Decision of the Complaints Committee 00921-14 Littler v Sunday Express
Summary of complaint
1. Bob Littler complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Sunday Express had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Alice killer found dead”, published on 5 October 2014.
2. The article reported that police had found the body of Arnis Zalkalns, who was suspected of killing schoolgirl Alice Gross.
3. The complainant said that the headline was inaccurate, as Mr Zalkalns had not been tried or convicted of Miss Gross’s murder, and the only evidence available was circumstantial.
4. The newspaper did not accept that the headline was misleading. It noted the sub-headline, “Latvian suspect discovered in wood less than two miles from murder scene”. Further, a headline inside the edition had referred to Mr Zalkalns as a “suspect”, and he was described on the front page as “prime suspect”. The text contained no reference to him as the killer of Miss Gross. The article as a whole had made clear that Mr Zalkalns had not been convicted of the murder. Further, there had been extensive coverage of the case, and readers were aware of the fact that, while Mr Zalkalns had not been convicted of Miss Gross’s murder, he was a convicted killer. The headline was not therefore inaccurate or misleading.
Relevant Code Provisions
5. 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.
Findings of the Committee
6. The newspaper’s defence of the headline, that it was accurate because Mr Zalkans was a convicted killer, was not convincing.
7. However, the Committee noted that it generally considers headlines in context. In this case, the sub-headline had referred to Mr Zalkalns as a “suspect”. Further, the article had made clear throughout that the investigation into Miss Gross’s death had not yet been concluded. There was no breach of Clause 1.
8. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 06/10/2014Date decision issued: 17/12/2014 Back to ruling listing