The Press Complaints Commission has taken a directly opposing view to the courts by throwing out complaints against the Manchester Evening News for publishing pictures of surviving Siamese twin Gracie Attard, without her parents’ permission.
The MEN’s lawyers are considering using the commission’s ruling to try to overturn an injunction to stop the newspaper using the pictures again, which could mean commission members being called into court to give evidence.
The regional paper’s decision to publish the pictures infuriated the News of the World, The Mail on Sunday, Granada’s Tonight with Trevor McDonald and Now magazine, which had agreed a four-way, £350,000 deal for exclusive pictures of the child.
But the PCC, in its ruling, said: "It is not the function of the commission to seek to protect the financial position of complainants through the use of privacy sections of the Code of Practice.
"It has always taken the common-sense view that, where a complainant releases or sells information or photographs, they may become disentitled to the protection of the code in certain circumstances."
The commission regards it as a landmark case. "Privacy is – in the commission’s opinion – not a commodity which can be sold on one person’s terms," it ruled.
It rejected three complaints by Michael and Rina Attard, Gracie’s parents, and did not adjudicate on a fourth on intrusion into their privacy, because it had been dealt with by the court.
MEN editor Paul Horrocks said: "This is a victory for commonsense. This was a good, old-fashioned scoop. In my opinion the court was hijacked to protect an exclusive, commercial deal."
The identity of Gracie was protected by a court order while she remained in hospital in Manchester after the operation to separate her from Rosie, the twin who died. The order was lifted on the request of the Attards so they could negotiate through publicist Max Clifford to sell the exclusive pictures.
The MEN had been invited to the hospital to photograph the surgical team on the day Gracie was leaving.
Tipped off that Gracie was to be posing privately later with her parents, photographer Paul Burrows retreated to a public road and took his own pictures with a long lens.
The MEN held the pictures back until reporter Ian Wylie reported from a court hearing that the identity order on Gracie had been lifted. Then the paper stopped the presses to get them into 80,000 copies of its print run.
The Attards’ solicitors, Pannone and Partners, returned to court the same day to obtain the injunction, banning re-use of the pictures. The judge said the photographs had been taken in breach of the complainants’ privacy.
The parents complained to the PCC of intrusion of privacy, and claimed that the MEN pictures had been taken in the hospital, without their consent and that there was misrepresentation by the photographer.
By Jean Morgan