Decision of the Complaints Committee 01598-15 Ford v North Devon Journal
Summary of complaint
1. Stuart Ford complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the North Devon Journal had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Animal cruelty case: Charity boss admits keeping dogs in crates for more than 21 hours”, published on 13 March 2015.
2. The article reported on an ongoing trial in which the complainant faced ten charges under the Animal Welfare Act.
3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate and significantly misleading. He was concerned that the article had misrepresented the evidence he had given in court. He said that he had not admitted keepings dogs in crates for more than 21 hours a day; he had not said that he would drop a brick a few inches from the crate to stop the dogs barking; and he had not said that dogs had been kept in the shed since the charity started.
4. The complainant was also concerned that the coverage had initially referenced allegations that he had “kicked a puppy in the ribs”. He said that the Judge had ruled that this evidence was inadmissible.
5. The newspaper said that the article had accurately reported the comments made in court by the complainant. It provided the reporter’s shorthand notes which recorded that the complainant had made the comments attributed to him in the article.
6. It said that the Judge had ruled to allow the prosecution to introduce evidence relating to the complainant’s character. The prosecutor had said that some of the witnesses would say that the complainant “had kicked a puppy in the ribs”. The Judge subsequently changed his decision and decided the evidence about the complainant’s character was inadmissible; however, by this point the journalist had left the courtroom. When the newspaper became aware of this, it removed the article from its website. It has also offered to publish the following clarification:
In March the Journal ran a story on its website about Stuart Ford from Torrington who is facing charges of animal cruelty at Exeter Magistrates’ Court. In this story it stated that the court would hear evidence that Mr Ford kicked a puppy in the ribs. A judge later ruled that this evidence was inadmissible so the story was removed from our website and no further mention of this claim has been made in subsequent stories.
Relevant Code Provisions
7. 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.
Findings of the Committee
8. The complainant and the newspaper disagreed regarding the evidence the complainant had given in court. The newspaper had provided the reporter’s detailed, contemporaneous, shorthand notes which supported the account of the proceedings as reported in the article. The Committee was satisfied that the notes demonstrated that an appropriate level of care had been taken over the accuracy of the article. Furthermore, the presentation of the story made clear the status of the claims as unproven. There was no breach of Clause 1 (i).
9. In light of the shorthand notes provided by the newspaper, which corroborated the newspaper’s position that the article was accurate, the Committee did not establish that the article had been significantly inaccurate or misleading. It did not find a breach of Clause 1 (ii).
10. It was not in dispute that the newspaper had accurately reflected the information which had been heard in open court regarding the complainant’s character. Whilst the Judge had subsequently ruled that this evidence was inadmissible in the proceedings, the publication of this information did not raise a breach of the Code. Nonetheless, the Committee commended the newspaper for its willingness to publish a clarification once it became aware of the Judge’s ruling.
11. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 16/03/2015
Date decision issued: 26/06/2015Back to ruling listing