Decision of the Complaints Committee – 04288-19 Bellamy v Daily Mail
Summary of complaint
1. Craig Bellamy complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Mail breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors' Code of Practice in an article headlined "BELLAMY OUT" published on 15 May 2019.
2. The article reported that Cardiff Football Club Academy coach Craig Bellamy would lose his position as under 18's head coach "after an investigation into bullying claims against him". The article reported that he had taken a period of leave following the allegations "but it is understood the 39-year-old will not return to that position". The article went on to report that "he could yet face FA charges should the governing body decide to take a closer look at the case once the club return their findings". The article reported that families of the players who made the allegations had issued a statement on the investigation with the support of the Professional Footballers Association.
3. The article also appeared in much the same format online under the headline "Craig Bellamy OUT: Cardiff City youth role is over after bullying inquiry as parents of players welcome decision" published on 14 May 2019.
4. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate. He accepted that he had left the club but said that he had not been dismissed by the football club as a result of the investigation; he had stood aside while an investigation, which remains ongoing with his cooperation, was being undertaken and no decision had been reached. The complainant also said that the article was misleading as it reported that only the players who had made complaints about his conduct were supported by the Professional Footballers' Association, when he himself was also supported by the PFA.
5. The complainant said that the article represented an intrusion into his privacy in breach of Clause 2 (Privacy). He said the article had obtained information about the investigation and reported details of his employment relationship. The complainant said that he had reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to this information.
6. The publication denied any breach of the Code. While the article referenced the investigation, it was not reporting on the outcome of the investigation and it was clear for readers that the investigation was ongoing. The article had reported that the complainant would not be returning to his role regardless of the outcome of the investigation. The publication said that this was confirmed prior to publication by a senior anonymous source within the football club. The publication provided an email it received from its reporter documenting a phone conversation he had with another source providing verification that the club had no complaints over the accuracy of the article. The publication also said that it had contacted the complainant's representative prior to publication and that they had confirmed that he consented to the article's publication provided it did not report that the complainant had been sacked or that the allegations had been upheld by the ongoing investigation. It emphasised that the article was predictive in nature and made clear that a conclusion by the governing body had not been reached. In any event, the complainant was not in a position to know what steps the club were going to take in light of the allegations. The publication also highlighted that the complainant had since left the club and not returned.
7. The publication denied that the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to the information reported in the article. It said that the complainant had spoken publicly about the investigation, and in any event, the article did not disclose any details regarding the investigation.
8. Despite the publication’s position that Clause 2 was not engaged, it said that the article’s publication was in the public interest. It said that it concerned serious allegations of wrongdoing made against the complainant by the families of young people under his professional care and referenced the wider emerging problem in football regarding systemic failure to safeguard young aspiring footballers. It said that the article fell comfortably within the Code’s own provision of the public interest which includes “raising or contributing to a matter of public debate, including serious cases of impropriety, unethical conduct or incompetence concerning the public”.
Relevant Code Provisions
9. 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.
10. Clause 2 (Privacy)*
i) Everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence, including digital communications.
ii) Editors will be expected to justify intrusion into any individual’s private life without consent. In considering an individual’s reasonable expectation of privacy, account will be taken of the complainant’s own public disclosures of information and the extent to which the material complained about is already in the public domain or will become so.
iii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals, without their consent, in public or private places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.
The Public Interest
There may be exceptions to the clauses marked * where they can be demonstrated to be in the public interest.
1. The public interest includes, but is not confined to:
2. There is a public interest in freedom of expression itself.
3. The regulator will consider the extent to which material is already in the public domain or will become so.
4. Editors invoking the public interest will need to demonstrate that they reasonably believed publication – or journalistic activity taken with a view to publication – would both serve, and be proportionate to, the public interest and explain how they reached that decision at the time.
5. An exceptional public interest would need to be demonstrated to over-ride the normally paramount interests of children under 16.
Findings of the Committee
11. When read in isolation, the headline of the article could have been understood to mean that the investigation had concluded and a decision taken to remove the complainant. However, the body of the article clarified that the complainant would lose his position but did not report that the complainant had lost his position as a result of the investigation. The article made clear that the investigation was ongoing by virtue of reporting that the club was yet to return its findings. In these circumstances, it was not significantly misleading to report that the complainant was "out", or that he would lose his position after the bullying probe. The basis for the claim that the complainant would not be returning to his role originated from a well-placed source at the club, the identity of which the publication was under no obligation to reveal. The Committee considered that the publication was entitled to rely on the account of this source to report that the complainant would lose his position, and that the complainant was not in a position to dispute this. The publication had then provided a note of a conversation with another on the record source confirming the article's accuracy; there was no failure to take care. Where it was clear that the investigation was ongoing and the complainant was not in a position to know what action the club was planning on taking, the article was not significantly inaccurate and there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
12. The article reported that the parents of the children had released a statement with the backing of the PFA. However, the selection of material for publication is a matter of editorial discretion as long as the Code is not otherwise breached. Not reporting that the complainant also had support from the PFA did not render the article significantly misleading. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
13. The Committee considered that a work place investigation may attract a reasonable expectation of privacy. However, the article did not reveal any specific details about the investigation itself and did not reveal any information about which the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy. Further, there was a public interest in reporting that the complainant, a coach responsible for the welfare of young footballers, was under investigation for alleged wrongdoing. There was no breach of Clause 2.
14. The complaint was not upheld
Remedial action required
Date complaint received: 17/05/2019
Date decision issued: 12/11/2019