Resolution Statement 04161-17 A woman vs Mail Online

Decision: Resolved - IPSO mediation

Resolution Statement 04161-17 A woman vs Mail Online

Summary of complaint

1. A woman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Mail Online  breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 6 (Children) in an article headlined, “Former market trader, 49, claims he has PROVED he’s the father of a boy who will inherit £1 billion after a 'six-year romance with the daughter of one of Luxembourg’s richest tycoons'”, published on 21 March 2017, and an article headlined “Do these family snaps prove former Essex barrow boy DID father a child with Luxembourg billionaire heiress?” published on 27 March 2017.

2. The articles reported a man’s belief that, following a prolonged legal battle, he had managed to prove that he was the father of a child who was heir to a substantial fortune. They reported his claims surrounding a DNA test conducted to prove his paternity; the wealth of the child’s family; his relationship with the complainant; conflicts involving the complainant’s family; and his plan to press for visitation rights. The second article also included the man’s claim that the mother had tried to evade a paternity test by bringing a “fake child”, in place of his alleged son. The article included pixilated photos of a woman who was purportedly the mother. Neither the mother nor child was referred to by name in the articles.

3. The complainant, who was the mother of the child in the paternity dispute, said that the publication had reported the man’s claims without taking steps to verify them. While the complainant did not dispute that she and the man were engaged in a paternity dispute, she said that the man’s claims, as reported in the article, were false. She denied that these claims had been made in the court proceedings. The complainant said that the material provided by the publication in response to the complaint did not prove the allegations. She denied that the man had pressed for visitation rights.  She said that some of the photographs that appeared in the second article did not show her. She said that the second article made it possible to identify her child by stating her husband’s occupation and ethnicity. In relation to the claim that the man had “proven” he was the father, the complainant said that there had not been a final court judgement, and that she was legally prevented from commenting on the DNA test.

4. The publication denied that it had breached the Code. It said that it was entitled to believe the account provided to it by the man in relation to points of opinion he expressed, and said that the factual claims made in the story were supported by information which it claimed had been heard in court and from other sources. In addition, it said that many of the claims made in the story were expressed in terms which made clear that they were the man’s own opinions. The publication denied that the information contained in the second article made the child identifiable. The publication accepted that it had inadvertently published pixilated photographs which did not in fact show the complainant, as they purported to show in the article.

Relevant Code provisions

5. 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.

6. Clause 6 (Children)

i) All pupils should be free to complete their time at school without unnecessary intrusion.

ii) They must not be approached or photographed at school without permission of the school authorities.

iii) Children under 16 must not be interviewed or photographed on issues involving their own or another child’s welfare unless a custodial parent or similarly responsible adult consents.

iv) Children under 16 must not be paid for material involving their welfare, nor parents or guardians for material about their children or wards, unless it is clearly in the child's interest.

v) Editors must not use the fame, notoriety or position of a parent or guardian as sole justification for publishing details of a child's private life.

Mediated outcome

7. The complaint was not resolved through direct correspondence between the parties. IPSO therefore began an investigation into the matter.

8. Following IPSO’s intervention, the publication offered to remove the articles from its website; to send a private letter of apology to the complainant; and to publish the following apology:

Two articles on 21 March (‘Steve Marston and his £1 billion inheritance battle’) and 28 March (‘My fiancée brought a fake child to DNA test’) made a number of allegations against a mother and her family. In publishing these articles, we relied solely on Mr Marston’s account of the proceedings and failed to reflect that these allegations are strongly denied by the mother and her family, in particular the allegation of a “fake child” being presented for DNA testing and we now retract this claim. The article dated 28 March also included pixelated photographs of a woman which were incorrectly said to be of the mother. We apologise to the mother, her child and her family for failing to reflect their position, and for any distress caused. We have removed the articles from our site and agreed to send a written apology to the individuals concerned.

9. The complainant said that this would resolve the matter to her satisfaction.

10. As the complaint was successfully mediated, the Complaints Committee did not make a determination as to whether there had been any breach of the Code.

Date complaint received: 29/03/2017
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 01/09/17


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