Mirror story naming Gary Dobson's son breached code

  • Naming of killer’s son breached Clauses 6 and 9
  • Mother’s breach of privacy claims rejected
  • Use of photo and comments from Facebook served ‘general public interest’

The former partner of Stephen Lawrence killer Gary Dobson has had two complaints upheld against the Daily Mirror over its post-trial coverage in January.

The Press Complaints Commission agreed that a 4 January article headlined ‘Partners in hate’identified her child in breach of Clause 6 (children) and Clause 9 (reporting of crime) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.

Claims it also breached Clause 3 (privacy) and Clause 9 in relation to the mother – who was not named in today’s adjudication – were rejected. The PCC found the Mirror was fully justified in using comments and a photo of the complainant taken from her Facebook page.

The complaints were made over a feature on Gary Dobson and David Norris following their conviction for the murder of Stephen Lawrence. It identified the complainant as the former partner of Gary Dobson and included the name and age of their son, who was under sixteen.

She said the article raised ‘significant safety concerns’and her son had been bullied at school following its publication, insisting neither of them had any connection to the trial.

In its defence the Mirror said the mother had named her child on her publicly-accessible Facebook profile and he had also been identified to the newspaper by another relative in an interview that was never published.

After receiving the complaint it agreed to remove the child’s name from the online article, said it would not name him again and offered to send a private letter to the mother expressing its regret.

Clause 9 (Reporting of Crime) of the Editors’ Code states that “relatives or friends of persons convicted or accused of crime should not generally be identified without their consent, unless they are genuinely relevant to the story”.

The PCC found the son could not reasonably be described as “genuinely relevant” to the story and that he was an innocent party, in breach of Clause 9.

Clause 6 (Children) of the Code says “young people should be free to complete their time at school without unnecessary intrusion”. The PCC found the public association of the complainant’s son with the crime was not necessary and constituted an intrusion in breach of the code.

‘Malicious emails’

The mother also complained that the 4 January article and another story headlined ‘The Eltham 5: WAGS, houses and flash cars’- published the following day – identified her in breach of Clause 9 (Reporting of crime) and intruded into her privacy in breach of Clause 3 (Privacy).

The 4 January article included details of her job and the 5 January article quoted her apparent reaction to the verdict posted on her Facebook page: ‘Two innocent men. 7 innocent kids. Two sets of innocent parents. And three innocent brothers and sisters and That’s called justice fucking joke!!!!”.

It also ran a picture of the complainant, who claimed that following publication she had received ‘malicious emails’and lost her job.

Her Facebook page was behind privacy settings and she had not identified Dobson as the father of her child on the page, she insisted.

She also maintained she was not relevant to the case and had no place in the coverage of the trial.

The Mirror, however, argued her identity as Dobson’s former partner was ‘firmly established in the public domain”, providing examples dating back to 2004.

The photo and comment – a ‘clear reference to the trial verdict’- were taken from her open Facebook page and the paper provided the watchdog with a screen grab of the page.

The PCC said there was ‘some dispute”, which it ‘could not entirely resolve”, as to whether the mother’s Facebook page had been publicly accessible, but found the paper was ‘able to demonstrate to the Commission’s satisfaction that it was able to access the profile in open fashion”.

‘General public interest’

But it added: ‘The accessibility of a Facebook page, however, could not necessarily provide sole justification for publishing material uploaded by an individual.’

It decided the Mirror was justified in publishing the comments ‘in light of the notoriety of the case, and the continuing controversy that surrounded the lengthy efforts to bring the two men to justice”.

In its adjudication it added: ‘There was a general public interest in examining the reactions of those associated with the convicted men, especially in a case where questions about the influence of culture on the terrible criminal behaviour were so critical, and in the exceptional circumstances of this case, which had led to the two men living freely in the community for years between their original crime and final conviction.”

Commenting on the use of the photo, the PCC said it was ‘innocuous and had been used merely to demonstrate what the complainant looked like”.

In relation to Clause 9 the commission said: ‘It was clear that the complainant had been content to comment on Facebook upon the conviction of Mr Dobson in considerably forthright terms.

‘The fact that she was content to discuss the case in this fashion was notable, and her actions appeared to demonstrate her own position that her perspective on the case was of some relevance.

‘The Commission believed that it was legitimate, in an examination of the background of Mr Dobson, for the newspaper to make reference to the stated views of his former partner on his case.”

The complaints under Clauses 3 and 9 were rejected.

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