By Michelle Gribbon
A journalist working for the Daily Mail turned up at St George’s Hospital in South London on Friday night with a telescopic lens hoping to take pictures of drunk party goers.
The photographer was spotted by hospital security staff lurking in bushes near the Accident and Emergency department taking long-lens pictures.
When asked what he was doing, the journalist explained that he was working for The Daily Mail and handed over the contact details for picture editor Janet Tomlinson.
When the hospital’s General Manager called the picture desk requesting an explanation, she was told by Tomlinson that they were working on a piece about drunken party people wasting NHS resources and that photographers had been sent to a number of hospitals throughout the country. Tomlinson insisted that the photographer she had dispatched to St George’s was only working in a public area so there was no reason to seek permission. But the hospital disagreed saying all of the hospital grounds were private and there were concerns over patient confidentiality.
The photographer left when asked to do so only to return a few hours later to try his luck again. On this occasion he told security he’d sought consent from two people he’d snapped. How consent can reasonably be given by a drunk person– as that’s who he intended to photograph – after pub-closing time on a weekend night is another matter. It also raises questions about patient confidentiality if a photographer emerges from the bushes in the dark early hours of the morning to approach you as you leave A&E. In any event, he was asked to leave for the second time.
On Saturday, the hospital’s Deputy Head of Communications, Paul Sheringham rang Tomlinson at The Daily Mail to ensure that none of the pictures had been used. He told Hacked Off that he was concerned about the impact a story of this nature would have on patient confidentiality. “The irony is”, he said, “is if they’d got in touch with us and we thought it a legitimate piece of journalism about the NHS we would have helped them with interviews and case studies. Instead, they chose to turn up without permission.”
So far no pictures have appeared in the newspaper but it will be interesting to see if a story materialises from any of the other hospitals Daily Mail photographers were sent to in the early hours of the morning.
Although no pictures have yet been published it is very clear that the Daily Mail has breached the Editor’s Code of Practice relating to Clause 8 Hospitals and Clause 3, Privacy:
8. ii) The restrictions on intruding into privacy are particularly relevant to enquiries about individuals in hospitals or similar institutions.
i) Everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence, including digital communications.
ii) Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual’s private life without consent. Account will be taken of the complainant’s own public disclosures of information.
iii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals in private places without their consent.
Note – Private places are public or private property where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.
And guess who is Chairman of the Editor’s Code Committee – the body responsible for writing the rules the industry has agreed to comply with? None other than the Editor of the Daily Mail, Paul Dacre.
Thank you to Private Eye who first wrote about this incident in 12 December-19 December issue, ‘Spot the Balls’.