Decision of the Complaints Committee 01385-19 Iqbal v eveningtimes.co.uk
Summary of complaint
1. Hamza Iqbal complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Evening Times breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Man given licence to drive cab despite ‘threatening to blow up police station’, published on 31 October 2018.
2. The article was a report on the complainant’s appearance in front of Glasgow’s licensing committee, where he sought a taxi licence. It reported that he had been granted this licence despite objections raised by a representative of Police Scotland in relation to an incident that occurred in August 2007. The article reported that, during that incident, the complainant had entered a police station because he “had been asked to open a takeaway shop that his friend, who had been arrested, owned”. It said that he had demanded that this friend be released, and that when told to “clear off”, he had then threatened to bomb the police station. The article said that “a Police Scotland spokeswoman confirmed that Mr Iqbal avoided terrorism charges because on-duty officers assessed that the bomb threat wasn’t real”. It said that he was instead charged with breach of the peace, and sentenced to community service.
3. The article reported that the complainant had told the licensing committee that he did not accept this version of events, and that he denied having made a bomb threat. It also stated that he told the committee that this 2007 conviction was spent, and that “he currently has a ‘clean record’”. The article said that “Police Scotland confirmed the breach of the peace conviction will remain on his record for another five years”.
4. The article appeared in the same format online, under the headline “A man who threatened to blow-up a police station gets Glasgow cab licence”, published on 30 October 2018.
5. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate, in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy), because he had not “avoided terrorism charges” in 2007, and the police had not referred to this claim in their submissions or evidence to the licensing committee.
6. The complainant also said that his 2007 conviction was spent, contrary to the view expressed by the police at the committee hearing, and reported in the article; he provided a disclosure certificate which indicated that he had no unspent convictions. He said that the account of the 2007 incident was inaccurate because he had not been asked to open the takeaway shop, but to collect the keys on behalf of the family concerned.
7. The complainant also said that the article breached Clause 2 (Privacy): he said that his previous conviction should be private, given that it was spent. He was also concerned that his town of residence had been revealed.
8. The publication denied any breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 2 (Privacy). It said that the article was an accurate account of the proceedings of the licensing committee, at which the background to the complainant’s 2007 conviction was detailed at length by a police representative, including the fact that he had been asked to open the takeaway shop. The publication also said that the police representative had confirmed at the committee hearing that the complainant’s conviction was not in fact spent; it said it had a duty to report accurately what was heard at the licensing hearing, and had done so.
9. The publication
said that the article’s claim that the complainant had “avoided terrorism
charges” had been based on an exchange between a licensing committee member and
the police representative. It provided a note of the meeting from the council,
which stated that the committee member had asked the police representative why
a prosecution hadn’t been pursued through anti-terrorism legislation, given the
nature of what the complainant was alleged to have said; the police
representative said that as no bomb had been found, it had become clear that
the threat was not real, and so the complainant had been charged with breach of
the peace instead.
10. The complainant said that the committee member’s
reference to “terrorism charges” had been made in response to concerns he
himself had raised, as to why he had not received a more serious charge, if his
behaviour in 2007 had been as was alleged. He said that the fact that the
police representative had explained why he was only charged with breach of the peace
did not equate to confirmation that he had “avoided terrorism charges”.
Relevant Code Provisions
11. 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.
12. Clause 2 (Privacy)
i) Everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence, including digital communications.
ii) Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual's private life without consent. In considering an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy, account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information and the extent to which the material complained about is already in the public domain or will become so.
Findings of the Committee
13. It was accepted that the police had not formally stated in their submissions to the licensing committee that the complainant had faced the possibility of terrorist charges for the 2007 offence. However, it was not in dispute that a committee member had asked the police representative why no such charges had been brought, and that the police representative had provided an explanation for this. This explanation had been accurately reported in the article – namely, that the threat was not considered genuine. In these circumstances, there was no failure to take care over the claim that the complainant had “avoided terrorism charges”. The article had accurately reported the police’s account of the 2007 incident, for which the complainant had been convicted, and where the nature of this conviction and the behaviour it related to was made clear, the claim did not give rise to any misleading impression that required correction. There was no breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) on this point.
14. The complainant had provided a certificate issued by Disclosure Scotland which indicated that he had no unspent convictions; however, the complainant did not dispute that the police representative had stated to the licensing committee that his conviction was unspent. The article attributed this view to the police, and made clear that the complainant had disputed it. Where the article accurately reported the information heard at the committee hearing, there was no failure to take care over this information. In circumstances where the claim that the conviction was unspent was attributed to the police, and where the complainant’s objection to this claim was included in the article, the article did not give rise to any misleading impression that required correction. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
15. Whether the complainant had entered the police station in 2007 to obtain the keys to the takeaway, or because he had been asked to open the takeaway, was not significant within the context of the article. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
16. The details of the complainant’s 2007 conviction had been made public as part of the licensing proceedings. Where the conviction had been referred to in a public forum in this way, irrespective of whether it was spent, it did not represent private information in respect of which he had a reasonable expectation of privacy. Reporting on the conviction, in these circumstances, did not therefore represent an intrusion into the complainant’s private life. Similarly, the town where the complainant lived was not private information about him, such as would engage the terms of Clause 2 (Privacy). There was no breach of Clause 2 on either of these points.
17. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial action required
Date complaint received: 11/02/2019
Date decision issued: 26/04/2019
The complainant complained to the Independent Complaints Reviewer about the process followed by IPSO in handling this complaint. The Independent Complaints Reviewer decided that the process was not flawed and did not uphold the request for review.
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