00665-20 Enticknap v The Gazette (North East, Middlesbrough & Teeside)

Decision: Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 00665-20 Enticknap v The Gazette (North East, Middlesbrough & Teeside)

Summary of Complaint

1. Gary Enticknap complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Gazette (North East, Middlesbrough & Teeside) breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Glum-looking pimp used threats to keep his sex enterprise secret”, published on 12 July 2019.

2. The article reported on the complainant’s sentencing hearing. The article stated that the complainant had “used blackmail to avoid justice and stop his prostitutes leaving”; that he had “on at least one occasion blackmailed the victim to prevent her contacting police”; detailed his sentencing for controlling prostitution for gain. The article also included a quote from a spokesperson for North Yorkshire Police, stating that “he used the threat of blackmail to avoid being brought to justice.”

3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 because, whilst the claim he had blackmailed one of the escorts had been referenced in court, the charge had been dropped and he had not been found guilty of it. He also said that whilst he had pleaded guilty to controlling prostitution for gain, he maintained that he was innocent and said that he was intending to pursue a retrial.

4. The publication accepted that it had published inaccurate information, but it did not accept that it had breached the Code. It said that the article was based on a press release issued by the North Yorkshire Police. The publication provided the press release, which stated that the complainant had pleaded “guilty to two charges of controlling prostitution for gain” and that he had “on at least one occasion blackmailed the victim to prevent her contacting police”. The press release also contained a quote from a spokesperson for North Yorkshire Police which said: “he used the threat of blackmail to avoid being brought to justice”. The publication was contacted by the complainant directly, and after confirming the position with the North Yorkshire Police, it amended the article and added the following correction as a footnote:

CLARIFICATION: An earlier version of this story made reference to an allegation of blackmail in line with information supplied by North Yorkshire Police. The force has since clarified that charge was dropped. The force has also amended its statement on the victims. We are happy to clarify this information.

Relevant Code Provisions

5. 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.

Findings of the Committee

6. The publication had relied solely upon a police press release for its information about the court proceedings. However, the press release was contradictory: it explained that an allegation had been made that the complainant had blackmailed one of his victims and later stated, without qualification, that he had blackmailed the victim on at least one occasion. Further, the charges in respect of which the complainant had pleaded guilty were made clear in the press release, and did not appear to include a charge of blackmail.  The status of the blackmail allegation was, therefore, not clear from the press release. However, the article had reported, as fact, that the complainant had blackmailed his victim, without taking any steps to confirm whether the offence to which the complainant had pleaded guilty had included a charge of blackmail. Given the seriousness of the claim, this represented a failure to take care not to report inaccurate information about the offence committed by the complainant in breach of Clause 1(i). Where the article was a report of the complainant’s court case and conviction, this was a significant inaccuracy that required a correction under Clause 1(ii).

7. Once the publication had been contacted directly by the complainant prior to IPSO’s involvement, and the position had been confirmed by the police, it changed the article and added a clarifying footnote which identified the inaccuracy and put the correct position on record, which was found to be both prompt and prominent. There was no breach of Clause 1(ii).

8. The Committee noted that the complainant said he was innocent of controlling prostitution for gain, but he accepted that he had pleaded guilty to this charge. Where the article accurately reported that the complainant had pleaded guilty to charges of controlling prostitution for gain, the Committee did not find the article misleading in the way the complainant suggested. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

Conclusions

9. The complaint was upheld.

Remedial Action Required

10. The publication had published a correction sufficiently promptly and with due prominence as to meet the requirements of Clause 1(ii). There was no breach of Clause 1(ii), and no further remedial action required.

 

Date complaint received: 05/02/2020

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 14/05/2020

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