Mail Online breached privacy of 'Ukrainian internet bride' with story which included 'graphic details' about sex

The Independent Press Standards Organisation has upheld in part a privacy complaint against Mail Online after it published details about a woman's sexual relationship and preferences.

IPSO was asked to judge whether the website had breached nine clauses of the Editors' Code of Practice with a story headlined: “’My Ukrainian internet bride asked me to have sex within hours of meeting her while her eight-year-old son was in the room… so I did’: Astonishing story of husband suing his wife for share of fortune.”

The son mentioned, now an adult, complained that the article – published on 9 December 2014 – breached clauses 1 (accuracy), 2 (opportunity to reply), 3 (privacy), 4 (harassment), 7 (children in sex cases), 9 (reporting of crime), 10 (clandestine devices and subterfuge), 11 (victims of sexual assault) and 12 (discrimination).

IPSO upheld the privacy complaint and ordered the website to publish an adjudication. The story itself is no longer online.

It reported on divorce proceedings between the complainant Robert Yates' mother and step-father, and featured an interview with the latter.

The complainant\s step-father claimed that on the day the couple met they had had sex in the same room as the child – who he incorrectly said was eight rather than 12 – separated only by a wardrobe. He also claimed that the mother held assets of £300,000 while he lived in poverty.

Yates denied these claims. He also complained that:

  • The article failed to distinguish between comment and fact
  • He and his mother had not been given fair opportunity to reply to the alleged inaccuracies
  • Some of the photographs used in the article had been stolen from his mother
  • He and his mother had been harassed by a freelance reporter in the UK
  • His grandparents in Ukraine had also been approached by a local journalist “who had not identified herself as an employee of Mail Online and had used a clandestine listening device during an interview with them”
  • His mother's nationality – Ukrainian – was not relevant and that she "had been the subject of racist comments from readers following publication”
  • That “if the incident reported in the article had taken place, then his step-father would have committed a sex crime, and the publication should have reported him to the police”.

After submission from Mail Online, IPSO found:

  • "The article was clearly distinguished as an interview, making clear to readers that the assertions in the piece were those of the complainant’s step-father"
  • That both Yates and his mother had been approached for comment but declined. It added: "The terms of Clause 2 provide an opportunity to reply to published inaccuracies when reasonably called for. In light of the nature of the inaccuracies, the Committee did not consider the opportunity to reply to be necessary in this instance"
  • "Neither the complainant nor his mother had provided grounds for their belief that a journalist had stolen photographs from a private computer. The Committee was satisfied that there were no grounds to establish that these had been obtained from clandestine sources"
  • "The approaches made by freelance reporters in the UK and Ukraine, consisting of amicable email exchanges and interviews given with consent, did not constitute harassment in breach of Clause 4…"
  • "Nor did the use of a recording device to take a record of the conversation constitute a breach of Clause 10"
  • "The complainant’s mother’s Ukrainian background was directly relevant to the story, due to the nature of the court proceedings"
  • And: "There had been no criminal complaint made in relation to the allegations in the article, nor had anyone been convicted. Furthermore, the complainant denied that the incident which he considered to be a criminal offence had taken place. The terms of Clause 7, Clause 9, and Clause 11 were not relevant to this complaint, and the Committee did not consider them further."

However, the privacy complaint was upheld in part. IPSO “welcomed the publication’s willingness to remove the online article following receipt of the complaint, and its offer to seek to ensure that it did not appear elsewhere on the internet”, but said that clause 3 had been breached.

IPSO ordered that the following adjudication be published and promoted on the homepage for 48 hours: 

Robert Yates complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation on behalf of himself and his mother Marina Ivleva that Mail Online had breached Clause 3 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined, “’My Ukrainian internet bride asked me to have sex within hours of meeting her while her eight-year-old son was in the room… so I did’: Astonishing story of husband suing his wife for share of fortune”, published on 9 December 2014.

IPSO upheld the complaint in part, and decided that there had been a breach of Clause 3 of the Editors’ Code of Practice. IPSO required Mail Online to publish this decision to remedy the breach.

The article followed reports of divorce proceedings between the complainant’s mother and his step-father. The mother had attempted to divorce her husband in Ukraine, her country of origin, though they were both resident in the UK. The Ukrainian divorce had been overturned by a British court. The article under complaint was an interview with the complainant’s step-father. He said that he had engaged in sexual activity with the complainant’s mother on the day that they had met, and that the complainant, then a child, had been in the same room as them, separated from the couple by a wardrobe. He also shared other details about his relationship with the complainant’s mother, including information about her sexual preferences.

The complainant’s mother had objected to the article’s inclusion of additional “graphic details” about her sex life and sexual preferences.

The publication defended its coverage, and did not accept that the article had intruded into the complainant’s mother’s private life. It said that the details about the complainant’s mother’s sexual relationship with his step-father were included to show the complainant’s mother’s general lack of concern for privacy, and her business-like attitude to marriage. It noted that none of the details included had been disputed by the complainant or his mother. The publication said that there was a public interest in examining the pitfalls of internet marriages, and the complainant’s step-father’s position was that the complainant’s mother had behaved in a sexually uninhibited way in order to engineer a marriage from which she would later profit. In order to put this point across, it was necessary to include sexual details which some might find unedifying.

The Committee made clear that the complainant’s step-father was entitled to speak publicly about his experiences, in accordance with his right to freedom of expression, and the publication was entitled to reproduce his comments. In addition, details of the complainant’s mother’s relationship with his step-father, and indeed information about the complainant himself, had already been placed in the public domain through court proceedings. However, the article had included intimate details of the complainant’s mother’s sexual relationship with his step-father, including information about her sexual preferences, which have been omitted from this decision. While the Committee recognised that the publication sought to defend these references as a means of showing the pitfalls of internet marriage, the Committee was not, on balance, satisfied that the publication of this sensitive personal information was justified. The public interest was not proportionate to the level of intrusion posed by the publication of intimate details. While it welcomed the publication’s willingness to remove the online article following receipt of the complaint, and its offer to seek to ensure that it did not appear elsewhere on the internet, this aspect of the complaint under Clause 3 was upheld.

The complainant also raised concerns under Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply), Clause 4 (Harassment), Clause 7 (Children in sex cases), Clause 9 (Reporting of crime), Clause 10 (Clandestine devices and subterfuge) and Clause 12 (Discrimination). These were not upheld.

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