Clauses Noted: 1, 3, 5, 16
Mrs Christine Bale of Lynton, North Devon complained on behalf of her son Peter Bale that an article in Woman on 20 December 1999 headlined "How can I ever enjoy Christmas again?" contained inaccuracies, intruded into her son's privacy and grief and that payments had been made to an associate of a convicted criminal in breach of Clauses 1 (Accuracy), 3 (Privacy), 5 (Intrusion into grief and shock), and 16 (Payments for articles) of the Code of Practice.
The complaints were not upheld.
In the piece, Peter Bale's ex-partner (Lisa) gave her personal account of the events leading up to the death of their baby and Mr Bale's conviction for manslaughter in connection with the death. The complainant said the article was distorted as it gave only Lisa's account of events. Mr Bale is currently serving a prison sentence, but maintains his innocence. Comments attributed to Lisa differed from the evidence she gave at the trial - in court she said that she first called a friend before calling the ambulance. Mr Bale's statements did not change, other than by the addition of details. Mr Bale was not allowed to attend the funeral of his child or visit her grave. The inclusion of the photograph of the grave therefore intruded into his grief. The photograph of Mr Bale was used without his consent and represented an unjustified intrusion into his privacy. It appeared that Lisa - who was a witness in the criminal proceedings relating to the baby's death - had been paid for the article.
The magazine said the article was based on an interview with Lisa. Although Mr Bale maintained his innocence, he has been convicted of manslaughter and they were free to report this. The photograph of Mr Bale was supplied by Lisa. In view of his conviction, it was not an invasion of his privacy to publish the photograph. Lisa had been paid £250 for her story. Although she was a witness at the trial, there were no current criminal proceedings. With regard to Clause 16(ii), the magazine did not believe that Lisa could rightly be described as an 'associate' of Mr Bale. She was in some senses a victim of what had happened. There was no question of Mr Bale profiting from his crime through the payment to Lisa for her story.
The Commission noted that the piece was clearly presented as Lisa's version of events relating to the death of the baby. It made clear that Mr Bale had been found guilty in court of manslaughter and also included the prosecutor's statement that Mr Bale was 'inexperienced' and had not intended to kill or harm that baby. The Commission did not find that the piece was materially misleading. The Commission noted that the photographs had been provided to the magazine by Lisa to illustrate the piece. It did not find that the publication of either the photograph of Mr Bale or the photograph of the grave represented an unjustified intrusion into Mr Bale's privacy or grief.
With regard to the complaint under Clause 16, it appeared that there were no current criminal proceedings relating to the story. Clause 16(ii) is intended to prevent convicted or confessed criminals from benefiting financially as a result of the publication of a story relating to their crime. The Commission noted that Mr Bale and Lisa now appeared to be estranged. It was therefore unlikely that he would benefit in any way from the payment. The Commission did not find that there was any breach of the Code.
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