PCC rules Sunday Times wrong to interview child

The Press Complaints Commission has upheld one part of a complaint against the Sunday Times brought by a man who claimed his son had to leave his school after friends of a murder suspect murder saw him talking to a Sunday Times journalist.

Keith Cousins complained to the PCC that the Sunday Times had been in contact with his 14-year-old son, in breach of clauses four (harassment), five (intrusion into grief and shock) and six (children) of the code. The complaint under clause six was upheld but complaints under four and five were not.

Cousin's son attended the London school where Kiyan Prince had been fatally stabbed. After the boy laid a wreath at the site of the murder, he was approached by a journalist who allegedly offered him £1,000 for a picture of the suspect to be taken from the school database.

The journalist spoke at length with the complainant's son and continued their conversation via telephone and text messages.

Cousins said that his son had to leave school, having been seen talking to the press by the suspect's friends.

The Sunday Times denied that its reporter offered the complainant's son money or asked him to enter the school to obtain a photograph. It claimed a reporter from another newspaper might have done so.

The newspaper accepted that its reporter did speak to the boy and accompanied him to an internet café to see if a photograph could be downloaded. No photograph was taken of the child and no interview ever published.

The adjudication said there was a considerable conflict between the accounts of the complainant and the newspaper over the contact between the reporter and the complainant's son but that it was clear a reporter from the newspaper had approached and spoken to the complainant's son on a subject that involved the welfare of the children at the school.

The necessary consent from a custodial parent had not been obtained, and the result was a straightforward breach of clause six (children) of the Editors' Code. The complaint was upheld on that basis.

The complainant had also claimed that the behaviour of the reporter constituted harassment in breach of clause four of the Code – but there the PCC dismissed this because it said there was no evidence that the reporter had persisted in his inquiries after having been asked to desist.

While the complainant maintained that the reporter's attentions had been entirely unwanted, the newspaper had suggested that the complainant's son had continued their conversation via text message.

The Commission said it was not satisfied that there was evidence that the journalist's contacts with the boy lacked sympathy or discretion in breach of clause five of the Code.

The Commission also said it had not been possible satisfactorily to establish the facts as to whether the boy was offered money – something the Sunday Times strongly denied.

However the Commission wished to make clear that it will pursue the matter with whichever newspaper is concerned if further evidence on this point comes to light.

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