Decision of the Complaints Committee 01514-15 National Guild of Removers & Storers v Daily Mirror
Summary of complaint
1. The National Guild of Removers & Storers complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Mirror had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Shocking footage captures boss threatening businessman: ‘You piece of s***, I’ll own your house’”, published on 12 November 2014.
2. The article reported that the owner of the Guild had been filmed behaving aggressively towards the manager of one of the removal firms which had previously been a member of the Guild. It said that the Guild had a history of suing its members, and provided details of a number of relevant court cases and legal actions.
3. The complainant denied that it had a history of suing its members, and identified a number of alleged inaccuracies in the article, relating to the claims it had initiated. It said that it was untrue to say that McCrory’s Removals “offered” to pay £3,800 to the Guild; the Guild obtained a judgement for that sum, despite McCrory’s Removals denying any liability and refusing to pay. It said that McCrory’s Removals had not been pursued for £20,000, nor had the Guild said that it would not accept less than £20,000; the damages claim was for about £14,000. It said that McCrory’s Removals was not threatened with damages and costs of up to £65,000 arising from its breach of contract; McCrory’s Removals was informed that the potential costs in any separate defamation claim could be about £65,000.
4. It said that the Guild had not issued court proceedings against Anthony and Catherine Statham seeking £40,000 plus costs. It provided a copy of the initial letter of claim it had sent to the Stathams, which said that while its solicitors had calculated that “our client is entitled to damages of £41,559.45”, it would prefer to resolve the matter without recourse to litigation, and requested proposals for resolving the matter.
5. The complainant said that it was untrue that Alex and Sally Luckes were being pursued for £55,000. It also said that it was untrue that the Luckes’ false advertisements had not been solely as the result of a “server crash”; the advertisements had been on their website for 48 weeks.
6. The complainant said that it had been contacted by the journalist in advance of publication, and he had put a number of claims to it, but had not included a deadline to respond. The complainant’s solicitors prepared a lengthy response, but the newspaper had published the article two days later, before that letter had been sent.
7. The newspaper strongly stood by its article: it was the journalist’s genuinely held belief that the Guild was more interested in suing its members than in fulfilling its duties.
8. In relation to the specific alleged inaccuracies, the newspaper said that Patrick McCrory had confirmed that he had offered to pay £3,800 a number of times prior to the court hearing and subsequent judgment, and that this was refused by the Guild; it provided a letter from Mr McCrory to the Guild which detailed the offer. The newspaper also provided a letter from the Guild’s solicitors to McCrory’s Removals which stated that “we have instructions that our client will accept the global sum of £20,475 to settle its entire claims (for breach of contract and defamation).” That same letter informed McCrory’s Removals that the costs of prosecuting a defamation claim would likely be about £65,000. The newspaper said that Anthony Statham had confirmed that the amount that the Guild had original claimed for was £40,300 plus interest plus costs, which were estimated by the Guild’s solicitors to be in the region of £25,000. Lastly, the newspaper provided a letter from the Guild’s solicitors to Mr and Mrs Luckes which said that “we have calculated that our client is entitled to damages of £55,298.85.”
Relevant Code Provisions
9. 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.
iii) The press, whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply)
A fair opportunity for reply to inaccuracies must be given when reasonably called for.
Findings of the Committee
10. It was clear from the letters provided by the newspaper that McCrory’s Removals had offered to pay £3,800 to the Guild, and that McCrory’s Removals had been pursued for £20,000. The article had reported Mr McCrory’s comment that “…they would now not accept any less than £20,000, saying that if it went to court it could cost me £65,000”; it was again clear from the letters provided that McCrory’s Removals had been warned that it might ultimately face costs of £65,000.
11. The initial letter of claim which had been sent to Mr and Mrs Statham by the Guild’s solicitors said that “we have calculated that our client is entitled to damages of £41,559.45.” It was not significantly misleading to omit from the article that this was the amount demanded in the solicitor’s letter, as opposed to the amount demanded in court.
12. The letter from the Guild’s solicitor to Mr and Mrs Luckes also showed that they had “demanded £55,000 plus costs”, as reported in the article. It was not significantly misleading to describe a letter stating £55,000 as the starting point for negotiation as a “demand”. The newspaper had reported the comments of Mrs Luckes that “what had happened is that the server which hosts our website crashed and when it was put back up they used a cached version, the old one showing the Guild logo – we never did it and have not admitted liability.” She had spoken to the newspaper on the record, and in including her comments the newspaper had not breached Clause 1 (ii). There was no failure to take care over the accuracy of the article, and the Committee did not identify any significant inaccuracies which would require correction under the Code.
13. The terms of Clause 2 allow for an opportunity to reply in circumstances where inaccuracies have been identified. As that was not the case on this occasion, there was no breach of Clause 2.
14. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 11/03/2015
Date decision issued: 22/05/2015Back to ruling listing