The Packet in clear

The Press Complaints Commission has dropped a complaint made against Cornish newspaper The Packet for intrusion into a child's privacy.

In November last year, the Truro-based paper published a picture of a child captured on CCTV footage who had helped the council by posing as an 18-year-old trying to buy alcohol.

The picture accompanied a story about a shopkeeper who claimed his staff had been fooled by trading standards officers into selling alcohol to a 15-year-old boy who looked much older than he was.

Head of the county council's legal services Richard Williams complained that publication of the picture breached clauses three (privacy) and six (children) of the Editors' Code of Practice and raised concerns about the use of clandestine devises and subterfuge under clause 10.

Williams said the council always took care to protect the identity of children who assisted the council voluntarily and that trading standards offices would have given evidence in any criminal proceedings rather than the child.

The Packet argued that there was no reasonable expectation of privacy in a shop and that the image did not reveal any confidential information. It also said that a sting operation set up by council officers to catch a shopkeeper breaking the law was in the public domain.

The parents knew that the their child may have had to give evidence in a public prosecution and the CCTV footage would have been shown in open court.

The paper also argued there was an exceptional public interest in publishing the image.

Under normal circumstances, such images could be considered intrusive, but the PCC ruled that because the child, who was not named, was carrying out duties for the council and the shop's reputation was in the balance.

The commission argued that the activity was not private and therefore did not breach clause three and that the boy's appearance was significant to the story. If the image was concealed, argued the PCC, the shopkeeper would not have been able to conduct a free and fair argument which would have compromised his right to free expression.

With regards to clause six, the commission agreed publication had not compromised his welfare and referring to clause 10 it pointed out that CCTV footage was not considered to be a hidden device.

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