Derby Telegraph in breach of three clauses of Editors' Code over picture of injured girl, IPSO rules

The Independent Press Standards Organisation has ruled that the Derby Telegraph breached three clauses of the Editors’ Code of Practice for a photograph used in a story headlined: “Girl involved in incident outside Derbyshire secondary school”.

IPSO upheld a complaint which claimed the title breached of Clause 3 (Privacy), Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock) and Clause 6 (Children) in the 20 November 2014 online article.

This was after the story featured a picture of a girl believed to have been knocked down by a car outside a school. She was lying on the pavement with another, uninjured, girl next to her in school uniform and two passers-by. The girl lying on the ground had her face pixelated, but the other schoolgirl – who later emerged to be her sister – was identifiable.

According to IPSO, the two girls shown in the picture were 11-year-old sisters and the complainant was their mother, who said the image “depicted a distressing incident for both girls and had been taken at a time when everyone involved had been in shock, and the emergency services were yet to arrive”. IPSO said: “The complainant was concerned that, at the time of publication, the newspaper had not been aware of the severity of the girl’s injuries.”

After being made aware of the complaint, the Telegraph “immediately removed the image from its website”. IPSO noted that it also offered to remove the article and write a private letter of apology.

It said that the photograph was taken by a member of its staff who had been passing the scene and that it had contacted the school, police, ambulance service and Derbyshire County Council before publishing the story. The ambulance service confirmed it had been “called to attend a teenager with a suspected leg injury”.

The Telegraph said it was not able to contact the family because the child’s name was not provided. It said that it had pixelated the injured girl’s face and was not aware that others in the photograph were connected to her.

The newspaper also said there was a public interest in publishing the image and the story because of ongoing concerns about the lack of a speed limit in the area.

However, IPSO ruled that “no exceptional public interest appeared to exist”. The body said in a ruling: “The newspaper had suggested that the incident was of public interest, particularly against the background of previously-expressed concerns about safety in the area. It had not explained, however, how the publication of this photograph – at a time when the newspaper had not been able to seek appropriate consent – contributed to that public interest.”

It noted that while the injured girl’s face was pixelated, her sister was “readily identifiable in the photograph, and the injured sister was likely to be identified – notwithstanding the pixelation of her face – by virtue of the visible part of her body and her connection with her sister”. It said: “Parental consent should have been sought for publication of the photograph.”

IPSO also ruled that the injured girl had a “reasonable expectation of privacy”, despite the fact she was in a public area.

IPSO said: “Although the newspaper had pixelated the face of the injured child and had contacted the ambulance services to try to ascertain the severity of the injury, the publication of the photograph at a time when the newspaper had not been able to verify the identity of the child concerned or establish whether her parents had been informed of the incident represented a failure to handle publication with appropriate sensitivity. The photograph had been distressing for the family, and risked notifying friends and relatives about the accident. The complaint was upheld under Clause 5.”

The regulator said it “welcomed the newspaper’s attempts to address” the mother’s concerns, but upheld all three complaints, and instructed the Telegraph to publish its ruling on its website.

The Derby Telegraph was told to publish the following words, under the headline “IPSO complaint upheld”:

Following an article headlined “Girl involved in incident outside Derbyshire secondary school”, published on the website of the Derby Telegraph on 20 November 2014, a woman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the newspaper had breached Clause 3 (Privacy), Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock), and Clause 6 (Children) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.

The article reported that a teenager was believed to have been knocked down by a car outside of a school. It was accompanied by a photograph of the scene, which showed the girl lying on the pavement, with her face pixelated. Next to her was another girl in a school uniform and two other passers-by. The two girls shown in the picture were 11-year-old sisters; the complainant was their mother.

IPSO’s Complaints Committee found that the Derby Telegraph had breached Clause 3 (Privacy), Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock), and Clause 6 (Children) by publishing the article and required that the Telegraph publish its full decision on the matter.

The complainant said that the photograph depicted a distressing incident for both girls and had been taken at a time when everyone involved had been in shock, and the emergency services were yet to arrive. She said that the use of the photograph had added to the family’s distress; the incident was a private matter, and a photograph relating to the welfare of her children should not have been published without her consent. She was also concerned that the newspaper had not pixelated the face of her uninjured daughter.

After being made aware of the complaint, the Derby Telegraph had immediately removed the image from its website. The newspaper had also offered to remove the article from its website, and to write a private letter of apology to the complainant.

Before publishing the report, the newspaper had contacted the school, police and ambulance service and had received confirmation from the ambulance service that it had been called to attend a teenager with a suspected leg injury. It had not been able to contact the family of the child involved as her name had not been released at the time. The injured girl’s face had been pixelated prior to the publication of the article; the newspaper had not been aware that anyone else in the photograph was connected to the injured girl.

The Committee ruled that the immediate aftermath of an upsetting incident in which a young girl had been injured in full view of her sister was clearly an issue that related to the welfare of both girls. The uninjured sister was readily identifiable in the photograph, and the injured sister was likely to be identified because of her connection to her sister. Parental consent should have been sought for publication of the photograph; no exceptional public interest justified its publication without consent. The Committee upheld the complaint under Clause 6.

The photograph had been taken while the child had been awaiting medical treatment following what had clearly been a traumatic and distressing incident. Although the photograph had been taken on a public street, in these circumstances – and with regard for the young age of the child involved – the Committee took the view that the injured child had had a reasonable expectation of privacy. The photographing of the child represented a failure to respect her private life. The complaint was upheld under Clause 3.

Although the newspaper had pixelated the face of the injured child and had contacted the ambulance services to try to ascertain the severity of the injury, the publication of the photograph at a time when the newspaper had not been able to verify the identity of the child concerned or establish whether her parents had been informed of the incident represented a failure to handle publication with appropriate sensitivity. The photograph had been distressing for the family, and risked notifying friends and relatives about the accident. The complaint was upheld under Clause 5.

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