Liberty Wins Key CCTV Privacy Case
28 January 2003
In the case of Geoff Peck vs UK, the Court found that the UK (in fact, Brentwood council) had breached Mr Peck's human rights under Article 8 of the Human Rights Convention - the right to respect for his privacy.
The Court found that there had been a "serious interference" with Mr Peck's rights. Film of his suicide attempt - from which he was clearly identifiable - was shown as part of a crime programme on national television. As the judgment notes, the council should, among other things, have checked that Mr Peck was charged with an offence before passing the material to a programme called 'Crime Beat'.
It entirely accepted (as Liberty does) that CCTV can be a useful tool in tackling crime. It also accepted that that value can be enhanced by advertising the effectiveness of the scheme. But (as well as not checking that Mr Peck was committing any crime - he wasn't), the Council had failed to take any of three key steps:
- it could have sought his consent;
- it could have masked his identity effectively before passing the footage on; or
- it could have had written contracts with the TV companies ensuring his identity was masked.
Brentwood Council did none of these things. That failure meant its action in handing over the film was clearly disproportionate and breached Mr Peck's rights to respect for his privacy.
The Court also found the UK in breach of Article 13 - the right to an effective remedy. It concluded that the Broadcasting Standards Commission and Independent Television Commission could not offer an effective remedy because they have no power to award damages. A judicial review also failed to provide a remedy because the court could not consider whether the council had acted proportionately or not.
Mr Peck has today been awarded compensation of €11,800 plus costs and expenses.
James Welch, legal director of Liberty, which took Mr Peck's case to the European Court, says:
"The court has confirmed something that should be glaringly obvious to people operating CCTV systems ... they can't pass on footage of people without any regard for those people's right to privacy. Sadly, that's too often ignored. CCTV is still very poorly controlled by UK law - it's high time proper regulation was put in place".
On the evening of 20 August 1995, while suffering from depression, Geoff Peck (b.1955) walked alone down Brentwood High Street, with a kitchen knife in his hand, and attempted suicide by cutting his wrists. He was unaware that he had been filmed by a CCTV camera installed by Brentwood Borough Council.
CCTV footage showed in possession of a knife. The police were notified and arrived at the scene, where they took the knife, gave the applicant medical assistance and brought him to the police station, where he was detained under the Mental Health Act 1983. He was examined and treated by a doctor, after which he was released without charge and taken home by police officers.
On 9 October 1995 the Council issued two photographs taken from the CCTV footage with an article entitled "Defused - the partnership between CCTV and the police prevents a potentially dangerous situation". The applicant's face was not specifically masked. The article noted that an individual had been spotted with a knife in his hand, that he was clearly unhappy but not looking for trouble, that the police had been alerted, that the individual had been disarmed and brought to the police station where he was questioned and given assistance.
Other articles with photographs appeared in the "Brentwood Weekly News" (with his face not specifically masked); and in the "Yellow Advertiser", circ 24,000 (in an article headlined "Gotcha") the photo appeared again in February 1996 in an article entitled "Eyes in the sky triumph". A number of people recognised Mr Peck.
On 17 October 1995 extracts from the CCTV footage were included in an Anglia Television programme, a local broadcast to an average audience of 350,000. The applicant's face had been masked at the Council's oral request.
In late October or November 1995 the applicant became aware that he had been filmed on CCTV and that footage had been released because a neighbour said he had seen him on television. He did not take any action as he was still suffering from severe depression.
The CCTV footage was also supplied to the producers of "Crime Beat", a BBC series on national television with an average of 9.2 million viewers. The Council imposed orally a number of conditions, including that no one should be identifiable in the footage and that all faces should be masked.
After being told by friends that they had seen him on 9 March 1996 in trailers for "Crime Beat", Mr Peck complained to the Council about the forthcoming programme. The Council contacted the producers who confirmed that his image had been masked. On 11 March the CCTV footage was shown on "Crime Beat". The applicant's image was masked in the main programme, although he was recognised by friends and family.
The applicant made a number of media appearances thereafter to speak out against the publication of the footage and photographs.
In June 1997 the BSC upheld Mr Peck's complaints in relation to, among other things, the "Crime Beat" programme, the unwarranted infringement of his privacy and his unjust and unfair treatment. In relation to the Anglia TV programme, the ITC found that his identity was not adequately obscured and that the ITC code had been breached. Given an admission and apology by Anglia Television, however, no further action was taken. On 17 May 1996 the applicant complained unsuccessfully to the Press Complaints Commission concerning the articles in the "Yellow Advertiser".
On 23 May 1996 he applied to the High Court for leave to apply for judicial review concerning the Council's disclosure of the CCTV material. His request and a further request for leave to appeal to the Court of Appeal were both rejected.
The case then went to the European Court of Human Rights - regarding the disclosure of the CCTV footage to the media, which resulted in images of Mr Peck being published and broadcast widely.