02298-14 Harley v Mail Online

Decision: No breach - after investigation

Decision of the Complaints Committee 02298-14 Harley v Mail Online

Summary of complaint 

1. Lord Harley, also known as Alan Blacker, complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Mail Online had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in two articles headlined “’You look like something out of Harry Potter’: Judge blasts Hagrid-lookalike solicitor-advocate who went to court with a ribbon of medals sewn into his gown” and “Lawyer dubbed ‘Harry Potter’ by judge for wearing medals stitched into his robe is investigated over claims they were fake”, published on 29 August 2014 and 2 September 2014 respectively. 

2. The articles reported that the complainant, a solicitor, had been reprimanded by a judge for appearing in court wearing “ribbons and badges” attached to his robes. 

3. The complainant said that the articles had inappropriately questioned his “bona fides”, including his membership of the Order of St. John. He said that he had never claimed to be able to fluently speak several languages, and that the use by the newspaper of a photograph of him wearing his wig was a breach of his intellectual property rights. 

4. The newspaper provided a press statement from the Order of St John in Wales, which said that “Lord Harley (Alan Blacker) is not a member of the Order of St John and his name does not appear on the rolls of the Priory for Wales or England and he is therefore not a member of our Order.” It said that the complainant’s name is Alan Blacker and he could not properly refer to himself as a Lord. It said that it was clear from the complainant’s online curriculum vitae (CV) that he had a long list of “unusual” qualifications for a legal advocate, including qualifications in epidemiology and bioinformatics algorithms. It provided a screenshot of the complainant’s online CV, which showed that he had said that he had “native or bilingual proficiency” in Urdu, Gujarati, Luo, Punjabi and Hindi. The photograph of the complainant had been taken from his online CV. The newspaper said that it had provided the complainant with a right of reply and his comments were printed in full. 

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 the press release of the Order of St. John. To do so did not represent a failure to take care over the accuracy of the articles. Further, given the contents of that press release, the Committee did not identify a significant inaccuracy in this regard, which would require correction under the terms of the Code. 

7. The complainant’s online CV stated that he spoke five fluent languages; it was not inaccurate to report in the article of 29 August that he “states he is fluent in Urdu, Punjabi, Gujarati, Hindi, and the Luo language of Kenya and Tanzania”. 

8. The complaint that the newspaper had stolen the complainant’s intellectual property was outside the remit of the Editors’ Code. As such, the Committee did not consider it further. 


9. The complaint was not upheld. 

Remedial Action Required


Date complaint received: 29/10/2014

Date decision issued: 20/02/2015 

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