The peculiar goings-on in the case of Westminster v Associated Newspapers Ltd
This was a specific hearing arising from a set of care proceedings in which both parents were asserting forcefully that their son H was very ill indeed. The Court, having heard a great deal of evidence and had that evidence tested by lawyers, including lawyers acting for the parents, decided otherwise
I found, firstly, that the parents had misreported and exaggerated H’s medical symptoms. I concluded that this had led not only to his emotional harm but to his physical harm. In consequence, particularly of the exaggerated gastrointestinal pain, there was the unnecessary insertion and thereafter the prolonged use of a Hickman line, which exposed H not merely to the risk of short-term infection, but to the risk of liver failure in the long term. It perhaps requires to be underlined that in consequence of his parents’ actions H’s life was placed in peril.
4.I went on to find that the mother, through bullying and bombastic behaviour, had intimidated medical professionals and others to the extent that she confused and undermined their confidence in their own professional judgement. In the hospital it generated a febrile atmosphere in which there was an elevated risk of clinical error, I found this compromised H’s safety.
5.In particular, and this requires perhaps to be emphasised too, in April 2016, on the most compelling of evidence, I found that both parents had, on separate occasions, tampered with H’s TPN pump. The effect of this, though it did not immediately threaten H’s health was, again, to cause confusion and alarm on the ward and jeopardise professional objectivity.
6.The father has both directly and passively acquiesced in the mother’s distorted perspective of H’s health and medical needs. The mother presented H to the world as dying, in extremely alarming e-mails. Moreover, on the evidence, she inculcated in H himself, a view that he was dying. The parents’ actions led to prolonged stays in hospital, the consequence of which was that H has been robbed of much of his childhood and teenage years.
7.This is of course a desperate situation made all the more depressing by the fact that H has an outstanding, lively, irrepressible intellect and a keen and zany sense of humour. It is a tragedy that these talents have not been allowed to flourish and grow as they ought to have been. I reiterate, in order that the point is not lost in the detail of my judgment, the harm caused to H by his parents, protracted over many years, exposed him to significant harm at the most serious end of the spectrum, ultimately risking his life.
The parents, not being in agreement with the judicial decision, sought to involve some crusading journalists to fight their case in the court of public opinion. The Telegraph and the Mail ran sympathetic pieces.
I wrote a long passage here, but actually I’m not going to bother with it. My readers already know whether they think Christopher Booker is a champion for justice or something else, and they are all entitled to their own views.
So instead of the long passage where I try to be balanced and reasonable and just annoy everyone on both sides of the argument, here’s a a photo of a young Cat Stevens tasting some food. I can’t tell if the food in the pan is fish, chicken or even pigs (the curly bits could be tails?). If you are only familiar with beardy old Cat Stevens, DAMN he was a handsome young fellow.
Anyway, this secondary decision was as a result of the child being visited in hospital by a journalist and interviewed by said journalist, who had not been open and transparent about who she was when making the visit.
15.I was informed during the course of the hearing, by the local authority, that it suspected that a reporter from The Daily Mail had visited H in ‘Unit A’ on 8th May. That reporter, I was told, was thought to be a Ms Sue Reid, though the visitor book bore an inscription that a Susan Odette Brown, recorded as ‘a friend’, had visited that day. I indicated to the local authority that they should make inquiries to establish such facts as they could. In pursuance of that, they drafted the following questions which were relayed to The Daily Mail. They are succinct questions and they are responded to with equal clarity. They require to be set out:
“Do you (i.e. The Daily Mail) employ or commission a journalist called Sue Reid or Susan Odette Brown? Answer: yes.”
“Did this journalist visit [the unit] on 8 May 2017 or at all? Answer: Yes.
What was the purpose of this visit? Answer: Miss Reid has confirmed that she visited in order to see H and see his social situation.
How was the visit arranged?”
The response was as follows:
“A campaign group alerted Miss Reid to H’s living arrangements and asked her to pay him a social visit. H’s parents also wanted Miss Reid to visit him and accordingly they passed on H’s mobile phone number. Miss Reid rang the number and spoke to H, who invited her to visit him and gave her a suitable time to do so.”
