RBS bankers lose privacy complaint against Telegraph over publication of taped conference call

The Telegraph has been cleared of breaching the Editors’ Code after publishing a conference-call featuring two employees from Royal Bank of Scotland’s controversial Global Restructuring Group speaking to staff from pharmacy operator Trihealth.

The RBS wing deals with companies which get into difficulty whilst owing the bank money and it has been accused of levying charges which hinder the recovery of viable businesses.

The two RBS employees alleged breach of privacy (clause 3 of the Editors’ Code) and use of subterfuge (clause 10) and took the matter to the Press Complaints Commission.

The articles in question were headlined: "Listen: RBS team argue with small business holders in conference call" and "RBS, the fight for survival and a legacy of bitterness who cried foul", and were published online on 25 November 2013.

They followed news of the government-commissioned Tomlinson Report which was critical of Global Restructuring Group.

The articles focused on the experience Trihealth after it had been placed under the control of GRG. They featured recordings of an at-times heated telephone conversation between Trihealth executives and the two complainants, who were identified by their full names and as employees of "GRG Manchester".

The two RBS staff complained that the decision to identify them “intruded into their private lives without serving any public interest, particularly as there was no suggestion that they had been acting in a discreditable or unethical way”.

Rejecting the complaint the PCC said: "In this case, there was no dispute that the initial making of the recording had been legitimate. Trihealth executives had not engaged in misrepresentation or subterfuge, and while they had recorded the call without the complainants' consent, they had not used a device as a means of obtaining information to which they were not otherwise entitled.

“Rather, they had recorded a conversation to which they were an identified participant. It could not, therefore, be reasonably said that the executives had used a ‘clandestine listening device’ to obtain the recording.

“Further, it was accepted that it had been passed to the newspaper legitimately: Trihealth had freely supplied it, unsolicited. The manner in which the recording had been obtained was not contrary to the terms of the Code, and the newspaper's decision to publish it did not, therefore, raise a breach of Clause 10.”

On the issue of privacy, the PCC said: “While the commission sympathised with the complainants for the distress that they had been caused by subsequent events, it could not agree that the details disclosed amounted to private information about them, nor that the publication of the recording constituted a failure to respect their private lives under the terms of the Editors' Code of Practice.”

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