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Watchdog rules in favour of 'greediest man in Britain'

Says we can expect privacy at home, not photographers

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Publishing a photo of a man in his own home without his consent was a breach of his privacy, according to a ruling from the Press Complaints Commission today. The photo was included in a Sunday Mercury article on "the greediest man in Britain".

West Bromwich resident Christopher Bourne had complained to the press watchdog over a 4 December report by the local paper portraying him as a "modern-day Scrooge" because he had purchased 30 Xbox 360s to sell them on eBay, taking advantage of the pre-Christmas shortage of the games consoles.

Bourne had spoken to the newspaper, but had refused to pose for a picture, agreeing instead to let the paper take a picture of his son with the Xboxes. However, the article was not only critical of Bourne, it included his picture rather than his son's.

Bourne complained, arguing that the article was inaccurate and misleading, and that the publication of the photo amounted to a breach of a clause in the watchdog's Code of Practice that states:

  • Everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence, including digital communications. Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual's private life without consent.
  • It is unacceptable to photograph individuals in private places without their consent – private places being public or private property where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.

The Press Complaints Commission dismissed the accuracy complaint, on the grounds that the Sunday Mercury's characterisation of Bourne reflected its opinion of him - which it was entitled to express - and that it was not really inaccurate in its calculation of the profit he was likely to make from the sales.

But the watchdog upheld the privacy complaint, agreeing that the publication of the photo breached Bourne's privacy.

"The editor had not denied that the complainant had refused permission for his picture to be taken and published," says the ruling. "The complainant was in his own home - a place where he clearly had a reasonable expectation of privacy - when the photograph was taken. There would have had to have been a convincing public interest defence for surreptitiously taking and then publishing a picture of someone in their own home."

In this case, the commission said, the conduct of the Sunday Mercury was not proportional to any public interest in publishing the photo. Bourne had not "committed any crime or serious impropriety or sought to mislead any of his potential customers," it said.

There was therefore limited public interest in ignoring Bourne's wishes not to be photographed, and what little there was did not justify the privacy intrusion.

See: The ruling

Copyright © 2006, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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