Decision of the Complaints Committee 02412-15 Dangerfield v Sunday Herald
Summary of complaint
1. Gordon Dangerfield complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Sunday Herald had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Tommy Sheridan’s publicly-funded legal bill hits nearly £250k”, published online on 29 March 2015.
2. The article reported that former MSP Tommy Sheridan had incurred legal costs of nearly £250,000 in an attempt to appeal his conviction for perjury, and that the state was liable for these costs. It had included the following statement from the complainant, Mr Sheridan’s solicitor: “The cost of Tommy Sheridan’s defence is a matter for his former solicitor Aamer Anwar and not for me. However, the cost to the public of Mr Sheridan’s defence is a drop in the ocean of the millions spent by Rupert Murdoch”.
3. The complainant noted that he had offered a lengthy comment to the newspaper, which included the following wording: “The cost of Tommy Sheridan’s defence is a matter for his former solicitor Aamer Anwar, and not for me. However, the cost to the public of Mr Sheridan’s defence is a drop in the ocean of the millions spent by Rupert Murdoch, and then by the Scottish police and Scottish Crown, to [omitted text]”. He said that the way in which the comment had been edited rendered it misleading, as he had not intended to compare money spent by Rupert Murdoch with the cost to the tax payer. Rather, he had intended to contrast the public cost of Mr Sheridan’s defence with the public cost of his prosecution.
4. The newspaper did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that the comment had been edited for legal reasons, as it had no way to check the veracity of the complainant’s statement. It did not accept that the way in which the comment had been edited had distorted its meaning. It said that the comment published had conveyed the complainant’s main point; that there were costs on both sides.
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.
Findings of the Committee
6. The newspaper was entitled to edit comments for legal reasons, and it was not for the Committee to comment on any legal advice which the newspaper had received. However, in editing material for these reasons, the newspaper was required to ensure that any amendments to the comment did not render it inaccurate or misleading, in breach of Clause 1 of the Editors’ Code.
7. The editing of the complainant’s comment had the effect of highlighting only one of the arguments he had made, namely comparing the costs of the defence to the significantly higher costs which had been incurred by Mr Murdoch, and had omitted his further argument that the cost to the public of pursing Mr Sheridan had also been significantly greater than the cost to the public of Mr Sheridan's defence of the claim against him. However, the quote as published had accurately reflected the comment made by the complainant, and he had not disputed that he had specifically drawn attention to the money which had been spent by Rupert Murdoch. While the comment as published may not have conveyed the totality of the complainant’s view on the matter, the publication of only one of his arguments was not significantly misleading in breach of Clause 1.
8. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 02/04/2015
Date decision issued: 18/05/2015Back to ruling listing