Hewitt loses PCC complaint over son drug-bust story

The Press Complaints Commission has rejected a complaint from Patricia Hewitt MP over an article in the Sun about her son Nicholas Birtles being charged with possession of cocaine.

She claimed that it breached her son’s privacy (clause three of the Editors’ Code) and that it unnecessarily referred to her and her husband in breach of clause nine (reporting of crime).

Hewitt said that while her son had committed a criminal offence and behaved very foolishly, publishing the story on the front page was disproportionate and had only happened because of the identity of his parents. She pointed out that her and her husband had never talked publicly about their children, specifically to avoid unwanted attention on them.

The Sun argued that criminal charges are not private and pointed that that Ms Hewitt was a former Health Secretary, and her husband a judge who had spoken about the problem of drugs in his neighbourhood, which made made them both relevant to the story. They said that the prominence given to the story was a matter for the editor, and no in the remit of the Editors’ Code.

Hewitt argued that there was growing concern among people in public life about press intrusion, because while people like her and her husband inevitably had to accept public scrutiny, it was grossly unfair that their children should suffer the humiliation of national press coverage.

Rejecting her complaint the PCC said that Birtles “had committed a criminal offence, which is not something that is regarded as a private matter. Indeed, it is in the interests of society as a whole that the administration of criminal justice is as transparent as possible. The press is entitled to report such proceedings, and naming him in connection with the charge was not itself an intrusion into privacy.”

It said: “The Commission was satisfied that Ms Hewitt and her husband were genuinely relevant to the story given their current and previous roles and comments…The Commission noted Ms Hewitt’s contention that the story was published with disproportionate prominence. But given that the story itself did not breach the Code, the question of where to publish it in the paper was a matter for the editor to decide.”

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