PCC says that Sun pursuit of 'highly intrusive' Gary Lineker story was not harassment

The Press Complaints Commission has ruled that The Sun did not harass Gary Lineker and his wife Danielle or breach their privacy by making wide-ranging enquiries about a “highly intrusive” allegation involving their private lives.

No story was published, but the Linekers complained nonetheless that the allegation was spread by journalists from the paper by the enquiries they made.

The Sun enquiries followed the news, broken by Lineker himself on 18 January this year, that he was leaving Twitter “for personal reasons”.

The following day, the Sun contacted Lineker's agent regarding a claim that his departure had been prompted by an allegation about his private life. The agent did not confirm or deny the claim.

Journalists then contacted relatives and neighbours of the couple, and others, to verify the allegation.

The Linekers said they denied the allegation and that The Sun’s actions by questioning so many people about it constituted a breach of privacy and harassment.

The Sun said it was acting on a “tip” and defended the fact that it had continued to make enquiries, of five other individuals, after Lineker’s agent accused the paper of "harassing family members and people at their homes".

The Sun said it did not accept that in making enquiries, it had disclosed private information to any party.

It said that Lineker's decision to leave Twitter, including his reasons for doing so, was a matter of interest to its readers and had caused comment elsewhere.

It said that Mrs Lineker had forged a lucrative career as a direct result of her marriage, and the couple had given a number of interviews which placed their private lives in the public domain.

The Sun denied that it had harassed any of the individuals it had contacted and noted that no one, other than the complainants, had complained.

It said that the only direct contact with the complainants consisted of a call to the family home and an approach to Mr Lineker outside the BBC studios.

In its ruling the PCC said: “Over the period when the newspaper had conducted its enquiries, the complainants had faced the prospect that an allegation which they considered to be both false and highly intrusive might be published by the newspaper to its large readership.

“While the allegation was of a personal nature, the commission was reluctant to restrict the freedom of journalists to conduct enquiries undertaken in order to investigate the veracity of an allegation and to assess whether a sufficient public interest justified publication.

“The commission noted that each individual had been contacted on only one occasion with the exception of Mr Lineker's agent, who had been telephoned twice, and the individual whose home had been visited on two occasions.”

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