Decision of the Complaints Committee 03743-18 Purcell v metro.co.uk
Summary of complaint
1. Dean Purcell complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that metro.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Violent thug who beat up ex-girlfriend must tell police if he starts seeing someone new”, published on 15 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 72 hours 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 version of events which had apparently led up to the complainant’s conviction. It said that the complainant and his victim “had resumed their relationship after breaking-up last July”; it claimed that the complainant started to assault the victim shortly after they had moved in together. The article reported that the complainant’s victim “felt unable to leave because of Purcell’s behaviour and her previous bad experiences with him, which included slapping her, biting her ear and threatening to kill her and himself”. It said, “when a benefits officer visited their flat, [the victim] was too afraid to say what had happened but asked if she could take a bath to stay out the way”. It said that the victim “climbed out the bathroom window in her dressing gown, ran to their local shop and asked someone to call the police”.
4. 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 which the victim had made against him, as though they had been accepted by him as the basis for his guilty plea.
5. The complainant said that the article had been based on an inaccurate police press release. He said that this press release had presented the allegations made against him 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. The complainant said that he had submitted an official complaint to the police regarding its press release.
6. The complainant said that he had pleaded guilty to one ABH charge on the basis of excessive self-defence. The complainant provided a copy of his basis of plea to IPSO. This document recorded that the conduct relating to this charge was as follows: “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”.
7. During the course of IPSO’s investigation, the complainant received the outcome of his complaint about the police 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”.
8. 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”.
9. The publication said that the article had been based on a press release originally published and disseminated by the Metropolitan Police. The publication said that, given the fact that the complainant had been convicted and sentenced, and that the statement had been put out by the police, it had no reason to doubt the accuracy of what was contained within the statement. The publication said that the police were a regular and reliable source of information for the media, and there would not normally be any reason to question the accuracy of their information.
10. The publication denied that the article contained any significant inaccuracies. It said that whether or not the victim’s recollections of her previous experiences were heard in court, or were communicated to the police outside of the judicial process, it was accepted that the statements in the article were her testimony according to the original police statement. Nevertheless, the publication offered to make amendments to the article to clarify that, while some of the victim’s testimony was heard in court, these allegations were denied by the complainant and did not form a subsequent part of his basis of plea.
11. The publication also offered to publish the following footnote:
A previous version of this article carried claims about Mr Purcell’s previous behaviour toward his ex-girlfriend which had been included by the Metropolitan Police in a media briefing, and which were reported in good faith. We have since been made aware that these allegations are denied by Mr Purcell, and the article has been amended to remove certain claims which he states were not heard in open court. Furthermore, we are happy to make clear that his guilty plea to the charge of actual bodily harm was made on the basis of excessive self-defence.
Relevant Code Provisions
12. 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
13. 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 the information from this official source. There was no breach of Clause 1 (i).
14. The article reported that the complainant had “slapped” his victim, “bitten” her ear and threatened to kill her and himself. This was the only reference to the complainant’s conduct against his victim.
15. The Committee noted that these claims were allegations which were heard in court, but which had not been accepted by the complainant as part of his guilty plea. In addition, the article had made clear that the charge of threats to kill had been left to lie on file; this clearly distinguished it from the charges to which the complainant pleaded guilty. Furthermore, in respect of the remaining conduct set out in the article, the Committee did not establish that there was a significant distinction between this conduct and the conduct which the complainant had accepted as part of his plea. The remaining information contained in the article was distinguished as the victim’s own account of her relationship with the complainant, which had formed part of her evidence against him. The article did not detail further allegations of criminal conduct such as would suggest that it would form the basis of the complainant’s conviction. Taking into consideration the factors referred to above, the Committee did not conclude that the article had given a significantly misleading impression of the nature and extent of the conduct which had formed the basis for the complainant’s conviction. There was no breach of the Code.
14. The complaint was not upheld.
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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