Decision of the Complaints Committee 00015-14 Mian v Slough and Bucks Express
Summary of complaint
1. Mr Ahmed Mian complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation on behalf of Abida Choudry that the Slough and South Bucks Express had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 3 (Privacy), Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock) and Clause 9 (Reporting of crime) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Father jailed for seven years after abducting his two children”, published online and in print on 5 September 2014.
2. The article reported that Mr Mohammed Choudry had been jailed after abducting two of his children in 1998.
3. The complainant considered that the publication of Mrs Choudry’s full name, her previous address, and the inclusion of comments from the defence that she had been claiming benefits at the time of the separation from her husband had intruded into her privacy. The complainant had cited Clauses 5 and 9 but did not provide details of his complaints under these Clauses. He said that the article had placed unnecessary emphasis on personal details, rather than focusing on reporting information which was in the public interest.
4. The complainant said that the article had inaccurately reported that Mrs Choudry was divorced, when in fact she was still married. Further, it was inaccurate to state that following their 1998 abduction Mrs Choudry “did not see her children again until 2012”, as she had only seen one child in 2012, and had still not seen one of her children. He objected to the article’s reporting that the court had heard that a document was sent to Mr Choudry in 2012, which “stated Ms Choudry had given consent to her husband to take their two young children into his custody, and had included her signature and thumb print”, as he stated that her signature had been forged. He also said that there had not been a “lengthy legal battle over the custody of their three children”, following Mr and Mrs Choudry’s separation. Rather, the courts had made the custody decision very shortly after the couple’s separation.
5. The complainant further considered that the article was misleading by omission. He said that the newspaper should have reported what he perceived as various failures by the police and the CPS, and that the article should have contained more general information about child abductions.
6. The newspaper defended its article as a fair and balanced summary of court proceedings, based on its reporter’s presence at the trial, and a press release issued by the police. Nonetheless it apologised to the complainant for the distress caused, and accepted that the article contained inaccuracies with regard to Mrs Choudry’s marital status, and whether or not she had been reunited with both of her children. It offered to publish a correction on these points.
7. The newspaper said that the omissions to which the complainant objected were beyond the scope of a court report. It did however offer to print a follow up interview with Mrs Choudry.
Relevant Code Provisions
8. Clause 1 (Accuracy)
i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures.
ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion one recognised, must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and – where appropriate – an apology published.
Clause 3 (Privacy)
i) Everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence, including digital communications.
ii) Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual’s private life without consent. Account will be taken of the complainant’s own public disclosures of information.
Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock)
i) 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 publish legal proceedings, such as inquests.
Clause 9 (Reporting of crime)
i) Relatives or friends of persons convicted or accused of
crime should not generally be identified without their consent, unless they are
genuinely relevant to the story.
Findings of the Committee
9. The Committee noted that the complaint had arisen from the reporting of a sensitive case of personal significance to the complainant. It noted his concerns about the article, but considered the complaint within the context of the Editors’ Code of Practice.
10. The Committee made clear that the newspaper was not
obliged to include all information available relating to the case, or to child
abduction in general. The omissions to which the complainant objected did not
render the article misleading, given that it was a report of court proceedings.
11. The complainant had not disputed that Mrs Choudry’s
name, former address and the fact that she was on benefits had been mentioned
in court as part of proceedings. In the absence of specific reporting
restrictions, the newspaper was entitled to report any information given in
open court, and in doing so it had not intruded into Mrs Choudry’s privacy.
While the complainant did not consider these details to be relevant to the
report, this was a matter for the editor’s discretion.
12. The Committee noted the complainant’s concern that the
coverage had inaccurately stated that Mrs Choudry was divorced. This inaccuracy
appeared to have arisen from an assumption by the reporter, based on the
circumstances of the case. However, given that Mrs Choudry was estranged from
her husband, and that the article was a report of his conviction on charges of
child abduction, the inaccurate reporting of her marital status was not so
significant as to raise a breach of Clause 1. Nonetheless, the newspaper’s
offer to amend the article to remove reference to Mrs Choudry’s marital status
13. The Committee noted that Mrs Choudry had still not been
reunited with one of her children However, given that she had not seen either of
them before 2012, and saw one of them in that year, it was not significantly
inaccurate to state that “she did not see her children again until 2012” . The
newspaper’s offer to remove this sentence and to make clear in a footnote that
Mrs Choudry had only been reunited with one of her children was nevertheless
14. The newspaper was entitled to rely on the police
statement in preparing its report. This had made reference to a contact order
being issued after years of “protracted and complex legal proceedings”. It
would seem that the newspaper had misinterpreted the police statement, and the
difference between custody and contact orders in family proceedings. However,
given the circumstances, the reference to a lengthy custody battle did not constitute
a significant inaccuracy which would raise a breach of Clause 1. Further, the
article had not stated that Mrs Choudry had provided signed consent for her
husband to allow him to take the children; rather, it had made clear that this
was something which had been suggested by the defence.
15. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 09/09/2014Date decision issued: 15/12/2014 Back to ruling listing