Decision of the Complaints Committee 01668-17 Packer v Mirror.co.uk
Summary of complaint
1. Iain Packer complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Mirror.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Desperate bid to solve notorious murder of woman who was strangled and dumped in ditch 11 years ago”, published on 29 January 2017.
2. The article reported that Police Scotland had called in specialists from the Metropolitan Police to help solve the murder of Emma Caldwell who was killed in 2005. It said that this was in response to pressure from Emma Caldwell’s family, as well as information brought to light about a “secret suspect”, Iain Packer, by a 2015 Sunday Mail investigation. The article stated that the complainant had been interviewed six times by police and had admitted to taking the victim to the location where her body was later found.
3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate, as it had failed to report that he had been interviewed by the police and told that he had been ruled out as a suspect in 2008. Therefore he did not accept he was a “secret suspect,” or a suspect at all.
4. The complainant also said that the article was misleading as it had implied that he was guilty of the murder. It had not made clear that he had been interviewed voluntarily by the police on each occasion; it had omitted the results of DNA testing and forensic testing of his van; and it had not made clear that he had an alibi for the night the victim went missing.
5. The complainant was also concerned that the article and the publication of his photograph had intruded into his private life. He said that the information he had given in his police interviews was confidential and was not in the public domain. He did not accept that there was a public interest in intruding into his privacy, as he was not a police suspect in the investigation. He noted that thousands of other individuals had also been interviewed.
6. The newspaper said that at the time of publication, the complainant was being reconsidered as a suspect by the police, despite being “forgotten” from the investigation at an earlier stage. It did not accept that referring to the complainant as a suspect was inaccurate, and did not consider that omitting that he had been cleared by police in 2008 represented a significant inaccuracy.
7. The newspaper did not consider that it had accused the complaint of being guilty of Emma Caldwell’s murder. The article had not reported that his questioning was involuntary, and as the police had not confirmed the details relating to the complainant’s alibi and DNA and forensics testing to the newspaper, this information had not been reported.
8. The newspaper said that the details of the complainant’s police interview had come from a confidential source, which they had a duty to protect. It said that due to the contribution this information had made to the progress of the case, it was entitled to publish it. The newspaper did not accept that the publication of the complainant’s photograph represented a breach of his privacy as it did not show any private information.
9. The newspaper said that there was a strong public interest in publishing details of the complainant’s police interview, as it had progressed the investigation significantly. The newspaper also said that there was a clear public interest in solving an unresolved historic murder.
Relevant Code provisions
10. 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.
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. Account will be taken of the complainant’s own public disclosures of information.
iii. It is unacceptable to photograph individuals, without their consent, in public or private places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.
Findings of the Committee
11. The newspaper was entitled to report its position that the police had failed to fully investigate the complainant’s possible involvement in Emma Caldwell’s murder following the collapse of the trial against four men in 2007, and that the complainant was therefore a “secret suspect”. It had made clear in the article that its characterisation of the complainant as a “suspect” was based on the fact that he had been interviewed several times during the first police investigation, but that he had not been charged or arrested, which the complainant accepted.
12. While the Committee acknowledged that the complainant maintained that he had an alibi, that there was no forensic evidence to support the suggestion that he was responsible for the murder, and that he had been told by the police that he was no longer a suspect, the newspaper was still entitled to publish its view that this line of inquiry had not been properly investigated. It had not given the significantly misleading impression that the complainant was guilty of the murder. There was no failure to take care over the accuracy of the articles in breach of Clause 1.
13. Any reasonable expectation of privacy the complainant may have had regarding the information he had given during voluntary police interview was outweighed by the public interest in reporting that a key line of enquiry in the murder investigation may not have been followed. The publication of this information sought to advance the police investigation into a historic murder enquiry. There was no breach of Clause 2 on this point.
14. The published photograph of the complainant had shown his face; he was not engaged in a private activity at the time it was taken. It had not disclosed private information about him in breach of Clause 2.
15. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial action required
Date complaint received: 30/01/2017
Date decision issued: 31/07/2017