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Mr Collier and the Sunday Independent

The Press Ombudsman has decided to uphold a complaint by Mr Garth Collier under Principle 5 of the Code of Practice that a photograph of him accompanying an article about him published on October 9, 2011, was taken in a private place without his consent, and was not justified by the public interest.

The article about which Mr Collier complained gave an account of his bankruptcy in Ireland in the Nineties, and a failed business venture in the United States, the details of which he disputed. It also included extracts from a statement made by him to the reporter giving his version of what had happened.

The complainant specifically declined to give permission for his photograph to be taken by a photographer in circumstances in which he had a reasonable expectation of privacy, (ie standing inside the door of a house). The newspaper's justification for publication of this photograph was that there was a "serious public interest" in the matter. However, as the newspaper did not offer any evidence of such interest in events that had occurred between 16 and four years previously, this was an inadequate justification for this breach of his privacy. The complaint is therefore upheld.

A number of other complaints made by Mr Collier were not upheld, nor were complaints in relation to which there was insufficient evidence to enable the Press Ombudsman to make a decision.

The evidence that the photographer was inside a car when the photograph was taken was not of itself sufficient to support a decision that the taking of the photograph had been in breach of Principle 3 (Fairness and Honesty) and this part of the complaint is therefore not upheld.

Mr Collier also complained under Principle 1 that the headline to the article was inaccurate because its statement that he was being sued over an oilfield deal gave the impression that this was current news, whereas in fact the legal issues concerned dated back some years. Publishing historic information may well be an understandable cause of grievance to a complainant but does not of itself constitute a breach of the Code, even if its news value -- in this case, the revelation that a US lawyer was "apparently" determined to pursue the complainant legally -- is problematic.

Mr Collier also complained, under Principle 1, that the article was inaccurate because it was a company that had been sued, rather than him as an individual. The newspaper's evidence, on the other hand, confirmed that he was personally named in a court judgment for damages that had been handed down against him and others in a US court. The article clarified that he had been unable to file a defence because he and his associates could not raise the funds for a legal team. For this reason, this part of the complaint is not upheld.

Mr Collier also complained under the same Principle that the article inaccurately described the house at which he was photographed as his, and about the use of the word "Shame" as part of the photograph caption, as, he said, he had not done anything shameful. These complaints were not upheld because the inaccuracy about the ownership of the house was not sufficiently significant to amount to a breach of Principle 1, and because the use of the word "shame", although open to differing interpretations, was traceable to the complainant himself as it was included in a statement he submitted to the newspaper in which he had used the word to describe his earlier bankruptcy.

Mr Collier also complained that the newspaper focused on extracts from the US court case and failed to tell his side of the case. However, the newspaper's inclusion of extracts from a statement submitted by Mr Collier in relation to these matters meant that there was insufficient evidence that the article, in these respects, breached the Code of Practice.

A decision could not be made, in the absence of conclusive evidence, about a number of other complaints under the Code of Practice by Mr Collier about the article. Many of these complaints raised issues of interpretation or inference, and were related to or based on a complaint under Principle 2, for which there was also insufficient evidence, that the article had been inappropriately influenced by undisclosed interests, in that the complainant believed that the information on which the article was based had been furnished to the newspaper by a former business associate in order to discredit him.

Sunday Independent