Publishing youngster's addresses

The need
for care in running press campaigns about individuals perceived as
risks to the community is illustrated by a recent decision involving
the Express and Star, Wolverhampton.

On 18 May Mr Justice
Tugendhat granted a temporary injunction preventing the newspaper from
continung to publish  the addresses of homes purchased by Green Corns
Limited to house troubled and troublesome teenagers (some with criminal
convictions for sex offences).

The Article 8 privacy rights of Green Corns and its homes’

potential occupants trumped the Article 10 freedom of expression rights of the newspaper.

This
was despite: no individual children or carers being named in the
articles and the application being made by the owner of the homes, not
by any child or carer;

• much of the information being available
to a diligent enquirer from other sources (e g Land Registry, on
enquiry of local residents, at council meetings and no doubt on
websites);

• the judge’s acceptance that the question of how troubled children should be cared for is of the highest public interest;

• the newspaper having had plenty of expressions of concern from potential neighbours.

So how did the injunction come to be granted? The judge noted the following:

• institutions can claim privacy in respect of the rights of those entrusted to their care;

• addresses in themselves may constitute private information, the
disclosure of which should be restricted. Indeed in many areas law and
practice already restricts publication of addresses, for example in the
case of children’s homes under the National Care Standards Commission
(Registration) Regulations 2001;

• the information sought to be published was a highly sensitive
combination involving individuals’ addresses, children, troubled mental
histories, sexual life and criminal convictions;

• the fact that the information was likely to be accessible to
diligent researchers did not mean that it was in the public domain to
an extent that further, wider publication in a more dramatic context
could not be restricted to prevent harm;

• concerns expressed by locals to the newspaper about the location
of particular homes were expressions of those persons’ own
private interests rather than the public interest as set out in the PCC
code. The newspaper could debate the wider public issues without
needing to identify addresses;

• there was evidence of the harm that might be done by the
newspaper’s campaign, in that on several occasions since the campaign
started Green Corns had had to abandon their plans for homes and there
had been some vandalism against them;

• the judge was concerned by the robust populist tone of the
articles already published and by the newspaper’s boast that a
combination of the newspaper’s activities and “people power” had forced
Green Corns to abandon many of its plans.

The judge concluded that Green Corns was likely to establish at
trial that publication should not be allowed (so passing the Human
Rights Act section 12 test), that the addresses of the homes were
private and confidential information, which the court should protect
from misuse, and that the interference with the newspaper’s rights of
freedom of expression was both necessary and proportionate.

The courts are wary of restricting debate on issues of genuine public interest.

But
press campaigns which are perceived as risking unnecessarily the
personal safety and privacy of their targets are likely to face
restrictions.

Rupert Earle is a solicitor at Addleshaw Goddard

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