THURROCK resident Jenna Cosentino complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Thurrock Independent breached Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Flytip reveals origin of rubbish dumped in Chadwell that angers residents” published online on 17 July 2018.
The complaint was upheld and Thurrock Independent has been required to publish this ruling as a remedy to the breach of the Code.
The article reported concerns about fly-tipping at a site in the local area. The article included a video of the rubbish found by the editor of the newspaper, who had visited the site to investigate.
Bank and insurance documents for her property were visible in the video. The complainant’s name, the address at which she had recently resided, account and credit card numbers and outstanding balances were visible on the documents. The article stated that the information about fly-tipping had been passed to the Council to investigate.
The complainant said that the video, which had also appeared on the newspaper’s social media account, had revealed her name and the address at which she had recently lived, as well as confidential banking information. She had contacted the newspaper and asked that this information be redacted. She said that the editor had said that before he would do so, the complainant must agree to speak to the council and the police about how her waste came to be at the site. The complainant had contacted these organisations, and the publication agreed that it would not continue to publish her private information.
The newspaper did not accept that it had breached the Code. It said that the articles reported on a matter of considerable public interest in the local area. It said that, prior to publication, it had considered whether it was necessary to redact the complainant’s personal information from the video, but had decided that editing the footage might affect its authenticity.
It said that the complainant had given the paperwork to an unauthorised waste disposal service, without making any attempt to redact her personal information, and that it was currently lying on public land. It said that the complainant had placed the information into the public domain. It also noted that the paperwork was around two years old. In these circumstances, it did not consider that the complainant had an expectation of privacy in relation to the documents.
The complainant’s bank details, including account numbers, and balances of accounts, was information about which she clearly had an expectation of privacy. This was sensitive confidential information, which had come from private correspondence. There was a legitimate public interest in reporting on the issue of fly-tipping. However, the newspaper had not provide a specific justification for the publication of the complainant’s bank details.
The Committee did not accept that using an unauthorised contractor to remove waste amounted to consent to place private information in the public domain. Also, while the documents were visible on public land, the newspaper had not sought to argue that this specific information was so widely known so as to constitute it being in the public domain. There was a breach of Clause 2.
This was the third time the Thurrock Independent had been the subject of a complaint over the past year. On the two previous occasions, complaints (by Thurrock Council) were not upheld.