The Press Complaints Commission asked the lawyer of a bereaved family to draft a letter to editors asking their privacy be respected, the Leveson Inquiry has heard.
Giles Crown, the solicitor for the family of Sebastian Bowles, a 11-year-old boy killed in a Swiss coach crash in March this year, gave evidence to the Leveson Inquiry today on media intrusion following the accident. Crown is also a friend of the family.
Lord Justice Leveson said he was “slightly concerned” the PCC had asked Crown to draft the letter – asking newspapers to remove pictures of Sebastian’s young sister from online articles and respect the privacy of the grieving family – instead of sending notifications themselves. The letter was later circulated by Crown and the PCC.
The inquiry heard how a picture of Helena Bowles, then eight, was used by several newspapers along with photographs taken from father Edward Bowles’s Facebook account. A picture of Sebastian posted on a blog, set up to allow children on the Swiss school trip to communicate with family members, was also printed in the Daily Mail, Telegraph and the Sun. Crown made it clear the Bowles family were not approached and would not have given permission for the material to be published.
Crown told the inquiry: “I think probably [the PCC's] circulation of the letter to whoever they did circulate it to may have been helpful in dampening down the media issues… I was calling them to try and help but there was a lot of damage already done. The pictures had already been published.”
“The main point to my mind is why clear code provisions hadn’t been applied to by the media.”
Carine Patry Hoskins, junior inquiry counsel, read in full the last paragraph of Crown’s written statement at the request of Lord Justice Leveson.
It said: “Edward and his family are not public figures but have through personal tragedy been caught up in a public event. The Bowles family have not made and will not be making any public statement to the media in relation to these matters. Their agreement to provide this evidence to the inquiry in no way should be taken as waiving their right to privacy or their desire to be left alone by the media to continue to grieve over their son’s tragic and untimely death.”
Crown said the picture of Helena Bowles, taken while the family was gathering at a hotel with other families of victims of the crash, seemed to have been taken at a distance.
He added: “They to mine mind knew that the photograph was of a young relative of a victim, on its face it is clearly a grieving young child at that hotel so clearly must have been a relative of the victim.”
Crown said he had been in contact with Associated Newspapers, publisher of the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday, in order to have material removed from the Mail Online, including the photograph of Helena – which he referenced in the letter sent to editors including Daily Mail editor-in-chief Paul Dacre.
Patry Hoskins said a letter had been sent to Crown last night, saying the newspaper group was unaware the Bowles’s daughter was the girl in the photograph and had removed it from the website.
Crown added: “[Associated] say they were told it was someone standing in a public place the other side of the road from the hotel. I can’t say any more on the circumstances in which that photograph was taken and certainly Edward’s evidence is that it was on hotel property and there were steps taken to shield the families of the victims from the photographers.
“They then said that they had no reason to believe the photographs had not been taken in a public place or that relatives did not wish to be observed and photographed, to which I would – you known, the photographs speak for themselves and I find it surprising that they make that assertion.”
Jonathan Caplan QC, for Associated, said: “I do apologise to the family but my clients did not appreciate that was her, it would have been taken down earlier.”
The inquiry also heard Telegraph editor Tony Gallagher had spoken to Crown on the phone shortly after the PCC letter was circulated, allegedly telling the lawyer he was “late to the party” and he personally knew Edward Bowles, a senior banker. Bowles has denied speaking to Gallagher but said they had moved in the same social circles.
Crown said the family were “disappointed” that the media did not exercise greater restraint when reporting the death of their son, the only British victim of the tragedy.