Decision of the Complaints Committee 01311-19 Gharu v telegraph.co.uk
Summary of complaint
1. Suraj Gharu complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Telegraph.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Levi Bellfield ‘belonged to paedophile gang who escaped justice’” published on 30 December 2019.
2. The article reported on a report prepared by a senior social worker. The article said that, in the report, the author had claimed that Levi Bellfield "belonged to an organised gang of paedophiles who may still be at large". The article identified the complainant as a “friend of Bellfield” who was named in the report and stated that he was “jailed for five years for having sex with a 14 year old who was in care at [named] children’s home”.
3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) because he was not convicted of having sexual intercourse with a 14 year old child. In fact, he was convicted of inciting a 15 year old to engage in sexual activity. The complainant also said that it was misleading to describe him as a friend or associate of Levi Bellfield – they were not friends, and the complainant said that he simply worked as a wheel-clamper for Mr Bellfield and he was not part of any “paedophile gang” as claimed in the article’s headline.
4. The publication accepted that the complainant had not engaged in sexual intercourse with the child, but said that the fact that the complainant had been convicted of engaging in sexual activity with a child meant that the description of the offence for which the complainant had been convicted was not significantly misleading. It also noted that the description was based on articles published at the time of the complainant’s conviction and noted that these remained in the public domain un-amended and provided these to IPSO. In relation to the age of the child, the publication said that this was also based on information included in articles published at the time of the conviction, however, it said that the difference between the victim being 14 years old and 15 years oldwas not a significant inaccuracy. Nevertheless, on receipt of the complaint it amended the article to remove the reference to “sex” and added the following footnote correction to the article:
“CORRECTION: This article originally stated that Suraj Gharu was jailed for five years for "having sex with" a 14-year-old girl. The sentence, reduced to four years on appeal, was in fact imposed for the crimes of sexual activity with a child under 16 and inciting a child under 16 to engage in sexual activity. The article has been amended accordingly.”
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. It was not in dispute that the complainant had been convicted of engaging in sexual activity with a 15 year old child, however, he disputed that he had been convicted of engaging in sexual intercourse with a child. In describing the offence for which the complainant had been convicted, the publication had relied on articles published at the time of the complainant’s conviction which stated that he had had “sex” with the child; as these remained unchallenged in the public domain, there was no failure to take care and no breach of Clause 1(i). Following publication, the complainant had demonstrated that he had not been convicted for having had sexual intercourse with the child, and reporting that he had been jailed for “having sex” with a child was significantly misleading and required correction to avoid a breach of Clause 1(ii). Following receipt of details of the offence for which the complainant had been convicted, the publication had promptly offered to publish a correction as a footnote to the online article, and to amend the article, to set out the correct position. This proposal satisfied the requirements of Clause 1(ii) and the correction should now be printed.
7. Reporting that the complainant’s victim was 14 years old, when in fact she was 15 years old, was not significantly misleading in circumstances where the complainant’s victim was under the age of the consent at the time of the offence. Nevertheless, the Committee welcomed the publication’s offer to clarify this point. Where it was not in dispute that the complainant was a former employee of Levi Bellfield, it was not misleading for the article to describe him as a “friend”. The article focussed on the claim in the social worker’s report that Mr Bellfield belonged to an organised gang of paedophiles. The headline, which summarised the author’s claim that Levi Bellfield ‘belonged to a paedophile gang”, was not inaccurate and the text of the article had accurately explained the complainant’s connection to the story. There was no breach of Clause 1.
8. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 05/08/2019
Date decision issued: 18/10/2019Back to ruling listing