Why Bournemouth Echo is well within its rights to publish police pics of drink drivers

The Bournemouth Echo’s decision to use huge mugshots of drink-drive offenders on their website has had some of their readers reaching for their law books.

The story attracted more than 70 comments, mainly in favour of prominent naming and shaming.

But one poster said: "I don’t agree with the photos being shown. The top one is outside court, fair enough, public place and all that.

"The others are clearly mugshots taken at the police station then handed to the Echo. This is a massive breach of confidentiality and the Data Protection Act. These people should sue, they'd win.

"The only justification for publishing an official police mugshot is if a criminal was on the run and it would be justified to help the public look out for him."

In fact the Echo have the legal right to publish the images.

They have a journalistic exemption under the Data Protection Act, and the pictures aren’t defamatory if they are accompanied by privileged court copy or accurate facts.

Dorset police are keen to provide custody photos … unlike their colleagues in Lancashire, who refused to supply them to local media until being pressured into changing their minds Echo deputy editor Andy Martin said: "We give the mugshots prominence during the major drink drive campaigns in summer and Christmas.

"It’s hugely important to highlight the danger and consequences of drink driving, an offence that is totally avoidable."

The paper gives similar prominence to people convicted of other offences, too.

Andy added:  "If one person decides not to drink and drive because they don’t want to risk appearing on the front page, then it’s worth it."

I suspect the offenders will be asking Google for the ‘right to be forgotten’ at some point!

Cleland Thom is a consultant in media law

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