Rogers & Norton News

Heafield v Times Newspapers

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

It’s not often that we’re forced to reduce expletives to black and white. But this case report just wouldn’t be the same without it.

Mr Heafield was a sub-editor at the Times. He was also a practising Roman Catholic, although his colleagues didn’t know this. In 2010 the paper was running stories about alleged child abuse in the Catholic Church. It seemed that things were getting pretty tense in the newsroom. A print deadline loomed and Mr Heafield’s manager, chasing a delayed article (known to those in the newsroom as ‘the Pope’), shouted, “What’s happened to the f***** Pope?”.

Three days later, Mr Heafield complained that he was offended by the comment. He resigned and brought various claims including harassment against the Times based on the comment.

The tribunal held that the conduct was unwanted, but it was unreasonable of Mr Heafield to have experienced the environment as adverse. The comment had not been made in order to violate Mr Heafield’s dignity, nor to create a hostile or offensive environment. In the context of the newsroom environment at that time, it was ‘trivial or transitory’. The manager was asking where the story was and, under pressure, he swore. It was unreasonable to interpret this as insulting a religion.

The decision was upheld on appeal.