Decision of the Complaints Committee 01314-19 Gharu v Mail Online
Summary of complaint
1. Suraj Gharu complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Mail Online breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Milly Dowler’s killer Levi Bellfield 'was part of a Rotherham-style child sex gang that groomed and raped youngsters from children’s homes in west London’” 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 was part of a child sex gang that has not been brought to justice. The article included comments 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 sex offences and for removing a child from the care of social services”.
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 child as he considered that the article suggested. In fact, he was convicted of inciting a 15 year old to engage in sexual activity, and considered that the article should have made this distinction clear. 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 “child sex gang” as reported in the article’s headline.
4. The publication did not accept that the article was inaccurate. It said that it was not in dispute that the complainant had been convicted of child sex offences; the article did not state that he had had sexual intercourse with a child. It also said that it was not in dispute that the social worker’s report had linked the complainant to Mr Bellfield, and their association was already in the public domain via other articles, which it provided to IPSO.
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 child sex offences, as reported in the article. 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 group accused of grooming vulnerable girls under the age of 16 for sex. The headline, which summarised the report’s claim that Levi Bellfield was part of a “Rotherham-style sex 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.
7. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 05/08/2019
Date decision issued: 18/10/2019
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