A complaint made against the Daily Record has been rejected by the Press Complaints Commission, following two articles in the paper about a care worker at the State Mental Hospital, at Carstairs.
What made the stories more interesting was that the worker was alleged to have had a relationship with the ‘Yorkshire Ripper’, Peter Sutcliffe, and then later underwent a gender change.
In backing the Record, the PCC said there was a substantial public interest in the story and that, as the relationship with Sutcliffe had taken place when the complainant was a different gender, reference to his transition was unavoidable.
The complaint sought to invoke four clauses in the PCC’s Code of Practice: privacy (3), harassment (4), clandestine devices and subterfuge (10) and discrimination (12).
Explaining its decision to reject the complaint, the PCC said: “The mere fact of a person’s gender change – the consequences of which are publicly apparent – does not in itself constitute intrinsically private information. There was therefore no intrusion under Clause 3 on this
point. Indeed, the complainant himself noted the fact that everyone in his home town knew he was a transsexual. In terms of Clause 12, the references to the complainant’s gender status were not pejorative or prejudicial, and there was therefore no breach of Clause 12 either.”
It added: “The Commission then turned to the complaint under Clause 4, which makes clear that journalists must not persist in questioning individuals after having been asked to desist, unless there is a public interest reason for doing so. There was clearly some dispute between the
complainant and the newspaper over whether the reporters had been asked to leave on their first visit. However, even on the complainant’s version of events, it did not appear that it had necessarily been clear during the first visit that he wished the reporters to desist from approaching him in all circumstances. The newspaper then appeared to have returned in order
to put new information to the complainant. The Commission was not satisfied that this was sufficient to sustain a complaint of harassment under the terms of the Code.”
The PCC continued: “Turning finally to the complaint about the photographs under Clauses 3 and 10, the Commission first made clear that its general approach is to consider whether people have a reasonable expectation of privacy when they are photographed without their consent. When there is no harassment, it normally finds no breach of the Code in cases such as this
when someone is walking down the street or is standing on the threshold of their property clearly visible to passers by. In this case, the newspaper had taken photographs to illustrate a story that was in the public interest.
“While the Commission could understand the complainant’s reservations about his and his partner’s photographs being taken and published, it did not find that the newspaper’s behaviour in doing so had breached the Code. In terms of Clause 10, there was no evidence that the newspaper had used a hidden camera, although this would not in any case normally be a feature in complaints about photographs taken in public places.”