PCC: Sunday Mail did not breach code with secret prison photographs

The Press Complaints Commission has judged that the Sunday Mail did not breach the Editors’ Code of Practice with a story exposing conditions in a prison in Peterhead, Scotland.

The paper published pictures from within the prison suggesting that conditions in HMP Peterhead for convicted sex offenders were undermining efforts to rehabilitate inmates.

The pictures, showing prisoners had access to violent and sexually explicit DVDs, were believed to have been taken using a hidden camera.

The report was complained about by the wife of a Peterhead prison officer who had taken his own life shortly after publication. The complainant believes her husband had unwittingly allowed the camera to enter the prison.

She also claimed the newspaper had paid a convicted criminal for the photographs.

She claimed the report breached Clause 10 (Clandestine devices and subterfuge) and Clause 16 (Payment to criminals) of the Editors' Code.

The Sunday Mail defended the article, claiming there was an overwhelming public interest in publishing the story and said it did not breach the code – though it did acknowledge the photographs had been taken without inmates’ knowledge.

It admitted to making a payment to an anonymous source outside the prison but claimed it had not agreed to pay a convicted criminal, had not commissioned the pictures and did not provide the camera.

The paper said it had exposed prison service failings rather than exploited or glamourised crime.

The PCC “expressed sympathy” with the complainant but ruled in favour of the Sunday Mail, saying that the coverage had not breached Clause 16 and had publicised “genuine and serious” concerns about conditions in the prison.

The commission also ruled that the report was in the public interest and did not breach Clause 10.

Charlotte Dewar, director of complaints and pre-publication services, said: "This was a tragic case, and the commission expressed its sympathy to the complainant for her loss.

“Nonetheless, there was a strong public interest in the publication of this material, and the newspaper was able to demonstrate that it had acted in compliance with the Code."

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