email to a Manchester City football coach, told IPSO he believed the reporter’s behaviour constituted harassment.

However, IPSO disagreed and dismissed the complaint by Banks, who faces a retrial after a jury at Bolton Crown Court was unable to reach a verdict.

Complaining under Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 3 (Harassment) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice, Banks said that, as he was leaving court, he noticed a News journalist taking photographs of him and asked her: “Did you just take my photograph?”

He said that he found that behaviour alarming and distressing because she was hiding behind the bus stop.

Banks further claimed he had asked her who she was, who she worked for, and why she had been taking pictures of him, but that she ignored him and “fled” the scene.

According to Banks, pictured, he had then attempted to approach her and continued to ask her loudly who she was and her motive for the photographs before she continued to the newspaper’s office without revealing her name or where she worked.

In response, the News said its journalists do not approach defendants while trials are ongoing and do not have to make their presence known and that in line with the principle of open justice, it could cover court cases without the defendant’s permission as this information was in the public domain.

The paper added its journalist took a photograph outside court, which they were entitled to do under the Code, and was not done in a way to intimidate Banks.

The News did not consider the journalist’s actions represented persistent pursuit or harassment and added that, to the best of her recollection, Banks did not ask her for her name or the publication she was working for.

In its response to IPSO, the paper further outlined the risk involved in covering court proceedings and noted photographers take measures to keep themselves safe, due to previous attacks.

IPSO noted the News’s position that there is a safety risk involved for journalists covering court cases and that – mindful of the risk – the journalist had left the area around the court quickly.

Further, the Committee noted the purpose of Clause 3’s requirement for journalists to identify themselves and the publication they work for was to avoid situations where people are unable to make requests to desist, or to complain, because they are unsure of who to contact.

In this case, while the journalist had not identified themselves, this had not prevented Banks from identifying the journalist and contacting the publication to make it aware of his concerns.

Taking all factors into account and noting that the Committee was not in a position to know what exactly was said outside court, and what exactly was heard by the journalist, it did not consider that there was a basis to find that the terms of Clause 3 had been breached by a refusal on the part of the journalist to identify themselves.

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