Decision of the Complaints Committee 02297-14 Harley v Wales Online
Summary of complaint
Summary of complaint
1. Lord Harley, also known as Alan Blacker, complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Wales Online had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Harry Potter lawyer Alan Blacker faces being struck off after law watchdog pledge to investigate him”, published on 13 September 2014.
2. The article reported that the complainant, a solicitor, had been reprimanded by a judge for appearing in court wearing “ribbons and badges” attached to his robes. It also reported that he had a 20-page online curriculum vitae (CV) which listed unusually extensive qualifications and experience.
3. The complainant said that he was a member of all of the organisations listed on his CV, and so it was inappropriate to cast doubt on this. He said that the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority (SRA) had not made the statement referenced in the article, and that he had not claimed that he had earned his medals for volunteering with St. John’s Ambulance. He said that it was inaccurate to say that he had not won a Law Society prize, and that the article had not explained who had described him as a “Walter Mitty character”. He also said that he had given a statement to a reporter outside court, but his comments had not been included in the article.
4. The newspaper said that its reporter had contacted a spokesperson at the SRA, and provided contemporaneous notes of the conversation. It said that the source of the reference to the complainant being a “Walter Mitty character” remained confidential. It said that the source knew the complainant personally, and that the characterisation was the source’s opinion. The newspaper provided a copy of the press statement released by the Order of St John in Wales, confirming that the complainant was not a member. It said that the Institute of Healthcare Management (IHM), Rochdale Council and the Royal Artillery Association denied the complainant’s claims of association with them. It provided the reporter’s notes of the relevant conversations. It said that the Institute of Mental Health Act Practitioners, which the complainant said he was a fellow of, was a limited company which had been wound up two years ago. It said that the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom confirmed that the title “Senior Counsel of the Supreme Court”, as used by the complainant, was not a recognised title in the UK. It said that in order to describe oneself as “The Right Honorable”, one needs to be a Privy Counsellor; the complainant’s name did not appear on the list of Privy Counsellors. It also said that the College of Arms could not identify a hereditary peerage for “Lord Harley”.
Relevant Code Provisions
5. 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.
Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply)
A fair opportunity for reply to inaccuracies must be given when reasonably called for.
Findings of the Committee
6. The newspaper was entitled to rely on statements by the relevant organisations confirming that the complainant was not associated with them, and had also been entitled to include the comments from a spokesperson of the SRA. To do so did not represent a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article. Further, given the information provided by those organisations, the Committee did not identify any significant inaccuracies, which would require correction under the Code.
7. The article had also made clear that at the time of publication the newspaper was still in the process of establishing whether the complainant had won a Law Society prize. It had not said that the complainant had not won it.
8. The description of the complainant as a “Walter Mitty character” was clearly distinguished as an interpretation of the complainant’s online CV. The newspaper was not required to disclose the source of the description. This aspect of the complaint did not raise a breach of Clause 1.
9. An opportunity to reply is required where inaccuracies have been identified. As that was not the case on this occasion, there was no breach of Clause 2. The concern that the newspaper had not included the complainant’s comments did not engage the terms of Clause 2.
10. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 29/10/2014
Date decision issued: 20/02/2015Back to ruling listing