Decision of the Complaints Committee 00585-15 May v Daily Mail
Summary of complaint
1. Dinah May complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Mail had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Why DID women put up with cruel whining Winner?”, published in print and online on 7 November 2014.
2. The newspaper had published a review of a book written by the complainant about her 30 years of knowing and working with Michael Winner.
3. The article said that Mr Winner had made a commitment to leave the complainant his flat and a “hefty pension” if she stayed with him until she was 60. However, after his death, the complainant had “found that Winner had been so heavily in debt that she had to pay a £600,000 loan on the flat he had left her”. A bold insert to the article stated “£12m: The debts Michael Winner left after his death last year”.
4. The complainant said that this was inaccurate. At the time of Mr Winner’s death he had had more than enough to cover all commitments and bequests, as he had had substantial assets held in Guernsey. She said that the article implied that Mr Winner was a liar and a fraud. She said that this inaccuracy had previously been drawn to the attention of the newspaper. She was also concerned that the article represented an intrusion into her grief. The complainant said that the newspaper should publish a correction which included a headline and a photograph of Mr Winner.
5. The newspaper accepted that it had been misleading to say that Mr Winner had left £12m of debts after his death. The newspaper had reported his UK will in 2013, which had not taken account of the offshore private funds as they had been shielded from public view. The matter had been first brought to the newspaper’s attention in May 2014. The newspaper had circulated a legal warning, and three previous cuttings were marked on this point. It said that unfortunately, a further article had not been marked, and the misleading figure remained on a number of other websites. This had been picked up and added to article.
6. When this matter had been drawn to the newspaper’s attention on the day of publication, it had apologised to the complainant, and had offered to remove the offending reference and append a clarification to the online article. It offered to publish the following correction, both in print in its clarifications and corrections column on page two, and online:
A book review on 7 November 2014 wrongly repeated previously published claims that Michael Winner left £12M of debts at his death and that there were insufficient funds to honour his commitment to long-time assistant Dinah May. In fact, in addition to his UK estate, Mr Winner had substantial offshore assets sufficient to cover all his bequests with money left over. We are happy to set the record straight.
Relevant Code Provisions
7. 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 once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and – where appropriate – an apology published.
iii) The Press, whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
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 report legal proceedings, such as inquests.
Findings of the Committee
8. The newspaper had published information, which it accepted was misleading, and concerns about which had previously been drawn to its attention. The newspaper accepted that it had not marked all its previous cuttings, which might have ensured that the information had not been repeated, and a legal warning issued had evidently not been effectively communicated. In these circumstances, the republication of the misleading information represented a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article, in breach of Clause 1 (i) of the Code. The suggestion that Michael Winner had died leaving insufficient funds to cover his bequests was significantly misleading such to require correction under the terms of 1 (ii).
9. The complainant said she had always been aware that there was a loan against the flat, and that she had known about the offshore assets. In the context of the article as a whole - and in circumstances in which Mr Winner’s legacy had been the subject of a “miserable legal struggle” - the Committee did not find that this was significantly misleading such as to require correction under the terms of the Code. Nevertheless, it welcomed the newspaper’s offer to amend the online article on this point.
10. The terms of Clause 5 relate to the obligations of publications when reporting on instances of personal grief or shock, and are designed to protect victims, and their families, from unwanted journalistic intrusion and insensitivity when they are at their most vulnerable. The publication of the significantly misleading information in a review of the complainant’s book, while regrettable, did not demonstrate a failure to handle publication with appropriate sensitivity. There was no breach of Clause 5.
11. The complaint was upheld.
Remedial Action Required
12. Having upheld the complaint under Clause 1 (i), the Committee considered what remedial action should be required. With regard to the full circumstances of the breach, the Committee decided that the correction and amendments offered by the newspaper constituted appropriate remedial action; the correction should now be published.
The Committee welcomed the prompt steps taken by the newspaper to try to address the complainant’s concerns.
Date complaint received: 06/02/2015
Date decision Issued: 08/05/2015Back to ruling listing