· Decision of the Complaints Committee 02292-14 Spinks v The Sun
Summary of complaint
1. Warwick Spinks complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sun had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply), Clause 3 (Privacy) and Clause 4 (Harassment) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “MP ‘was at snuff film lad’s murder’”, published on 6 December 2014.
2. The newspaper had reported that police were investigating allegations that a Member of Parliament was present at a “vice club” when a boy, who had been sold for sex, had died after being tortured.
3. The article said informants alleged that the MP had been present at the murder after he had gone to Holland for sex with boys “supplied by paedo fixer Warwick Spinks”. It reported that a source said that “officers were told Spinks knew the MP and arranged a tour to Amsterdam. While there he went to the Blue Boy bar, where Spinks was running a brothel.” It also said that the police were re-examining files on the complainant amid claims that he was a regular visitor to Elm Guest House, where there had allegedly been systematic abuse of children.
4. The complainant was concerned that the article was inaccurate. He said that he had not run a brothel in Amsterdam called Blue Boy, although he had run other brothels, and that he never given tours of Amsterdam to an MP. He said that he was not a suspect, and that he had never visited Elm Street Guest House; the guest house had closed when he was still at school. He also said that he had been wrongly convicted and “framed for political and homophobic reasons”.
5. The complainant said that he had not been approached for comment. He said this breached Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply). He was also concerned that the newspaper had published a number of articles about him over the past two decades, which represented harassment and an intrusion into his privacy.
6. The newspaper said the article included allegations, distinguished as such, which had been provided by confidential sources. The report had also drawn on information from the court proceedings in which the complainant had been convicted of numerous sexual offences against boys.
7. The newspaper said that the reporter had been told by a trusted confidential source that police investigating the alleged Westminster paedophile ring were currently looking at old files, which included the complainant’s activities. The same source had confirmed that the Metropolitan Police were told by two informants that a young boy had suffocated while being abused by a group of men, one of them being the unnamed MP. An informant alleged that the complainant had arranged for an MP to visit Amsterdam, where the complainant procured boys for him.
8. The story had been put together over several weeks by the reporter after meeting with his source. The reporter had spoken to other contacts who have worked in the area who confirmed the central aspect of the story: that the Met investigated claims made by two young men that an MP was present when a boy died in the Blue Boy bar in Amsterdam while being sexually abused. The reporter had extensively researched material around the complainant. The newspaper provided reports of the court proceedings and examples of the coverage about the complainant on which it had relied.
9. The newspaper said that official police sources refused to confirm or deny the allegations at the time of the article. The reporter had not contacted the complainant for comment prior to publication of the article because he had had no address or phone number for him; he was believed to live abroad.
10. The newspaper said that the complainant could not know that his files are not being re-examined. It would be unusual if the police were not examining every possible line of enquiry, and it was newspaper’s position that the files are being examined again.
11. The article had not claimed that the Blue Boy had been owned by the complainant. The court had heard that the boy had been taken by the complainant to the Blue Boy bar and ‘sold’; it provided reports which showed that the Judge had accepted the evidence of the boy who alleged that he had been “sold”, and said that he “had no doubt that the boy spoke the truth”. It also said that it had been widely reported that the complainant had been a visitor at Elm Street Guest House. As there was no way of proving or disproving the point, it offered to amend the online article to include the complainant’s denial. The article said that detectives were examining files, and that there were claims that the complainant had been there. It had not reported as fact that the complainant had been present.
12. The newspaper said although the complainant said that he was wrongly convicted, the fact remained that he was convicted of abducting a child, taking indecent images and of a serious sexual offence. The newspaper had been entitled to report the conviction, along with the words of a judge.
13. This was a report of significant public interest. The fact that it “dredged up” the complainant’s past convictions did not represented harassment or an invasion into his private life.
Relevant Code Provisions
14. 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 to reply to inaccuracies must be given when reasonably called for.
Clause 3 (Privacy)
i) Everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence, including digital communications.
Clause 4 (Harassment)
i) Journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit.
Findings of the Committee
15. The allegation that the police were investigating claims that an MP had been present when a boy had been murdered, while on a trip arranged by the complainant, had been based on information provided to the newspaper by a confidential source. Under the terms of Clauses 14 (Confidential sources) journalists have a moral obligation to protect confidential sources. However, where a newspaper is publishing claims of significance or of a potentially damaging nature the Committee will generally expect the publication to have taken further steps – such as approaching the individual concerned to allow them an opportunity to comment, or obtaining other on-the-record information – to ensure that the material was accurate.
16. The central allegations, provided by the confidential source, related to claims about investigations of the police, and information they had been given by informants, regarding the conduct of an unnamed MP; this was information which the complainant would not have been in a position to deny. Prior to the publication of the article the newspaper had approached the police for comment. It had also put the allegations to other sources – who it said had confirmed the central claims in the article – and had relied on court documentation and material in the public domain about the complainant. In these circumstances, the newspaper’s decision not to approach the complainant for comment prior to the publication of the article did not represent a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article. The article had made clear that the allegations were claims which had not been confirmed by the police. There was no breach of Clause 1 (i).
17. The complainant said that while he had run brothels in Amsterdam, he had not run the Blue Boy brothel as had been alleged in the article. As the newspaper had provided information which demonstrated that a judge had found that the complainant had “sold” a boy to the brothel in question, it had not been significantly misleading to report that he had run a brothel there.
18. The article made clear that there were “claims” that the complainant had visited Elm Guest House, and had represented the claims as the context in which the police investigation was taking place. While the complainant denied the claims, he did not deny that such claims had been made. The Committee did not establish that the article was inaccurate or significantly misleading on this point. It nevertheless welcomed the newspaper’s offered to amend the online article in relation to this point.
19. The complainant maintains that he was wrongly convicted. The newspaper had however been entitled to report details of the complainant’s criminal conviction. There was no breach of Clause 1.
20. Clause 2 was designed to afford individuals the opportunity to respond to publish inaccuracies when reasonably called for. The Committee had not established the existence of inaccuracies such as to have engaged the terms of the Clause.
21. The terms of Clause 4 generally relate to the conduct of the journalist during the newsgathering process. The publication of a number of articles about the complainant’s criminal conviction did not constitute harassment. There was no breach of Clause 4. The repetition of information about the complainant’s conviction – a matter of public record – did not represent a failure to respect his private and family life. The Committee also noted the public interest in the story. There was no breach of Clause 3.
22. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 11/12/2014
Date decision issued: 28/04/2015Back to ruling listing