Decision of the Complaints Committee 01255-14 Holman v Best
Summary of complaint
1. Richard Holman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Best magazine had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Branded a prostitute by a love rat plumber”, published on 7 October 2014.
2. The magazine had published an interview with Rachel Lyne, who explained how she had been harassed following her involvement with the complainant. Ms Lyne said that after her relationship with the complainant, he and his wife had created 157 false internet profiles of her claiming she was a prostitute, drug dealer and benefits cheat. The complainant and his former wife received custodial sentences for harassment. The article reported that the complainant had had a “casual” relationship with Ms Lyne while he had been married. It described the complainant as a “love rat”, and said that, following the relationship, Ms Lyne had suffered as a result of the harassment to which she had been subjected.
3. The complainant was concerned that the article contained a number of inaccuracies. He said that it had been inaccurate to say that he had been married, and to describe him as a “love rat”, as he and his former wife had been divorced at the time. The complainant denied that he had a relationship with Ms Lyne. He also said that his ex-wife had not called her a “whore” or “home wrecker”, as had been reported in the article. The complainant said that the court had found that he and his ex-wife had published the material about Ms Lyne on five websites; not 157 websites. He also denied that Ms Lyne had suspected that he had been responsible for the harassment, or that she had she moved because of the conduct of him and his ex-wife.
4. The magazine said that the story had been told from the perspective of Ms Lyne. As there had clearly been a dispute between the complainant and Ms Lyne, it was not surprising that her view of the relationship was different to the complainant’s. The inaccuracies alleged by the complainant were minor in the context of the full story; the facts of the story were that the complainant and his ex-wife had been convicted of publishing “degrading and false information about Ms Lyne, with the intention of leading the public to believe that she was a prostitute”. Both individuals had been given a custodial sentence for their crimes.
5. The magazine accepted that the complainant had been divorced at the time of his relationship with Ms Lyne and provided reporter’s notes which made clear that the court had heard that the complainant and his former wife had been divorced at the time. It said that the complainant had, however, been living with his ex-wife. In this context, the publication did not accept that the inaccuracy was significant such as to require correction under the terms of the Code. The point of the allegation was that the complainant had been dishonest about the nature of his personal life, and that Ms Lyne was understandably surprised to learn that Mr Holman lived with his ex-wife. The term “love rat” is commonly used to describe someone who had behaved poorly in a relationship; it does not necessarily mean that someone had been unfaithful to their partner.
6. Ms Lyne said that she had had a brief relationship with the complainant, which had included some social activity. While the complainant and Ms Lyne disagreed about the nature of their relationship, the article had been told from the perspective of Ms Lyne.
7. Ms Lyne had said that the complainant’s ex-wife had called her a “home wrecker”. This was included in the evidence she gave the Court prior to the complainant’s conviction. The publication said that, in any case, this did not represent a significant detail; the allegation was that the complainant had been dishonest about his personal life.
8. Ms Lyne had been entitled to express her own opinion as to why she moved and who she thought had been responsible for the harassment.
9. The magazine said that Ms Lyne believed that the material had been published on 157 websites. The article had not said that this was established in court. It had, however, been established in court that the material had been published on a number of websites by the complainant and his ex-wife. The publication said that the material could easily have been further disseminated following the original publication, onto other sites.
10. The magazine said that it had made significant efforts to verify the key facts of the story with the police and the courts. The complainant’s conviction for these offences was a matter of public record. The article represented Ms Lyne’s view in relation to these offences, and the effect that they had on her. The magazine had not been obliged to offer the complainant an opportunity to reply.
11. Although the magazine did not accept that the article contained any significant inaccuracies, as an attempt to resolve the complaint it offered to publish the following correction:
Best is happy to clarify details regarding our story ‘Branded a prostitute by a love rat plumber’ in Issue 40. Our interviewee Rachel Lyne believed that Richard Holman, who along with his ex-wife Amanda was jailed for harassing Ms Lyne, was still married to Amanda at the time. Mr Holman would like us to point out that in fact he and Amanda were divorced despite living together.
Relevant Code Provisions
12. 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.
iii) The Press, whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply)
A fair opportunity to reply to inaccuracies must be given when reasonably called for.
Findings of the Committee
13. The article had inaccurately reported that the complainant had been married at the time of his involvement with Ms Lyne. The publication had notes from the court reporter which confirmed that the complainant had not been married at the time. This demonstrated a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article, in breach of Clause 1 (i) of the Code. The suggestion in the article that the complainant had conducted an extra marital affair represented a significant inaccuracy which required correction under the terms of Clause 1 (ii).
14. The article said that Ms Lyne had “found 157 online profiles claiming [she] was a prostitute, drug dealer and benefits cheat”. While the complainant said that he and his former wife had not been convicted in relation to publication of the material on this number of sites, it was Ms Lyne’s position that the material could be found on that number of sites. The complainant and his ex-wife had been convicted for publishing the information on the internet and did not dispute Ms Lyne’s account of how widely that material had subsequently spread. There was no breach of the Code on this point.
15. In relation to the complainant’s concerns about the description of the nature of his encounters with Ms Lyne; her understanding of who was responsible for the harassment; her motivation for moving home and her description of her interaction with the complainant’s ex-wife, the Committee took the view that the magazine had been entitled to reports Ms Lyne’s personal account of her experiences. It was clear that the complainant and Ms Lyne had been involved in an acrimonious situation, and it was clear that Ms Lyne’s account represented her side of the events. The article had not been significantly misleading on these points.
16. The magazine had offered to publish a correction to address the inaccuracy in the article. A reply was not therefore reasonably called for under the terms of the Code. There was no breach of Clause 2.
17. The complaint was upheld.
Remedial Action Required
18. Having upheld the complaint under Clause 1 (i), the Committee considered what remedial action should be required. The Committee has the power to require the publication of a correction and/or adjudication, the nature, extent and placement of which is to be determined by IPSO. It may also inform the publication that further remedial action is required to ensure that the requirements of the Editors’ Code are met.
The magazine had offered to publish a correction which made clear that the complainant had not been married at the time of his involvement with Ms Lyne. In the circumstances, the publication of this correction was appropriate remedial action, and this should now be published. This should be published on the same page, or further forward, than the original article.
Date complaint received 10/10/2014
Date decision issued 17/04/2015
Back to ruling listing