Decision of the Complaints Committee – 02069-19 Jones v Daily Post
Summary of complaint
1. Llifon Huw Jones complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Post breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors' Code of Practice in an article headlined "Inside the troubled mind of man who built machine gun" published on 1 March 2019.
2. The article reported on the complainant's court case, in which he was made the subject of a hospital order. It reported that he was convicted for attempting to build a submachine gun at his home, and that he had made "a series of posts online outlining dozens of conspiracy theories" which gave an insight into his "warped mind". The article described some of the posts, which included declarations of his right to seize land under the Magna Carta. The article reported that the complainant had posted notices on two properties in an area of North Wales in January 2018 claiming possession over them. The article reported that the occupants of one of the properties, described as remote, "had never met or heard of Jones and alerted police". The article went on to report that one of the occupants "said they obtained a security door for their bedroom as they were concerned someone might turn up at their remote property". This was included in the article's sub-headline which read "a fanatic who terrified his neighbours so much they put a steel door on their bedroom". The article reported that the complainant had been "described by the judge as a 'danger to the public' who said he would 'not be released from hospital until it is safe". The article went on to report that the complainant had seen active service in the armed forces, had suffered from PTSD prior to his discharge, and that he had been a patient at a medium secure unit since March 2018.
3. The article appeared in substantially the same format online under the headline: "Inside the mind of fanatic who terrified neighbours so much they put steel door on their bedroom", published on 28 February.
4. The complainant said that the article featured multiple examples of discriminatory language in reference to his mental illness, for which he was receiving treatment, and highlighted that the article referred to him as a "rebel" and a "fanatic" and made reference to his "warped mind". He said that referring to his mind as "warped" was an unacceptable and unethical way to describe an individual with a mental health condition. Further, the complainant raised concerns over the tone of the article, which he said was disrespectful in light of his illness, and the fact that he had seen active service for his country. The complainant also said that the article had referenced posts he made on social media at a time he was ill, and this was an attempt to mock and discriminate against him based on his illness.
5. The complainant also said that the article inaccurately reported that the occupants of the property who installed the security door were his neighbours. He said that they lived remotely, some miles away, and that there has never been any concern about him from his immediate neighbours.
6. The publication apologised for the offence caused by the article's publication but denied that the article represented a breach of the Code. It emphasised that the complainant's mental health was relevant to the story, the court case, and his sentence. It said that the article did not refer to the complainant as a "rebel", only that he had set up the "North Wales Rebellion Group" which was referred to in court. It said that the term "fanatic", refers to an individual who possesses an excessive and single minded zeal, typically for extreme political and religious causes. It emphasised that these were descriptive terms in reference to his strong interests in unusual topics reflected in his social media posts and did not represent pejorative references to the complainant's mental health.
7. The publication denied that referring to the complainant's mind as "warped" or "troubled" represented pejorative references in breach of Clause 12. It said that the term "troubled" refers to the exhibition of emotional or behavioural problems, which given the nature of the case, was not inaccurate or pejorative in the context of the story. Further, the publication said that the term "warped", is widely used editorially and is used to describe a view or outlook which is different; the publication emphasised that the complainant had publicly expressed strong views on uncommon topics on social media. The publication also said that warped can represent an abnormality, or distortion from the norm and that a mental illness is by its very nature an abnormality of the mind. The publication emphasised that while some language is easily identifiable as pejorative, "warped" fell within the margin of editorial appreciation and that the Committee should exercise caution when entering into in depth analysis or discussion to rule on whether there was a breach of the Code, in cases where language is not instantly identifiable as pejorative.
8. The publication did not accept a breach of Clause 1 in respect of whether the couple were neighbours. It said that the article did not state that the couple were direct next door neighbours. It acknowledged that the term "neighbour" can refer to someone who lives next door but it can also refer to someone who can live very close, or near. It highlighted that the individuals lived close enough to be the recipients of the complainant's notes.
9. The publication said that it had offered to print a public apology, which regrettably, the complainant turned down.
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.
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 12 (Discrimination)
i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's, race, colour, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.
ii) Details of an individual's race, colour, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.
Findings of the Committee
11. The Committee considered that the complainant's mental health was genuinely relevant to the story. The article was a report of the complainant's court case, where his mental health had been discussed; he had then been made the subject of a hospital order by the court. The Committee acknowledged the complainant's concern over the general tone of the article and noted that he had found it offensive and in bad taste. However, the Editors' Code does not relate to the tone of editorial content, or issues of taste. Instead, the terms of Clause 12 state: "The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's, race, colour, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability". Therefore the question for the Committee was whether the article contained specific prejudicial or pejorative references to the complainant's mental health.
12. The Committee considered that the term "fanatic" was employed by the publication to describe the complainant in light of the beliefs which his social media posts suggested he held, rather than because of the state of his mental health. Similarly the reference to the complainant’s mind as “warped” was linked to, and made in respect of, the beliefs he held which it had been alleged in court had motivated his actions and which provided the context in which the offences for which he had been convicted had been committed. While the court had also heard evidence relating to the complainant’s mental health in mitigation, this did not necessarily mean that criticism of the complainant and the views he held amounted to a breach of Clause 12; the Committee considered that this reference fell within the boundaries of editorial discretion and that use of the term "warped" in these circumstances was not a pejorative reference to the complainant's mental health. Further, the Committee did not consider that the description of the complainant as "troubled" represented a pejorative reference to the complainant’s mental health in circumstances where the court had considered it appropriate to make the complainant the subject of a hospital order. The Committee noted that the article did not describe the complainant as a "rebel". There was no breach of Clause 12 on any of these points. Nevertheless, it commended the publication’s initial responses to the complainant's representative and its offer to apologise for the offence caused by the article.
13. The Committee acknowledged the complainant's position that the couple in question were not his neighbours as they lived miles away, and that his neighbours were fond of him. Where the couple lived miles away, characterising them as neighbours was potentially misleading. However, the article made clear which individuals it was referring to, and the article did not suggest that all of the complainant's "neighbours" were terrified by his actions. The Committee also noted that the article included the fact that the couple had never met or heard of the complainant, which did not suggest that they lived in close proximity. The Committee also considered that the article stated that the complainant was from Penygroes and that the property was "in the Penygroes area" albeit a "remote" part of it. Therefore, where the article made clear who the individuals affected were, and where their proximity and their familiarity with the complainant was specified, it was not significantly misleading in the context of the article as a whole to refer to the individuals as neighbours. There was no breach of Clause 1.
14. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial action required
Date complaint received: 09/03/2019
Date decision issued: 19/08/2019