Case Study 1. Sir Paul McCartney v. Helllo! Magazine

Complaint: UK’s Press Complaints Commission was approached by Sir Paul McCartney who complained about the fact of publication of photographs of him with his family in Hello! on 30 May 1998.

The photographs - under the headline "A month after losing wife Linda - Sir Paul McCartney - Getting by with a little help from his children" - showed the musician and his children inside Paris Notre Dame cathedral. The publication described how McCartneys lit a candle for the deceased wife and mother and prayed for her.

In Sir Paul McCartney’s assessment, the publication was an intrusion in his privacy and grief. The musician claimed that neither he nor his family had been unaware of being photographed and that the photos taken in the very difficult time in the lives depicted most private moments without a consent. The complainant believed that publication of the photographs could not be justified in any way.

The magazine’s editor submitted to the Commission that the photographs had been obtained from news agencies and they were rather touching as they evoked a genuine compassion in the readers.


Decision: The Commission upheld Sir Paul McCartney’s complaint and established a violation of Article 3 (Privacy) and Article 5 (Intrusion into grief and shock) of the Code of Practice.

Reasoning: The Commission considered the explanation of the magazine’s editor about obtaining the photographs from a news agency irrelevant because editors are responsible for the content of their publications. It was similarly unimpressed with the editor's statement that the photograph of the family inside Notre Dame cathedral had been added without her knowledge.

The Commission highlighted that publication of this material could not have been justified by a public interest.

The Commission upheld Sir Paul’s assessments that publication of the photographs were deeply intrusive and pointed out that a cathedral is a clear example of a place where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy and journalists are expected to respect this right as defined in the Code of Practice.

1) Everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence, including digital communications. Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual's private life without consent.

2) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals in private places without their consent. Note: Private places are public or private property where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.

5. Intrusion into grief or shock:
In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively. This should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings, such as inquests.