Blunkett's Spectator 'lover' was not harassed, rules PCC

Kimberly Fortier: facing the cameras with her Spectator editor, Boris Johnson

Invasion of privacy and harassment complaints against the Sunday Mirror by Spectator publisher Kimberly Fortier, who hit the headlines this summer over her alleged relationship with Home Secretary David Blunkett, have been rejected by the Press Complaints Commission.

Fortier complained to the PCC, via lawyers, that an article published in the Sunday Mirror on 29 August headlined “Blunkett lover: It’s all over” included a photograph that had been taken in a manner that breached the harassment and privacy clause in the Code of Practice.

The PCC noted Fortier was the subject of intense press attention when it was alleged that she had been having an affair with Blunkett.

The first story about the alleged relationship appeared on 15 August -although it did not name the complainant.

The following day she was identified and her solicitors contacted the Commission alleging that she was being harassed.

The PCC said it passed on the complaint to the relevant newspapers. Her lawyers also warned editors, urging “the activities comprising harassment, persistent pursuit, and the questioning, telephoning, pursuing or photographing of our client to cease”.

On 26 August Fortier was approached while out walking with her son in Los Angeles, and was photographed.

After her picture appeared in the Sunday Mirror on 29 August, Fortier’s solicitors submitted a formal complaint to the Commission. Fortier was not a public figure, said her solicitors, and both the newspaper and the freelance photographer were aware she did not wish to be photographed.

The Sunday Mirror argued she was a public figure, by virtue of her work in the media industry and her numerous appearances on radio and in newspapers and magazines. In addition, it had been alleged without challenge that she had – as a married woman with children – conducted an affair with the Home Secretary. The newspaper contended that she had therefore put herself at the centre of a story, publication of which was legitimately in the public interest.

In rejecting the complaint, the PCC said its central task was to decide whether the taking and publication of the photograph was in breach of the Code of Practice-and, if so, whether there was a public interest justification for that breach.

It said: “While the complainant had apparently been distressed by the approach, something that the Commission regretted, it did not appear that the photographer had ‘persisted’ in taking her photograph after having been asked to desist.”

On the earlier warnings made by Fortier’s solicitors, the PCC said: “The Commission does not consider it appropriate-or within the meaning of Clause 4- to assume that a request for journalists and photographers to desist from approaching a complainant lasts in perpetuity.”

The Commission noted that the newspaper and the solicitors had disagreed about whether Fortier was a public figure. It said: “Whether or not this was the case, it had been alleged publicly that she was having a relationship with a senior politician. Her identity had been established in the public domain without complaint.

There was a general public debate about the life of a senior politician with whom the complainant was allegedly involved.

“No complaints had been received from the politician or from the complainant about the content of the numerous articles about their alleged relationship. The Commission could not agree that in this context the publication of a photograph – which contributed to the public debate and which was taken in accordance with the Code at a time when the story was developing- was intrusive.”

Sunday Mirror editor Tina Weaver said: “It’s a very sensible decision.

People cannot cry ‘privacy’ if they are photographed in a public place in relation to a story which is clearly the result of their own actions.”

By Jon Slattery

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