Shipman complaint upheld but no censure for Morgan

The Mirror did not have to publish the result of a complaint against it from the wife of serial murderer Harold Shipman, even though it was upheld by the Press Complaints Commission, because the editor, Piers Morgan, was not censured.

The PCC decided there were mitigating circumstances to the breach of the Editors’ Code of Practice.

Primrose Shipman complained through her solicitors, Pannone and Partners of Manchester, that material contained in an article headlined "Shipman wife begs him: tell me truth", published in The Mirror on 9 July, breached the misrepresentation clause of the code and breached her privacy

The commission upheld the privacy complaint but made no finding about misrepresentation.

The article was accompanied by extracts from a letter sent by the complainant to her husband. It said the letter suggested she had a "lingering doubt" as to whether her husband had told her the truth.

Mrs Shipman claimed the letter had been stolen from her husband by his cellmate, Tony Fleming.

The newspaper said that it was satisfied that the letters had been obtained legitimately after they were given to Fleming by Dr Shipman.

The Mirror sent the commission a copy of a Manchester Evening News article printed in February 2000 based on an interview with Fleming.

It included his assertion that he had been given a number of letters by Shipman. The article was accompanied by a letter sent from the complainant to her husband – and no complaint had been lodged about its publication.

But the commission said it would normally find that publishing private letters was a breach of the code unless there were strong reasons for doing so – if consent had been given, if there was a public interest or if they were otherwise legitimately about to be made public.

Having read the entire letter from which The Mirror quoted, it was clear that the contents were personal and the commission disagreed with the newspaper’s interpretation of what Mrs Shipman had written.

However, the PCC said in its adjudication, there were extenuating circumstances which the commission took into account in deciding not to censure The Mirror.

There was clearly a clash of evidence about how the letter was obtained.

Second, the commission bore in mind that the complainant’s uniquely intimate relationship to Dr Shipman, coupled with the fact that she had stated hardly anything in public about his crimes, would inevitably arouse considerable interest in any statement she made.

The editor believed that there was sufficient public interest in publishing an excerpt from the letter – which was supported by the fact that he had not published much more personal material from it even though it was available.

Another letter had been published elsewhere but without complaint.

By Jean Morgan

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