Decision of the Complaints Committee 01721-17 A Woman v Mirror.co.uk
Summary of complaint
1. A Woman 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 “Wife drove Mercedes-Benz convertible and splashed cash on jewellery and designer handbags while fraudulently claiming £110,000 in benefits”, published in February 2017.
2. The article reported that the complainant had fraudulently claimed £110,000 in benefits while leading a “luxurious lifestyle”. It said that during a police raid of her house, the police had found a Porsche and a Mercedes-Benz, and luxury items such as wallets and handbags made by Prada and Chanel, watches, earrings and other jewellery, and a hot tub. The article was illustrated with images of the items found during the raid, and a photograph of the complainant’s wedding.
3. The complainant said that the newspaper had given an inaccurate impression of her lifestyle. She said that she had never owned a designer handbag; the items pictured were either gifts or fakes; and the hot tub had been bought from ebay. She said that the police had not found two luxury cars at her property: she owned a 12-year-old Porsche, and she had previously owned a 13-year-old Mercedes.
4. She also objected to the publication of a photograph of her wedding. She said she was married before she claimed benefits, and it was a basic wedding which she paid for herself.
5. The newspaper said that the information published in the article had been provided by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), and it provided the press release. The DWP had said:
A joint search of the property was conducted with the police, uncovering numerous luxury goods, including high end cars (a Porsche and Mercedes CLK), a hot tub with built in TV and sound system and extensive evidence of an ongoing relationship with [the complainant's husband], including photos from their beach wedding in South Africa and plans for an intimate Valentine’s Day, featuring their Jacuzzi, chilled champagne, steak & chips.
6. The newspaper said that the DWP had since confirmed that the article was an accurate account of the police search and the complainant’s appearance at the magistrates’ court. It said that the DWP had confirmed that its investigators had recovered receipts for luxury items, and that the complainant had a Porsche and before that, she owned a Mercedes.
7. The newspaper said that it had attempted to contact the complainant for her comment on the article before publication, but it had been unable to find her on social media.
Relevant Code provisions
8. 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.
iv) The Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
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.
Findings of the Committee
9. The newspaper had accurately reported information it had been provided by a credible source, the DWP, following the complainant’s sentencing in court on charges of benefits fraud. While the Committee acknowledged the complainant’s position that the “high end goods” were in fact gifts or fakes, it was accepted that she had owned the wallets, handbags, watches and jewellery that were pictured in the article. Furthermore, while she had maintained that she had not owned two cars at the time of the police raid, she had accepted that she owned a Porsche, and prior to that, she had owned a Mercedes. In light of this, the Committee did not consider that the newspaper had given a significantly misleading impression of the complainant’s lifestyle while she was making benefit claims. There was no failure to take care over the accuracy of the article on this point. There was no breach of Clause 1.
10. The newspaper had published a photograph of the complainant taken on her wedding day. She was not engaged in a private activity at the time the photograph was taken, and the image had not disclosed any private information about her. There was no breach of Clause 2.
11. The complaint was not upheld.
Date complaint received: 07/03/2017
Date decision issued: 10/07/2017
Back to ruling listing