· Decision of the Complaints Committee 01473-14 Meissner v Daily Mirror
Summary of complaint
Summary of complaint
1. Stephen Meissner complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that an article published by the Daily Mirror on 23 October 2014 headlined “What a phraud! How I unmasked dodgy homes investment dealer who hid behind new name”, was inaccurate, in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.
2. The article was about the complainant’s involvement in two companies which offered investment opportunities to the public. It said that the first company, Land International, had been shut down by the High Court, “in the public interest”, and that the complainant had been banned from being a company director for 14 years. It reported that he was now working for a new company, which sells properties at below the market value, the return on which is “Government-backed”. It also mentioned that he had previously used an alternative spelling of his first name.
3. The complainant said that it was inaccurate to say that Land International had been a land banking “scam” which sold worthless plots of land as investments. He said that it had been shut down for failing to file timely company accounts. In addition, the company had not been shut down in the High Court; the matter had been settled out of court, and it was not called “clearly fraudulent” by a judge. He said that the two variations in the spelling of his name were to differentiate between his personal and business email addresses. He accepted having denied using the alternative spelling when initially questioned by the reporter.
4. The newspaper provided a press release issued by the Insolvency Service following the closure of Land International. That press release stated that “the investigation found that during the sales process, prospective investors were told by the companies [sic] sales agents that the selling company in question would be seeking to obtain planning permission on their behalf, with the accompanying sales literature disclosing that separate management companies would be set up to deal with planning permission on behalf of plot owners at each site. In reality there was no prospect of planning permission being obtained.” It also said that the company had been “closed down by the High Court.”
5. The newspaper also provided a judgment from Chester County Court which showed that, following purchases made from Land International, a woman had begun legal proceedings against her credit card company in an attempt to recoup the money which she had spent on her investments. In his summing up of the court case, the judge had described Land International as “clearly fraudulent”. The newspaper did not accept the complainant’s explanation for the two different spellings of his name.
Relevant Code Provisions
6. 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.”
Findings of the Committee
7. The Committee found that the newspaper had been entitled to rely on the statement of the Insolvency Service; to do so did not represent a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article. Further, given the content of the statement, the Committee did not find that it was significantly inaccurate to refer to the company as a “scam”, nor to say that it had been shut down by the High Court. No correction was required.
8. The newspaper had provided a judgement in which Land International was referred to as “clearly fraudulent”; there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
9. The Committee acknowledged the complainant’s position about the two spellings of his name. However, it remained the case that he had spelled his name differently on different occasions, and had denied this to the reporter when originally questioned. There was no breach of Clause 1.
10. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 24/10/2014
Date decision issued: 12/01/2015Back to ruling listing