Decision of the Complaints Committee 03186-18 Silver v Newbury Weekly News
Summary of complaint
1. Howard Silver complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Newbury Weekly News breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined, “Lies told to get planning row businessman arrested,” published on 19 April 2018.
2. The article reported that a police report had revealed that “angry villagers [had] framed” a businessman in a neighbourhood dispute. It stated that the businessman had been awarded compensation for his wrongful arrest “after the force conceded [the businessman] was arrested and handcuffed after villagers made false allegations of assault against him.” It stated that the incident had occurred in 2016, after villagers had lost a two year planning battle. It went on to report that the police report into the incident stated “[The officer] agreed it later transpired via mobile phone footage that the complainants against [the businessman] had been less than honest in their accounts and had lied to police with a view of getting him into trouble.” It stated that following the incident, two people were issued with fixed penalty notices for wasting police time.”
3. The complainant was a resident of the village, but not one of the individuals issued with a fixed penalty notice in relation to this incident. He said that the article was inaccurate, as it had reported claims made about residents by the individual police officer involved as factual findings of the police report. He said that it had not been proven that the residents had acted dishonestly, and said that in the absence of criminal proceedings, the newspaper should have treated the comments made by the police officer with scepticism. He said that by reporting the officer’s characterisation of the residents as fact, the newspaper had failed to accurately distinguish between comment, conjecture and fact. He also said that the newspaper should have gone to residents for comment, prior to publication, to ensure the article was fair and balanced.
4. The newspaper did not accept that it had breached the Code. It said that the statements about the residents’ behaviour came from the official Thame’s Valley Police report, not from an individual police officer. It provided a copy of the police report. In the report, under the heading “Complainant’s Account (Summary)” it stated, “The complainant alleges that he was arrested following an allegation that he had damaged a hedgerow and assaulted two people during a dispute back in June 2016. It transpired that CCTV footage revealed that no assault had actually taken place and the two offenders were issued with PND notices for wasting Police time.”
5. Under the heading, “Appeal Investigation,” the report stated, “[the businessman] was conveyed to Newbury Police station and during interview stated that the complaint against him was malicious and a total fabrication of the truth. This was later supported by mobile phone footage taken at the time of the alleged offences by a member of the Anchor Vans staff and subsequently provided to Thames Valley Police.” It went on to state that, when the police officer was interviewed under caution, “[the officer] agreed that it had later transpired via mobile phone footage that the complainants against [the businessman] had been less than honest in their accounts and had lied to Police with a view of getting him in trouble.” The newspaper said that while this police investigation had focused on the alleged unlawful arrest of the businessman, it had accepted as fact that the allegations made by residents had been false. It said this was the premise for the businessman’s claim of unlawful arrest and the two Fixed Penalty Notices issued for wasting police time. Therefore it said the article accurately reported the police report.
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.
Findings of the Committee
7. The police report related to the investigation into allegations of police misconduct by the businessman. The report did not make any direct findings on the behaviour of the residents. However, it was accepted by the investigating police force that the initial allegations made against the businessman that led to his arrest had been shown to be without basis and therefore no charges were brought against the businessman. The police report explicitly referred to it being agreed, by the police officer in a subsequent police interview, that the residents had been “less than honest” and had “lied to Police.” The newspaper was entitled to report on the police report, and did not have to approach the residents involved for comment, prior to publication. There was no failure to take care over the accuracy of the information. The article had accurately reported the Police force’s comments regarding the allegations made by residents, and there was no failure to distinguish between comment, conjecture and fact. There was no breach of Clause 1.
8. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 24/04/2018
Date decision issued: 02/07/2018
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