Decision of the Complaints Committee – 02975-21 Askey v thesun.co.uk
Summary of Complaint
1. John Askey complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that thesun.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 3 (Harassment), Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock) and Clause 9 (Reporting of Crime) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “THUGS CAGED Russian footie thugs jailed for 13 years for leaving England fan in coma after brutal 15- second attack at Euro 2016”, published on 14 December 2020.
2. The article reported on the outcome of court proceedings which had resulted in two men being convicted and jailed in relation to an assault during Euro 2016 during riots at Marseille. The article included details of the testimony of a Metropolitan Police Officer, who “told the court [the Metropolitan Police] had also used footage given to them by convicted British hooligan John Askey who was in Marseille at the time of the rioting and who was said to have a past ‘linked to football and violence'.”
3. The complainant was the man who, the article claimed, had “given” the Metropolitan Police the footage. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. He did not dispute that data which had assisted in the police investigation had been obtained from his phone, but said that he had not given his phone to the police. Rather, his phone had been seized after he was arrested, and “messages and associated data” were obtained from the phone at that time after a digital forensic examination was made of the seized phone. The complainant provided an email from the police, setting this out.
4. The complainant also said the article was inaccurate as he had never met one of the convicted men.
5. The complainant further said that the article breached Clause 3, Clause 4, and Clause 9, where he considered it inaccurately reported on his cooperation with the police and had therefore led to him becoming the target of harassment from members of the public.
6. The publication first noted that it was not in dispute that data obtained from the complainant’s phone had assisted the police in their inquiries, and that it had been heard in court that this was the case. The publication could not verify, however, whether it was heard in court that the complainant had “given” footage to the police; a reporter had not been present at court proceedings, and thus there were no journalist’s notes of court proceedings. The source of the information was a lawyer who had been present at court, and the newspaper said it was satisfied with the accuracy of his recollection, although it could not provide notes of the lawyer’s interaction with the reporter. It did, however, provide an email exchange, which it said demonstrated that the reporter had met with the lawyer.
7. The publication then said that, while it accepted that the wording stating that the court had heard that the Metropolitan Police had used footage “given” to them by the complainant was technically inaccurate, it did not accept that the inaccuracy was so significant as to represent a breach of Clause 1. It noted that the inaccuracy formed only a passing reference in the article, and that the effect of the alleged inaccuracy on the complainant would have been to make him appear as an individual who cooperated with police investigation. It could not therefore, it argued, be said that the inaccuracy was significant, where it was a brief reference, and the effect was to paint the complainant in a positive light.
8. The publication said that the terms of Clause 3 and Clause 4 were not engaged where, respectively, the complainant had not alleged that he had been harassed or approached by journalists in relation of the article; and the article did not relate to the complaint’s personal grief or shock.
9. The publication said that, where the complainant had not said that he was a friend or relative of either of the convicted man, it could not see how the terms of Clause 9 were engaged. However, it noted that, even if the terms of the Clause were engaged, there would be no breach – the complainant’s name had been heard during court proceedings, and he was therefore relevant to the story.
10. While the newspaper did not accept that the Code had been breached, it amended the article to state that police had “used data taken from the phone” of the complainant. It also offered to add the following footnote to the article:
Contrary to what an earlier version of this article said, John Askey did not give any video footage to police. Data taken by police from his phone was however instrumental in bringing the successful prosecutions reported by the article.
The proposed footnote was offered prior to IPSO beginning its investigation, and on the same day that the publication received a copy of an email from the Metropolitan Police confirming the correct position.
11. The complainant said that he would not be willing to resolve his complaint on this basis, and said that he wished for an apology to be published, to demonstrate remorse on the part of the publication for the negative impact the alleged inaccuracy had had on his life and the subsequent harassment he had suffered at the hands of members of the public as a result.
Relevant Code Provisions
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.
Clause 3 (Harassment)*
i) Journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit.
ii) They must not persist in questioning, telephoning, pursuing or photographing individuals once asked to desist; nor remain on property when asked to leave and must not follow them. If requested, they must identify themselves and whom they represent.
iii) Editors must ensure these principles are observed by those working for them and take care not to use non-compliant material from other sources.
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.
