01200-22 Various v Mail Online

Decision: Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 01200-22 Various v Mail Online

Summary of Complaint

1. The Independent Press Standards Organisation received various complaints that Mail Online breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Defiant Celtic fans clash with police in Glasgow as they storm football ground to watch match after crowds were capped at 500 in Sturgeon's Christmas crackdowns”, published on 26 December 2021.

2. The article reported on a group of football fans who were said in the headline to have “storm[ed the] football ground” and in text of the article to have “attempted to storm the ground” in order to watch a football game after Scotland capped crowds to 500 in December due to concerns around coronavirus. The article stated that these fans had “clashed with police” after “tensions boiled over” and that they were “armed with flares and sporting banners reading, ‘F**k the SNP’”. The headline of the article described the incident as occurring in Glasgow, whilst captions to the photographs said that the incident had occurred in Perth. The article contained photographs, showing fans holding smoke grenades, flares and banners, including one person holding a banner which stated: “[blurred word] the SNP” and police vans near the gathering. The article also reported on the wider restrictions in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England in December 2021.

3. IPSO received 356 complaints about this article. Complainants said that it was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 to report that fans had either stormed, or attempted to storm, the grounds. Complainants, some of whom were present, said the correct position was that the fans had gathered at a vantage point and had made no attempt to enter the stadium.

4. Complainants also said that it was inaccurate to state that “tensions boiled over” or that there had been a “clash” between fans and the police, as they said the interaction was peaceful and no arrests were made. Complainants said it was inaccurate to report that the fans were “armed with flares” as “armed” gave the misleading impression that they had weapons and that the incident was violent. Complainants who were present also said it was inaccurate to state that fans were “sporting banners reading, “F**k the SNP”. Finally, complainants also said that the incident had taken place in Perth and not Glasgow.

5. The publication provided IPSO with images of both the football grounds and the fans, which showed that the vantage point the fans had gathered at was in close proximity to the seating area of the grounds. It also noted that photographs within the article showed attendees holding flares and a person with a banner that stated “[blurred word] the SNP”, which it said was the relevant expletive, which had been obscured by the publication, and the presence of police at the vantage point. The publication said that these images of the fans exhibiting disruptive behaviour and surrounded by the police gave the editor the understanding that fans were clashing with the police and “attempting to storm the grounds”. The newspaper also said that the headline had referred to “Glasgow” due to a human error, but it did not consider this geographical error to be a significant inaccuracy in the context of the article.

6. Prior to IPSO’s involvement the publication removed the reference to Glasgow in the headline and added the following as a footnote:

“An earlier version of this story suggested that Celtic fans clashed with police at a match in Glasgow. This has been amended, and we are happy to clarify that the Boxing Day match against St Johnstone was held at McDiarmid Park, Perth.

During IPSO’s investigation, and within its first substantial response, it also offered to remove all references to “storming the grounds” and offered to publish the following as a footnote, and a slightly amended version as a standalone article:

"An article published on 26th December suggested that fans stormed the football grounds at a match in Glasgow. We are happy to clarify that fans did not storm the football grounds and that the match took place in Perth. We have amended the article to reflect this.

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.

Findings of the Committee

7. The article had stated in the headline that fans had “storm[ed]” the football ground, and it was repeated in the article that they had attempted to do so. The publication was unable to demonstrate that the fans had either stormed or attempted to storm the grounds – instead the fans had simply been in close proximity to the stadium, and the publication had based its assertion on this alone, without seeking to verify its assumptions. In these circumstances, it had not taken care not to publish inaccurate information and there was a breach of Clause 1(i). The inaccuracy stated that fans had stormed the grounds, which indicated a significantly more aggressive behaviour on the part of the fans than what the newspaper could demonstrate. On this basis, the inaccuracy was significant and required correction under Clause 1(ii).

8. It was accepted that the headline had inaccurately reported that the incident had occurred in Glasgow rather than Perth, and the publication said that this was due to human error. It had, therefore, not taken care not to report inaccurate information under Clause 1(i). Where the inaccuracy appeared in the headline, and related to a completely different city and stadium, this was a significant inaccuracy that required correction under Clause 1(ii).

9. The publication offered a correction which acknowledged the initial inaccuracy and put the correct position on record in relation to both inaccuracies. It was offered in its first substantial response after the matter had been referred to it by IPSO, which represented due promptness. The correction was offered to be published as a footnote to the article and as a standalone article which represented due prominence. There was no breach of Clause 1(ii).

10. The article had contained photos of the fans waving flares and banners whilst surrounded by the police. In circumstances where it was clear that police had interacted with the fans, and that fans had been using flares and waving banners, it was not misleading for the article to describe this as a “clash” or “tensions boiling over”. The Committee also did not consider it to be misleading to describe the fans as being “armed” with flares, where there was photographic evidence of the fans holding flares, and the article made clear what objects fans were “armed” with. Similarly, where a photograph showed a person holding a banner with “[blurred word] the SNP”, the Committee considered that it was not inaccurate to report that fans were “sporting banners reading, “F**k the SNP”. There was no breach of Clause 1 on these points.

Conclusion(s)

11. The complaint was upheld under Clause 1(i).

Remedial Action Required

12. The alterations and correction which were offered clearly put the correct position on record, and were offered promptly and with due prominence, and should now be published as both a footnote and a standalone correction.


Date complaint received: 29/12/2021

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 20/04/2022

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