Decision of the Complaints Committee 02768-19 Beggs v The Scottish Sun
Summary of complaint
1. William Beggs complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Scottish Sun breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “KILLER’S PLAN TO GO ON THE RUN* *He demands jail treadmill”, published on 21 February 2019.
2. The article reported that the complainant had requested that a treadmill be installed closer to his prison cell. It quoted a source, which confirmed the story, and said that this request was the latest in a long line of vexatious or frivolous demands made by the complainant. It included a statement from the Scottish Prison Service which said that it did not comment on individual prisoners.
3. The article also appeared online in the same form with the headline “KILLER ON THE RUN Limbs in the Loch murderer William Beggs demands personal jail treadmill – so he can work out away from fellow lags”, published on 20 February 2019.
4. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1; he had made no such demand. He provided a Subject Access Request and Freedom of Information request, both of which he said showed that the Scottish Prison Service did not hold any data suggesting he had complained about the lack of treadmill near his cell.
5. The publication did not accept that the article was inaccurate. It said that the story came from a trusted and long-standing source with first-hand knowledge of the request, and who had previously provided similar stories which had proved to be accurate. Furthermore, although it did not provide on-the-record comments about individual prisoners, it said that it had a trusted relationship with the Scottish Prison Service, and the reporter took care to contact them prior to publication in relation to the claims. It said that following these steps, it remained satisfied with the accuracy of the article. It said that it was not possible to take any more steps to establish the accuracy of the claims; the complainant could not be contacted due to his incarceration. In addition, it noted that it was possible that the complainant had made an informal request, or had otherwise complained in such a manner that would not involve any of his personal data being processed, and thus would not be disclosed in any Subject Access Request.
6. However, the publication said that in light of the complaint, it was happy to put the complainant’s position on record. On 5 April 2019, it offered to print the following in the Corrections and Clarifications box, as well as offering to remove the online story and publish the clarification as a standalone item on the online Corrections and Clarifications page:
“An article headlined “KILLER’S PLAN TO GO ON THE RUN* *He demands jail treadmill” (21 February) reported that prisoner William Beggs had requested a treadmill for a gym close to his cell. We now understand that the request was made by a different prisoner, and are happy to set the record straight”
Relevant Code Provisions
7. 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.
Findings of the Committee
8. The publication had reported the claims that had been provided by a confidential source, which it said it had used previously and therefore trusted. To verify the claims of the source, the publication then contacted the Scottish Prison Service, which was the appropriate official body to comment on such allegations. There was no failure to take care over the accuracy of the information, and no breach of Clause 1(i).
9. However, following publication, the complainant disputed the accuracy of this claim, and provided documentation which indicated that no formal, written request had been made. In these circumstances, where the subject of the article was this alleged request, and it was presented as an example of the complainant’s conduct, this represented a significant inaccuracy requiring correction, and there was requirement to put the complainant’s position on record in order to avoid a breach of Clause 1(ii). In this case, the publication offered to put the complainant’s position on the matter on record, and it was offered with due prominence in its established Corrections and Clarifications column in print, and with sufficient promptness; 10 days after the publication received the complaint. At the same time, the publication offered to print the wording as a standalone item in the online Corrections and Clarifications page – this too was sufficiently prominent and prompt. These steps were sufficient to avoid a breach of Clause 1(ii), and should now be published.
10. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial action required
Date complaint received: 25/03/2019
Date decision issued: 04/06/2019Back to ruling listing