Decision of the Complaints Committee – 01063-18 Gabriel v MailOnline
Summary of Complaint
1. Janis Gabriel complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that MailOnline breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 9 (Reporting of crime) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “’Shameless’ family evicted from their council house after they decked it out with a swimming pool, sauna, Jacuzzi and a four poster waterbed have been SPARED jail after a vicious pub brawl”, published on 2 February 2018.
2. The article reported that three siblings of a “notorious” family had been given non-custodial sentences after being convicted in relation to a fight in a pub. It described how the family “rose to notoriety in 2004 after they were evicted from their council home ‘palace’”; it said that during the trial in relation to this matter “it was claimed they inflicted ’21 years of anti-social behaviour’ towards neighbours”. The article also reported claims made by neighbours regarding the family’s behaviour. It provided details on the events surrounding the brawl, and on the past “string of convictions for violence” of two of the three siblings, and described the non-custodial sentences all three had received for their involvement in the brawl. The article described how one of the three siblings “has seven children aged between 10 and 18 from different fathers”, and quoted a probation report which said that “’the fathers are not really on the scene’”. The article described how the family “designed its own logo”, which was included in the article.
3. The article reported that the 2004 trial was told that the complainant and her husband, who were both named, “were receiving £2,000 a month in benefits but paid no council tax or rent on their three bedroomed semi”; it described the items and money found in the home and stated that the complainant had been jailed for 6 months. The article went on to say that her conviction was quashed in 2006 “after the judge’s directions to the jury were deemed to be ‘flawed’”. It included photos of the three siblings, and of the complainant, including photos from her 2004 trial.
4. The complainant said that the article had breached Clause 9 (Reporting of crime) because it named her and explained the connection between her and three family members who had been convicted, when she was not relevant to this story. The complainant also said that the article breached Clause 2 (Privacy) by reporting on the details of her conviction, when this had been overturned several years previously. Finally, she said the article breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) by misleadingly reporting on the two court cases together, suggesting that they were connected.
5. The publication denied that the article engaged Clause 9. The article was not a report of crime: its focus was the family generally and their notoriety in the local area over a period of many years. Were the Clause considered to be engaged, the publication argued that the complainant’s identity and conviction were clearly relevant to the subject of the article - the family’s persistent anti-social behaviour. In addition, the complainant had included herself in the family’s “branding” on social media, making her relevant to a report on the family’s behaviour.
6. In addition, the publication said that there was no breach of Clause 2, where the court proceedings involving the complainant were already in the public domain and had been widely reported on at the time. In any event, there was a clear public interest in reporting on criminal proceedings, in accordance with the principle of open justice.
7. The publication also denied any breach of Clause 1: the headline was supported by the text, and its readers would not have been misled by the publication reporting on both court cases in the same article. However, the publication reverted to an earlier published headline to avoid any confusion between the past and present cases.
Relevant Code Provisions
8. 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. Account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information.
iii) It is unacceptable to photograph
individuals, without their consent, in public or private places where there is
a reasonable expectation of privacy.
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.
ii) Particular regard should be paid to
the potentially vulnerable position of children who witness, or are victims of,
crime. This should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings.
Findings of the Committee
9. The article reported on two criminal cases, in the context of reporting the long-term history of anti-social behaviour engaged in by the family. It was not misleading to report on both cases in one report, where this context represented a connection between the two; the article made clear the events that related to each conviction, and made clear that the complainant’s conviction had been overturned. There was no failure to take care over the accuracy of the article, and it was not misleading; there was therefore no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
10. The article reported on the complainant’s children’s recent convictions; it was therefore a ‘report of crime’. The terms of Clause 9 were engaged. The Committee considered whether the complainant was generally relevant to the report of these crimes. The complainant’s sons had convictions for numerous previous offences, making the family’s historic pattern of behaviour relevant to the report of their most recent convictions. The complainant’s relationship to her children, and her own behaviour, as described in relation to the 2004 court case, formed part of this narrative. The complainant was, therefore, genuinely relevant to the report of her children’s convictions, and identifying her, and including details of the offence for which she was convicted and later cleared, was not a breach of Clause 2 or Clause 9 of the Code. The Committee also noted that the publication had pixelated the images of family members who were not relevant to the report of the crime, suggesting that care had been taken to establish the relevance of those who were pictured.
11. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial action required
Date complaint received: 05/02/2018
Date decision issued: 01/06/2018Back to ruling listing