When is it acceptable to pursue a family by car?Posted on

Never, you say?

The PCC’s recent adjudication, rejecting a complaint made by Andrew Robathan MP, found that Sunday Mirror journalists, who tailed the Robathan family for 13 miles, were not in breach of the PCC Code.

Why was it that the press body thought Robathan, his wife and child were not entitled to go about their private family time without being pursued by journalists from a tabloid newspaper? Well, despite expressing misgivings about the Mirror’s conduct (expressing “strong views” that the pursuit was “ill-advised”) the PCC rejected the complaint while noting that Robathan is a public servant and noted that, once the MP had pulled over and asked the journalists to leave his family alone they did, finally, desist.

Such pursuits are, sadly, not uncommon. One client of mine was pursued by a freelance paparazzi for some time and, when he pulled over to flag down a passing policeman, the photographer took pictures which he then sold to a publisher on the basis that my client had been stopped for speeding! (a swift apology was published!)

It should not be necessary for an individual to have to remonstrate with a journalist or photographer in order to protect his or her family. Indeed, what the paparazzi press often desire is a confrontation, which creates more dramatic and more saleable photographs.

If an ordinary member of the public pursued or followed a family car, took photographs of children without consent or, as one tabloid newspaper did to another client of mine, went through his bins, then a restraining order, damages or even police involvement would be inevitable. There are very few exceptions for the press. Unwanted pursuit or harassment can very rarely be justified particularly where children or other family members are involved. Mr Robathan may well be a public servant but his family time must be sacrosanct.

It is often possible to “call off the hounds” when journalists or photographers are door-stepping, or following individuals, with a simple Legal Notice. The PCC have also shown themselves to be useful allies in such circumstances, however, it is a shame that they have missed an opportunity to set down a firm marker in this case about what is and what isn’t acceptable behaviour in a civilized society. We shall wait to see what approach its successor body will take in such circumstances.

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