Resolution Statement – 02389-20 Shoebridge v Mail Online
Summary of Complaint
1. Douglas Shoebridge complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Mail Online breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock), and Clause 14 (Confidential Sources) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Father pleads for authorities to save his son’s life after he was sentenced to death in Thailand for trying to smuggle half a TONNE of ice for the Hells Angels”, published on 10 March 2020.
2. The article reported that a man had been sentenced to death by the Thai authorities for drug smuggling. According to the article, based on the claims of the convicted man’s father, the man and his wife had been arrested following a tip-off from an informant, who was named. The informant was described as “an international fugitive wanted by Thai authorities on human trafficking charges over a worldwide sex ring.” The article reported that the informant claimed he had been on a boat with the man who had been convicted during a “drug operation.” The article also reported a claim from the convicted man’s father who claimed his son was framed by the informant “because he would not lend him money,” as well as a claim from the father that the convicted man’s lawyers that the prosecution’s “only evidence” was the evidence of the informant.
3. The complainant, the man named in the article as the informant, said that the article breached Clause 1 on several points. He first said that it was inaccurate to describe him as an “international fugitive”, because he said that no international arrest warrant had been issued. He accepted that there had been an arrest warrant issued against him for human trafficking but it was inaccurate to allege that this was in relation to a “worldwide sex ring” – the complainant said that the prosecution witness in the case had later retracted her statement as originally provided to the court. He also said that he was not present on a boat with the convicted man during any drug operation; he said that he had been on a boat with the convicted man during what he believed to be an expedition to hunt for gold, and said that he only became aware that the convicted man wanted the complainant to dive for drugs after the convicted man drunkenly confessed on a later boat trip together. He also said that, contrary to the convicted man’s father’s claim which was reported in the article, he had not framed the convicted man because the convicted man would not lend him money, and Thai investigators and prosecution had multiple pieces of witness testimony and evidence other than his own. He also said that the article breached Clause 4 and Clause 14.
4. The publication did not accept that the article breached Clause 1. It said that the complainant’s arrest warrant issued in Thailand referred to a number of victims and was for charges relating to trafficking for prostitution. It also said that the complainant left the country shortly after the warrant was issued. As such, it said that it was not inaccurate to describe him as an “international fugitive” wanted in relation to an alleged “sex ring”. It also said that the complainant had told the court that he had been present on a boat when the convicted man confessed that he was searching for dumped drugs, and this was also the basis of the complainant’s statement which he had supplied to the authorities. Although the newspaper accepted that the complainant had told the court that the convicted man’s wife owed him a substantial sum of money rather than the convicted man himself, it said that this did not represent a significant inaccuracy and was clearly presented as the one of the claims made by the convicted man’s father, rather than a point of fact.
Similarly, it said that it was a claim attributed in the article to the convicted man’s father that lawyers that the “only evidence” supplied by the prosecution was the evidence of the complainant’s testimony. The publication said that it did not consider that Clause 4 or Clause 14 were engaged by the complaint.
5. Notwithstanding the above, the publication offered to amend the article to make clear the complainant’s position that he believed the “drug operation” was in fact an attempt to search for gold.
Relevant Code Provision
6. 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.
7. Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock
In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively. These provisions should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings
8. Clause 14 (Confidential sources)
Journalists have a moral obligation to protect confidential sources of information
9. The complaint was not resolved through direct correspondence between the parties. IPSO therefore began an investigation into the matter.
10. During IPSO’s investigation, the publication offered to remove the article.
11. The complainant said that this would resolve his complaint.
12. As the complaint was successfully mediated, the Complaints Committee did not make a determination as to whether there had been any breach of the Code.
Date complaint received: 04/04/2020
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 01/10/2020Back to ruling listing