Decision of the Complaints Committee 01312-19 Gharu v dailystar.co.uk
Summary of complaint
1. Suraj Gharu complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that dailystar.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Levi Bellfield child grooming GANG paedos linked to serial killer ‘still on the loose’” 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 had run a “child sex gang” and included a comment from the author who said “ “There are six other men in my report who are [not] serving full-life tariffs in prison and in my opinion pose a serious threat to children” and 'I am deeply concerned there remains a risk to children both in the community and online from Bellfield's associates”. The article identified the complainant as one of the men named in the report and stated that he was “jailed for five years for sleeping with [a] 14 year old children’s home resident”.
3. The complainant said the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) because he was not convicted for 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 an “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 “gang” as claimed in the article’s headline.
4. The publication said that court documents showed that as well as the complainant being convicted of inciting a child to engage in sexual activity, and committing sex offences against a child, he was also convicted of “taking child without lawful authority so as to remove from lawful control” and that on one occasion the complainant was away overnight with the victim. It said that the claim that the complainant had had “sex” with the child was based on articles published at the time of the complainant’s conviction which it provided to IPSO, and noted that these remain in the public domain un-amended. In relation to the age of the child, the publication said that this was based on information included in articles published at the time of the complainant’s conviction. In any event, it said that the difference between the victim being 14 years old and 15 years old was not significant. Nevertheless, on receipt of the complaint it offered to publish the following correction as a footnote to the online article and, although the print version of the article fell outside of IPSO’s time limits, the publication also offered to print the correction on page 2 of the print edition of the publication:
“A previous version of this article reported that Suraj Gharu was jailed for five years for having sex with a 14-year-old. Although he was convicted of taking a child overnight without lawful authority and for inciting a child to engage in a sexual act, in which the incitement amounted to Mr Gharu requesting sex with a child, which was refused by the victim, he was not convicted of having sexual intercourse with a child.”
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 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. To the extent that the reference to Bellfield’s “associates” would be understood to be a reference to the complainant, in circumstances where the complainant accepted that he was a former employee of Mr Bellfield, the description was not inaccurate. The article focussed on the claim in the social worker’s report that Mr Bellfield was part of a gang accused of grooming vulnerable girls aged under 16 for sex. The headline, which summarised the report’s claim that Levi Bellfield was part of a “child grooming 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: 18/10/2019
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