Decision of the Complaints Committee – 00599-21 A woman v Liverpool Echo
Summary of Complaint
1. A woman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Liverpool Echo breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 14 (Confidential sources) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “I wonder to this day as to whether my arrest was racially motivated”, published on 18 January 2021.
2. The article reported the concerns of a man that his arrest by Merseyside Police had been “racially motivated”, after Liverpool County Court had ruled that his arrest was “not objectively necessary” and had been unlawful. It stated that the man had been arrested by the police in 2013 following a report made by the complainant that money had gone missing from her home. It named the complainant and included her partial address and gave an account of the circumstances leading to the man’s arrest: it stated that shortly after the man and his son had completed work in a part of the complainant’s house, the complainant had realised that a sum of money was missing from the property. The article reported that the complainant had later told Merseyside Police that she grew suspicious of the pair as their “manner changed” as they left the property. It reported that the man was arrested “despite Merseyside Police detectives knowing [the complainant] had not seen the money for months before [she noticed] it was gone” and that “other people, including 12 other workmen, had been in and out of the property in the months”, with none of these individuals arrested or questioned.
3. The article also appeared online in substantially the same format under the headline: “Black plumber fears 'race was involved' in unlawful arrest over client's missing £10k”.
4. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate and misleading, in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy), as it suggested that she was racist. She said that she was not relevant to the story and was an innocent party, being the victim of a crime that had occurred in her home years prior. She added that she had not mentioned the man’s race in the witness statement she gave to the police or made any racist allegations against him. She had provided the names of all the workmen that had worked at her property at the time to Merseyside Police. She expressed concern that the newspaper did not give her the opportunity to respond to the statements concerning her within the article.
5. The complainant also said that the article breached Clause 2 (Privacy), because it included her full name and partial address. She said that she was not involved in the court case brought by the man against Merseyside Police, and was unaware that it was happening, and in any event did not consider herself relevant to the report of the case. The complainant was concerned that she could be easily identified from the information included within the article and sought its removal. The complainant also said the article breached Clause 14 (Confidential sources) as it reported information that she had provided in a witness statement to Merseyside Police.
6. The newspaper did not accept it had breached the Code. It maintained that the complainant was relevant to the story: the report which had been made by the complainant to Merseyside Police had led to the man’s arrest, with the alleged crime having taken place at her home. The newspaper also noted that the article made clear that the racial element of the story was in relation to the man’s concerns about the motivation for his ”unlawful arrest” by Merseyside Police; the article did not imply that the complainant’s initial suspicions about this individual had anything to do with his race but rather a change in his “manner”.
7. The newspaper did not accept that publishing the complainant’s full name, partial address and experience as a victim was a breach of Clause 2. It said that newspapers were entitled to report on court proceedings. The witness statement which the complainant had given to Merseyside Police was included as evidence in the subsequent legal proceedings brought by the man against the police force. The newspaper provided the trial bundle from the case to demonstrate that the complainant’s witness statement and full name had been included in the evidence. Finally, the publication did not accept that the terms of Clause 14 (Confidential sources) were engaged.
Relevant Code Provisions
Clause 1 (Accuracy)
i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.
ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and — where appropriate — an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator.
iii) A fair opportunity to reply to significant inaccuracies should be given, when reasonably called for.
iv) The Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
Clause 2 (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. In considering an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy, account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information and the extent to which the material complained about is already in the public domain or will become so.
iii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals, without their consent, in public or private places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.
Clause 14 (Confidential sources)
Journalists have a moral obligation to protect confidential sources of information
Findings of the Committee
8. The Editors’ Code recognises that publications are generally entitled to report court proceedings in full, save for particular circumstances, such as when legal restrictions have been put in place by the court. The Committee acknowledged that in this instance the complainant was distressed that personal information, including her name, partial address, and experience as a victim, had been reported. However, the article was a report of a man’s concerns about the possible motives behind his arrest after a court ruled that his arrest by the local police force was “not objectively necessary” and was unlawful. During these proceedings, the witness statement provided by the complainant to the police force was included as evidence and, as a consequence, had been placed into the public domain. As such, the publication of this information did not represent an intrusion into the complainant’s private life. There was no breach of Clause 2.
9. The Committee then considered the concerns raised by the complainant in regard to Clause 1. It noted that the complainant had not identified a specific inaccuracy within the article but rather was concerned that the article did not make clear that she had not made any racist allegations against the individual who had been arrested by Merseyside Police. The Committee noted that the article had reported the concerns raised by this individual following the ruling of the court in the case he had brought against the police and made clear that these concerns related to the police’s conduct and the potential motivations for their decision to arrest him. There was no suggestion in the article that the complainant’s report to the police had been motivated by racism. Furthermore, the Committee was clear that there is no requirement under the Code to contact individuals prior to publication, although this may sometimes be appropriate in order to ensure that proper care is taken over accuracy. In this instance, the newspaper was reporting on information included in a witness statement provided by the complainant which formed part of the evidence in the proceedings, of which it had a copy. It had taken care over the accuracy of the article, and the Committee identified no inaccuracies. There was no breach of Clause 1.
10. There was no suggestion that an agreement had been made that the complainant be treated as a confidential source by the newspaper. As such, there was no breach of Clause 14.
11. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 21/01/2021
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 17/06/2021Back to ruling listing