03460-15 Dorries v Sunday Mirror

Decision: No breach - after investigation

·   Decision of the Complaints Committee 03460-15 Dorries v Sunday Mirror

Summary of complaint 

1. Nadine Dorries complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Sunday Mirror had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Tory Nad stalking row with vote rival”, published on 3 May 2015. 

2. The article reported that the complainant was being investigated by Bedfordshire police following allegations that leaflets had been distributed on her behalf, claiming that a rival parliamentary candidate was harassing her. It included the complainant’s denial that she had broken the law, and noted that police investigations had previously taken place into claims she had made about the other candidate, following which he had been issued with a warning. The article reported that no further action had been taken by the CPS in relation to the allegations against the other candidate, and that a report issued by the police the previous year had stated that he “has not committed any offence, and is purely holding the complainant to account”. 

3. The complainant said it was inaccurate to suggest that she was “at the centre of a police investigation”; there had been no investigation into the allegations made by the other candidate against her, and she had not been contacted by the police. She said that, in fact, alleged breaches of election law could not be investigated until after an election vote, and any allegations relating to such claims had to be put to the Returning Officer, who would then decide whether to refer the matter to the police. The Returning Officer had not been contacted in this case. The complainant’s representative had been in correspondence with the journalist prior to publication, and had informed her that, while the police were “looking into” the allegations, there was no investigation on-going. 

4. The complainant also objected to the article’s reference to the police report “issued last year”. She said that the police had confirmed that no such report had ever been issued. She provided a letter from a police representative, which noted that, while the wording included in the article had been included in a police report, it appeared to represent the professional view of an officer who had been investigating her claims against the other candidate between 2008 and 2010, and did not take into account all of the activities of the other candidate between 2008 and 2013. The police representative had noted that the report, which had been released following a 2014 Subject Access Request by the other candidate, had been heavily redacted, which may have made it difficult to understand. 

5. The newspaper defended the accuracy of its coverage. It had contacted the police prior to publication, who had confirmed in writing that enquiries were on-going. The newspaper had then contacted the complainant by telephone, to discuss the fact that the other candidate had made a complaint to the police about a potential breach of electoral law. Following contact from the complainant’s representative, the newspaper had telephoned the police press office a number of times to check whether the information that it had originally received remained accurate. The newspaper had provided transcripts of these conversations. The police had confirmed that “investigations” were on-going, and that the written statement on the matter remained unchanged. The newspaper noted that the article presented both sides of the dispute, and included the complainant’s position on the matter, and her denial of any wrong-doing. During the course of the IPSO complaint, the CPS had confirmed that the allegations against the complainant would not be pursued, and the newspaper would be reporting this in a forthcoming edition. 

6. The newspaper provided a copy of a report, issued by the police to the other candidate in response to a Subject Access Request. This report was heavily redacted, but included the statement disputed by the complainant. The police had also confirmed that the complainant’s concerns about the other candidate had been investigated and passed to the CPS, but that no evidence of an offence was found. 

7. Before contacting IPSO, the complainant’s representative had complained directly to the publication. The online article had been taken down while the complaint was under investigation, as a gesture of goodwill. The newspaper emphasised that this did not constitute an admission of wrongdoing. 

Relevant Code Provisions

8. Clause 1 (Accuracy) 

i) The press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures. 

ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and – where appropriate – an apology published. 

Findings of the Committee

9. Bedfordshire police had confirmed that they were investigating allegations against the complainant. The newspaper had also contacted the complainant to discuss this on more than one occasion prior to publication, and had had written correspondence with the complainant’s representative. While the complainant denied that she had ever been subject to a police investigation, the newspaper was entitled to rely on information issued by the police press office, which had been repeatedly checked after the complainant’s representative had contacted the newspaper to suggest that the information obtained was inaccurate. There had been no failure to take care not to publish inaccurate information in breach of Clause 1 (i). 

10. Where the police had confirmed that an investigation was on-going into claims made against the complainant, it was not misleading to report that she was “at the centre of” such an investigation. Furthermore, the article had included the complainant’s denial of any wrong-doing. Nonetheless, the Committee welcomed the fact that the newspaper would be publishing a further story in a forthcoming edition, making clear that the CPS would not be pursuing any claims against the complainant. 

11. The newspaper had been entitled to rely on an official report issued by the police, and was not required to seek further comment from the police on this document before publishing quotations from it. Nor was it required to contact the complainant for comment, as she did not have knowledge of the document, which had been issued confidentially to another individual. The document in question did contain the sentence disputed by the complainant, and the police had subsequently confirmed its authenticity. The Committee noted the complainant’s assertion that in fact, this did not reflect the police’s current position on the conduct of the other candidate. However, in circumstances where the article had made clear subsequent legal developments in relation to the other candidate’s conduct and where it was not in dispute that the CPS had not taken further action against him, any potential discrepancy over the date of the report was not significant, and the inclusion of the statement from it was not misleading. The newspaper should however take account of the date on which this document was produced in any future coverage. 

Conclusions

12. The complaint was not upheld. 

Remedial Action Required

N/A 

Date complaint received: 06/05/2015

Date decision issued: 06/07/2015

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