The final question was framed thus:
“Did you have permission to talk to H, a young person aged 15, and if so who gave you permission? Answer: Yes, H and his mother.”
16.These questions had in mind the protection afforded to young people and particularly to those who are vulnerable, by the Codes of Practice (2016), Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO). It is convenient that the relevant guidance be set out here:
“Clause 8 protects patients in hospitals and similar institutions from intrusion. It requires journalists to identify themselves and to obtain permission from a responsible executive to enter non-public areas. The clause applies to all editorial staff, including photographers.
The clause covers the newsgathering process, so the Code can be breached even if nothing is published. The clause also requires that, when making inquiries about individuals in hospitals and similar institutions, editors need to be mindful of the general restrictions in Clause 2 of the Code on intruding into privacy.
[Some readers may remember certain press scandals about Russell Harty, a celebrity whom certain sections of the Press believed was hospitalised because of AIDS and reporters donning medical gowns in order to gain access clandestinely to the hospital. ]
Of particular relevance is:
Identification and permission
Journalists must clearly identify themselves and seek permission from a responsible executive to comply with the Code. The use of the term “executive” implies that permission can be obtained only from a person of sufficient seniority. A journalist who attended a London hospital after the Canary Wharf terrorist bomb photographed an injured victim in the company of a relative and another person who he thought had obtained permission from hospital staff.
When medical staff complained, the PCC found the Code had been breached. It said: “The Commission was not persuaded the reporter in this particular case had followed the provisions of the Code: it was not enough to assume that his identity was known or to rely on the comment of an individual who was clearly not a responsible executive, although the reporter had done so in good faith.” Hutchison v News of the World: http://www.pcc.org.uk/cases/ adjudicated.html? article =MTkwMA
What the Code says
- i) Journalists must identify themselves and obtain permission from a responsible executive before entering non-public areas of hospitals or similar institutions to pursue enquiries.
- ii) The restrictions on intruding into privacy are particularly relevant to enquiries about individuals in hospitals or similar institutions. A public interest exemption may be available.
In most cases, what constitutes a non-public area will be clear and will certainly include areas where patients are receiving treatment.
See: Stamp v Essex Chronicle
A man v Daily Mail
17.The code purposefully set a strong objective to safeguard children. The following requires emphasis :
The Code goes to exceptional lengths to safeguard children by defining tightly the circumstances in which press coverage would be legitimate. For the most part, this applies up to the age of 16 – but the requirement that pupils should be free to complete their time at school without unnecessary intrusion provides a measure of protection into the sixth form. In the absence of a public interest justification, pupils cannot be approached at school, photographed or interviewed about their own or another child’s welfare, or offered payment, unless consent is given by the parent or guardian.
The welfare of the child includes the effect publication might have.
A complaint from an asylum seeker was upheld after a newspaper interviewed and identified some of his children. The PCC said the article was likely to provoke a strong reaction in readers, which might affect the children’s welfare.
Kenewa v Sunday Mercury
There is a public interest defence available to editors, but here again the bar is raised in favour of protecting children and the Code states that “an exceptional public interest” would need to be demonstrated.
What the code says
- i) All pupils should be free to complete their time at school without unnecessary intrusion.
- ii) They must not be approached or photographed at school without permission of the school authorities.
iii) Children under 16 must not be interviewed or photographed on issues involving their own or another child’s welfare unless a custodial parent or similarly responsible adult consents.
- iv) Children under 16 must not be paid for material involving their welfare, nor parents or guardians for material about their children or wards, unless it is clearly in the child’s interest.
- v) Editors must not use the fame, notoriety or position of a parent or guardian as sole justification for publishing details of a child’s private life.
A public interest exemption may be available. See Page 96.
The press has to establish which is the competent authority to grant consent in each case.
See: A woman v Derby Telegraph
Brecon High School v Brecon and Radnor Express
18.In order to advance their own explanations, the parents both filed statements in which the broad thrust of the answers given by The Daily Mail were or appeared to be disputed. It has been necessary for me today to inquire as to what in fact led to the visit, which all agreed took place, between Ms Reid and H at the unit on 8th May.
