Decision of the Complaints Committee 03180-18 Purcell v thesun.co.uk
Summary of Complaint
1. Dean Purcell 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 “THUG'S SEX RAP: Violent thug must tell police every time he has sex with new woman after battering ex”, published on 16 April 2018.
2. The article reported that the complainant had been issued with a Criminal Behaviour Order, which ordered that for the next seven years he must, within three days of the third time he has any sexual activity with a woman, give police her details so they can speak to her. It said that in March 2018 the complainant had received a custodial sentence after he had pleaded guilty to ABH and two counts of assault by beating against his former girlfriend. It also reported that “charges of false imprisonment, threats to kill, and a count of battery were left to lie on file”.
3. The article reported a series of events apparently leading up to the complainant’s conviction. The article reported that the complainant had been attending domestic violence meetings after moving in with his former partner; it said that the complainant started to “assault the victim, initially by name calling and slapping her, before becoming ‘extremely controlling’ of her”; it said that on one occasion, an argument ended with the complainant “pulling [the victim’s] hair and biting her right ear”. The article reported that later that day the complainant “accused her of having sex with other men, before covering her mouth and nose with both his hands”.
4. The article reported that “police say the next morning he threatened her with a knife, saying he would kill her and himself unless she told him the truth. He only put the knife down when she again reassured him.” The article reported that the victim felt “unable to leave” because of the complainant’s behaviour. The article said that “when a benefits welfare officer visited their flat, the victim was too afraid of Purcell to say what had happened”. It said “when the victim asked Purcell if she could take a bath to stay out the way, he took her phone from her”; “while Purcell was distracted by the benefits welfare office, the victim climbed out the bathroom window in her dressing gown, ran to their local shop and asked someone to call the police”.
5. The complainant said that the article had created an inaccurate and misleading impression of the conduct to which he had pleaded guilty. He said that the article had presented the allegations about his conduct which the victim had made against him, as though they had been accepted by him as the basis for his guilty plea.
6. The complainant said that the article had been based on an inaccurate police press release, which was subject to complaint. He said that this press release had presented the allegations made about his conduct as having been established by the court as fact; he said that only the facts which he had accepted as part of his basis of plea, and which had been referred to in his plea hearing, should have been reported on.
7. The complainant provided a copy of his Basis of Plea. It recorded that the complainant had pleaded guilty to an ABH charge on the basis of excessive self defence: “The defendant felt it necessary to restrain the complainant. This involved holding her on the bed with his body weight and holding his hand over her mouth in an apparent attempt to prevent her making noise”.
8. During the course of IPSO’s investigation, the complainant received the outcome of his complaint with the police’s press release. The police confirmed that its press release “contained information that had been alleged by the victim, but not accepted by the defendant as a basis for his plea of guilty. His plea was on the basis of excessive self-defence which was accepted by the prosecution”. The police invited publications to remove reference to incidents not included in the Basis of Plea.
9. The complainant also provided a transcript of his plea hearing. This recorded that the two counts of assault related to an incident where the victim’s hair was pulled, and one incident where the victim had received “a punch to the leg while they were in [the complainant’s] car”.
10. The publication did not accept that it had breached the Code. It said that it was entitled to rely upon the contents of a police press release; it was not a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article to do so. The publication offered to amend the article to clarify that the events which were set out in the article, but which were not accepted as part of the complainant’s basis of plea, were allegations heard in court.
11. The publication also offered to add the following footnote online:
A previous version of this article, which was based on information released by the Met Police, said that Mr Purcell had called the complainant names, slapped her, became "extremely controlling" of her and bit her right ear. It has now been amended to make clear that, while those allegations were heard in court, they did not form part of Mr Purcell's basis of plea. The article has also been amended to note that when Mr Purcell was pinning his victim to the bed, he covered her mouth and nose with one hand, not two.
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.
Findings of the Committee
12. It was not a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article, to rely on the contents of a police press release which had been issued following the complainant’s conviction. The publication was entitled to rely on the accuracy of information from this official source. There was no breach of Clause 1(i).
13. The article had accurately recorded what had been heard during court proceedings; however it had failed to distinguish between the allegations which were accepted by the complainant as part of his guilty plea, and the allegations which were not. It reported, as fact that the complainant had name-called the victim; slapped her; bit her right ear, and threatened her with a knife. These were not incidents which had been accepted by the complainant in his basis of plea. Accordingly, the article had given a significantly misleading impression of the nature and extent of the conduct which had formed the basis for his conviction. The footnote offered by the publication made clear the correct position. It was offered sufficiently promptly, upon receipt of the outcome of the complainant’s complaint against the police press release and the court transcript provided by the complainant. In conjunction with the offer to amend the article, publication of this wording as a footnote to the article represented due prominence. There was no breach of Clause 1 (ii). In order to avoid a breach of Clause 1 (ii), the publication should now amend its article as offered, and add the clarification as a footnote.
15. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial action required
Independent Complaints Reviewer
The complainant complained to the Independent Complaints Reviewer about the process followed by IPSO in handling this complaint. The Independent Complaints Reviewer decided that the process was not flawed and did not uphold the request for review.
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