PCC rejects complaint, following ‘tragic’ death, against the Sunday Mail

A COMPLAINT made against the Sunday Mail newspaper, in the wake of a death of a prison officer, has been rejected by the Press Complaints Commission.

The Press watchdog was asked to investigate a story in the newspaper about conditions at HMP Peterhead prison for convicted sex offenders.

And the PCC concluded the paper did not breach the terms of either Clause 10 (Clandestine devices and subterfuge) or Clause 16 (Payment to criminals) of its Editors’ Code of Practice.

Says the PCC: “The newspaper had reported concerns that conditions in HMP Peterhead were undermining efforts to rehabilitate sex offenders at the facility. This was based on a number of images of life inside the prison, apparently captured using a hidden camera, which showed prisoners’ access to violent and sexually explicit DVDs as well as the presence of pornography. The complainant was the wife of a prison officer who believed that he had unwittingly allowed the camera to be smuggled in and out of the prison, and who had sadly taken his own life shortly after the article was published.”

It continues: “The complainant said that a convicted criminal had been paid for the photographs in breach of Clause 16, and that the photographs had clearly been taken in circumstances that breached Clause 10. The newspaper argued that there was an overwhelming public interest in publishing the story and did not accept that it had breached the Code, despite acknowledging that the photographs had apparently been taken without the knowledge of the inmates and officers shown. It said that although it had made a payment to the source who provided the photographs, it had not agreed to pay a convicted criminal, nor had it commissioned the photographs or provided the camera. The article had exposed failings in the prison service rather than exploiting or glamorising crime, in its view.

“The Commission expressed sympathy to the complainant for her tragic loss. It made clear that, as it was likely that payment had been made to a criminal for the information published, the newspaper was obliged to demonstrate compliance with the requirements of the Code. However, it ruled that the coverage had not glamorised or exploited crime, but rather had publicised ‘genuine and serious’ concerns about conditions at the prison which had led to widespread comment, including by Parliamentarians. With regard to Clause 10 (Clandestine devices and subterfuge), the Commission ruled that the publication of the material was justified by the public interest. The material was ‘potentially relevant to concerns about public health’ and ‘informed an important debate about the treatment of sex offenders in the criminal justice system’. The complaints were not upheld.”

A PCC media release quotes Charlotte Dewar, its director of complaints and pre-publication services, as saying: “This was a tragic case, and the Commission expressed its sympathy to the complainant for her loss. Nonetheless, there was a strong public interest in the publication of this material, and the newspaper was able to demonstrate that it had acted in compliance with the Code.”

Read the full adjudication, here.