19.As the evidence has unfolded it has funnelled into a very narrow area of agreement and disagreement. Today there were filed, on behalf of Ms Reid, a number of e-mail communications, which have been helpfully set out by Mr Browne QC and Mr Wolanski, who represent her through Associated Newspapers Limited. A key communication is an e-mail sent at 18:30 on 6th May by H’s mother to a Miss Miray Kester, whom she describes as a friend. It is clear from that email and the earlier discourse that it was intended to provide a summary of H’s situation from the mother’s own perspective. It is, characteristically, a gross distortion of the facts. It presents H, in melodramatic terms, brutalised and neglected by the system. Yet again the mother describes H as suffering from serious illness. As those reading my earlier judgment will appreciate and as time has now borne out, H is not suffering from any serious illness. Those conditions which he does have are not seriously debilitating.
20.It is unnecessary for me further to burden this judgment with the details of the email communications because a number of factors are clear. Firstly, I am satisfied that, in the context of the email communication as a whole, the email I have referred to above was written by the mother as a briefing document for the press. The document, which I do not propose to read into this judgment, speaks for itself. Secondly, Ms Reid obtained H’s telephone number and spoke to him directly before she spoke to the mother. This she agreed in evidence. Thirdly, Ms Reid later spoke to the mother on the telephone and the conversation lasted some 40 or so minutes. In that conversation Ms Reid plainly formed the view that the mother was at her wits’ end, very distressed and agitated. Much of the content of the e-mail of 6th May seems to have been replicated in that conversation, which Ms Reid agrees took place.
21.The mother asserts that the move to the unit is a tragedy for her son. As she puts it, it is ‘a violation of his human rights’. She refers to his ‘being locked away’ and she caricatures it as a focus on ‘mental disorder’ rather than the contemplated across the board evaluation of his needs that I have described. This is all deep-seated, the mother has been hostile to Great Ormond Street now for many years. It was very much a feature of her evidence in January and February of this year. The mother denies giving Ms Reid permission to speak to her son. However, she says: had this journalist asked me directly if she could have permission to speak to my son, I would have said yes. But, she says, ‘it was never asked’.
22.It is plain, having listened to the mother’s evidence and Ms Reid’s evidence, that the mother not only was enthusiastic about H having an opportunity to meet a journalist but never at any point in the conversation gave Ms Reid even the slightest suspicion that she had the remotest anxiety about it. The mother is highly manipulative, as Ms Reid has now plainly found out. I think it unlikely that she gave her express permission but I am quite clear that she enthusiastically contrived with Ms Reid to facilitate the interview. Ms Reid told me, and I accept, that the mother gave her the address and details of the unit.
23.In her evidence Ms Reid told me that she would “never trust anybody again”, by which she explained she meant those who organise and promote particular causes and agendas. This struck me as a somewhat bizarre observation from a journalist of Ms Reid’s seniority. She is the ‘Special Investigations Editor’ for the Daily Mail. I should have thought that a healthy degree of scepticism would underpin everything she does.
24.The facts are now, as I see it, uncontroversial. Ms Reid went to Unit A. She did not make herself known to the staff. She did not identify herself as a journalist and she did not seek permission from a responsible executive to enter these non-public areas. It is also clear and again she accepts that she was aware that H was subject to a Care Order (in fact it is an Interim Care Order but that is of no consequence here).
I’m going to repeat paragraph 23, because I think it is significant
In her evidence Ms Reid told me that she would “never trust anybody again”, by which she explained she meant those who organise and promote particular causes and agendas. This struck me as a somewhat bizarre observation from a journalist of Ms Reid’s seniority. She is the ‘Special Investigations Editor’ for the Daily Mail. I should have thought that a healthy degree of scepticism would underpin everything she does.
Long carefully balanced paragraph removed, because it even made me throw up a little.
Instead, who would like to see a picture of Cat Stevens and some kittens? Of course you would.
Only click on the link if you’re comfortable with being a bit sad for a few minutes whilst simultaneously awestruck. (And see – handsome…)