Clause 9 (Reporting of Crime)*
i) Relatives or friends of persons convicted or accused of crime should not generally be identified without their consent, unless they are genuinely relevant to the story.
ii) Particular regard should be paid to the potentially vulnerable position of children under the age of 18 who witness, or are victims of, crime. This should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings.
iii) Editors should generally avoid naming children under the age of 18 after arrest for a criminal offence but before they appear in a youth court unless they can show that the individual’s name is already in the public domain, or that the individual (or, if they are under 16, a custodial parent or similarly responsible adult) has given their consent. This does not restrict the right to name juveniles who appear in a crown court, or whose anonymity is lifted.
Findings of the Committee
12. The publication accepted that it had been technically inaccurate to report that the complainant had “given footage” to the Met Police. The Committee noted that, even in cases where an inaccuracy has been published, this does not necessarily lead to a breach of Clause 1 (i), if a publication can demonstrate that it has taken care not to publish inaccurate information, and that an inaccuracy had arisen despite the care taken.
13. In this instance, the publication could not demonstrate that it had taken care over the claim that the complainant had provided the Metropolitan Police with footage; the reporter had not been present in court and therefore had no contemporaneous notes of the court proceedings. The reporter had relied on information given by a lawyer who had been present in court; however, the publication could not substantiate the claims which it alleged had been made by the lawyer, and which it said the reporter was entitled to rely on, as there existed no record of the conversation between the reporter and the lawyer, beyond two emails arranging for a meeting to take place. Where the publication was unable to demonstrate that it had taken care over the disputed claim that it was said in court that the complainant had “given footage” to the police, the Committee found that Clause 1 (i) had been breached.
14. The breach of Clause 1 (i) was significant, where it related to the accuracy of what was heard in court. The Committee expressed particular concern that that publication had been unable to provide any notes or recording of the conversation between the reporter and the lawyer, and stressed the importance of demonstrating care taken over the accuracy of court reporting. Where the inaccuracy was significant, corrective action was required under the terms of Clause 1 (ii).
15. The Committee turned to the question of whether the action undertaken by the publication was sufficient to avoid a further breach of Clause 1 (ii). The publication had amended the article to remove the reference to the complainant giving footage to police. It had also offered to add a footnote to the article, pending the complainant’s approval. The wording was offered promptly after the publication was made aware of the true position, with the publication proposing the correction prior to IPSO beginning its investigation and on the same day that it received a copy of the email from the Metropolitan Police confirming the true position. The correction identified the inaccuracy and put the correct position on record, and the proposed location – a footnote to the original article – was sufficiently prominent, where the original inaccuracy formed a passing reference in the article.
16. The Committee noted that the complainant wished for the corrective action to include an apology but, on balance, the Committee found that the publication had not breached Clause 1 (ii) by omitting to apologise to the complainant in its proposed footnote. The Committee noted that the original inaccuracy had caused distress to the complainant, and had led to approaches from members of the public that he found distressing; however, the Committee considered that it would not be proportionate to hold the publication accountable for the actions of those who had contacted the complainant in a harassing manner. For these reasons, there was not further breach of Clause 1 (ii).
17. The article did not state that the complainant knew either of the defendants in the court case, with the complainant being referred to only in the context of the reference to his phone being used by the police to assist with their enquiries. As such, there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point raised by the complainant.
18. Clause 3 relates to the conduct of journalists in relation to members of the public when researching and writing stories. It does not relate to concerns that the conduct of members of the public may be harassing. Where the complainant did not allege that the conduct of journalists working for the paper had been harassing or intrusive towards him, there was no breach of the Clause.
19. Clause 4 was not engaged by the complainant’s concerns, where he did not state that the publication had reported on a case of his personal grief or shock. There was no breach of Clause 4.
20. The complainant’s concerns that the publication did not accurately report on court proceedings did not engage the terms of Clause 9, which relate to the identification of friends or relatives of those convicted or accused of crime without their consent, and where they are not relevant to the story. There was no breach of the Clause.
21. The complaint was partly upheld under Clause 1 (i).
Remedial Action Required
22. A footnote was offered with sufficient promptness and prominence to meet the terms of Clause 1(ii) and should now be published.
Date complaint received: 25/03/21
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 01/07/21Back to ruling listing