O24 Hours in Police Custody Privacy Complaint Not Upheld

Ofcom has not upheld a complaint relating to an episode of 24 Hours in Police Custody.

The complaint was made by Ms X, the wife of a man featured in the programme, which followed Bedfordshire Police as they investigated a suspected insurance fraud by the complainant’s then husband, Mr McGrath. Mr McGrath was subsequently found guilty of fraud and perverting the course of justice, and sentenced to 8 years in prison.

Ms X complained of the filming and broadcast of footage of both the inside and outside of her home. In particular, the programme-makers filmed and broadcast footage of the police arriving to execute a warrant for the arrest of Mr McGrath at the couple’s property in the early morning, this included police bodycam footage. During this, Ms X could be seen for approximately 11 seconds, standing in her pajamas behind her husband in the hallway. Her face was blurred.

The programme also showed the police search of the property. Items related to the police investigation were shown. Other possessions such as artwork, photographs and documents were blurred.

In submissions to Ofcom, Channel 4 made clear that Ms X appeared in the background “at the very moment” her husband was having his rights read to him and the grounds of his arrest were being explained. This was considered to be “a vital part of the record”,  and also captured his reaction, namely: “… Well, I think all I can say is that I think I know what it’s about. So, if we speak down at the police station”.

Channel 4 also noted that both Mr McGrath and Ms X had been involved in a public criminal trial where Ms X was found not guilty on all counts, which the programme referred to.

Ofcom found that whilst Ms X had a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to the filming and broadcast of footage inside her home, the programme was in the public interest, showing police actions and procedures relating to a complex fraud investigation. Obtaining and broadcasting footage of the police arresting Ms X’s husband inside their house, which incidentally captured footage of Ms X, was found to be proportionate.

Ofcom recognised that significant steps had been taken to limit any intrusive effect that the broadcast of her then husband’s arrest might have had on Ms X, including not showing details which identified the address of the property, not naming Ms X, obscuring Ms X’s face, as well as family possessions not directly linked to the police investigation.

No footage of or reference to Ms X’s four children was included in the programme. Nonetheless, as children under 16 were present in the house, Ofcom carefully scrutinised the programme maker’s decision to obtain the footage of the interior of the house in which the children resided at the time of the police search and the arrest of their father.

On balance, Ofcom considered that the public interest and the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression outweighed Ms X and her children’s legitimate expectation of privacy. Ofcom found that the privacy of Ms X and her children was not unwarrantably infringed in connection with the obtaining of, or broadcast of, the footage included in the programme.

zoom-in has previously reported on a complaint made by Mr McGrath himself about both the episode, and the episode as featured within an episode of Gogglebox. That complaint was also not upheld.