Resolution statement 02951-19 Brown v thesun.co.uk
Summary of complaint
1. Pat Brown complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that thesun.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors' Code of Practice in an article headlined "Madeleine McCann abductor walked right past Irish family carrying the missing girl minutes after snatching her, US expert says" published 11 March 2019.
2. The complainant, a criminal profiler, said that the article was inaccurate as it misrepresented her position on the Madeleine McCann disappearance. She said that it attributed claims that Madeline McCann was "abducted" or "snatched" to her, when she has never made this claim, only that the man in question was key to solving the case.
3. The publication denied a breach of the Code. It said that the complainant believed somebody carried Madeline McCann away from the family's holiday home and lied about it, the term "abducted" was not significantly misleading in the circumstances. Despite the publication not accepting a breach of the Code, it altered the headline to read "Expert says mystery man spotted TWICE on night she disappeared is key to solving case of missing Madeleine McCann".
4. The complainant said that the headline was still inaccurate, as it reported that she believed that there were two sightings of the "mystery man", when her position is that there were two sightings but of two different people.
5. The publication said that it was not inaccurate to report in the headline that the complainant believed there were two sightings and the article went on to describe the two sightings in more detail. However, the publication removed the term "twice" from the headline and published a clarification as a footnote with the article in the following wording:
"A previous version of this article suggested that Pat Brown believed Madeleine McCann may have been abducted by the mystery man seen on the night she disappeared. It has now been amended to make clear that she believes that the man is key to solving the case, but she does not believe that he abducted Madeleine. A version of the headline also suggested that the two 'mystery men' may have been the same person; to clarify, Pat Brown believes they were different men."
Relevant Code provisions
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. The complaint was not resolved through direct correspondence between the parties. IPSO therefore began an investigation into the matter.
8. Notwithstanding its position that there was no breach of the Code, the publication published a correction in its online Clarifications and Corrections column with a link to the correction appearing in the top half of its homepage for 24 hours. The publication offered the following wording:
Apology to criminal profiler Pat Brown
An article “KEY TO FINDING MADDIE Expert says mystery man spotted on night she disappeared is key to solving case of missing Madeleine McCann” (11 March) originally had a headline which reported that criminal profiler Pat Brown believed Madeleine McCann may have been abducted by a mystery man seen on the night she disappeared. To clarify, she believes that the man is key to solving the case, but does not believe that he abducted Madeleine. A version of the headline also suggested that two ‘mystery men’ seen on the night may have been the same person; in fact, Pat Brown believes they were different men. We apologise for the error.
9. The complainant said that this would resolve the matter to her satisfaction.
10. 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: 01/04/2019
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 17/07/2019
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