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(Credit: Belfast telegraph, screenshot)

The UK Press Complaints Commission ruled that it wasn’t an invasion of privacy for the Sunday Life newspaper to use a reporter’s cell phone footage of a former prison officer and convicted murderer Ken Callaghan “‘behaving like lovers’ at a supermarket.”  Sunday Life published with an April 2011 report photos from the video of Callaghan with the woman, her son, and another convicted

Callaghan “was sentenced to life…for bludgeoning” a woman “and sexually assaulting her as she lay dying at her Belfast home,” Sunday Life’s sister newspaper the Belfast Telegraph reported.  The day the footage was shot, he was “on day release.”

The woman, a former prison supervisor of Callaghan’s, “denied any suggestions that she had a romantic relationship with Mr Callaghan and behaved affectionately towards him in the supermarket; being aware of the full extent of Mr Callaghan’s ‘sickening past’ or that Mr Ferris was a sex offender; and allowing Mr Ferris to hold her son” and said she was misquoted, but Sunday Life argued it behaved ethically and reported a story in the public interest, according to the PCC.

Because of the Sunday Life’s footage and report, the woman was “suspended and then resigned from her position” as a prison officer. While the PCC never named the woman complainant, news stories about the footage identify her.

The Sunday Life told the PCC that the reporter who taped Callaghan and the woman got permission from the newspaper to record them.  The reporter explained that he identified Callaghan, observed that he “is in a relationship with the woman” and around a child and Callaghan’s previous convictions.

The PCC noted that while undercover reporting was used, the story was in the public interest because “the complainant was a public servant” and the footage was “critical to the substance of the story.” Similarly, despite the PCC’s guidelines calling for parental consent to publish photos of children, the PCC argued there was an “exceptional public interest in publication” and the child was not identifiable because of the angle of photos and pixilation. “It was indisputable that images showing the complainant’s son with a convicted paedophile — illustrating claims” that the newspaper made in its report. the PCC wrote.

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The woman also complained over accuracy, but the PCC concluded that the report was “the reporter’s account of what he observed” and that the reporter contacted her for comment prior to publication.

According to a 2008 Belfast Telegraph report, Callaghan earlier wanted “a permanent injunction against Sunday Life….that would ban publication of photographs of him.” The BBC reportedin 2009 that the media can’t print “unobscured pictures” of Callaghan.

We have written to Sunday Life for comment and will update with any response.

UPDATE: 6/7/2012 10:05 AM EST: Sunday Life’s head of news Stephen Gordon responded to iMediaEthics’ e-mail inquiry with the newspaper’s report on the PCC ruling.  That story noted that the report, by Ciaran Barnes, “earned him the Scoop of the Year and the Print News Journalist of the Year awards at the recent CIPR Northern Ireland media Awards.”

The newspaper’s editor, Martin Breen, is quoted in the report on the PCC ruling as calling the original story “an exceptional piece of journalism” and “clearly great journalism serving the public interest.”

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PCC: Undercover Photos from Supermarket & of Child OK to Publish B/c in ‘Exceptional Public Interest’

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