Decision of the Complaints Committee – 04780-21 Jacobson v Liverpool Echo
Summary of Complaint
1. Mark Jacobson complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Liverpool Echo breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “'Dangerous' child rapist is locked up”, published on 14th May 2021.
2. The article reported on the complainant’s conviction at Liverpool Crown Court. It stated he had “raped children and forced them to watch sexual acts” and had “been jailed for 16 years”. The article also reported that the complainant “was found guilty of 16 counts of serious child sex offences. These include two counts of rape and multiple counts of sexual activity with a child, causing a child to watch a sexual act and engaging in sexual activity in the presence of a child”. It included a statement made by a police officer who said that the complainant “is a dangerous individual and he will now spend a significant amount of time behind bars where he can no longer pose a risk to children”.
3. The article also appeared online under the headline “’Dangerous’ monster raped children and forced them to watch sexual acts”.
4. The complainant said that the headline of the online article, and the body of the print article, was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 as they stated that he had raped “children”, yet his conviction was in relation to a single child. Secondly, the complainant also said the headline was inaccurate as it reported that he had “forced” a child to watch sexual acts, when he had been convicted of “showing” a child sexual acts.
5. The publication said it accepted that the article was inaccurate regarding the number of children to whom the offences related. On the same day the article was published, on 14th May 2021, it amended the online headline to say “’Dangerous’ monster raped child and forced them to watch sexual acts” and changed the first line so that it read “A monster who raped a child and forced them to watch sexual acts has been jailed for 16 years”. The publication also added a footnote correction that said:
“An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated Jacobson raped more than one child”.
After IPSO referred the complaint to the publication, it also offered to publish the following correction in print on page 2 in the Corrections and Clarifications column:
Our article “’Dangerous’ child rapist is locked up’ May 14, incorrectly reported that Mark Jacobson of Washington Parade, Bootle, had been convicted of 16 counts of child sex offences relating to multiple children. In fact, his conviction of 16 counts of child sex offences was in relation to one child.
6. Regarding the complainant’s second point the publication did not accept a breach of Clause 1. It stated that the police press release clearly said that he had been found guilty of “causing a child to watch a sexual act and engaging in sexual activity in the presence of a child”. The publication considered that this was sufficient justification for the article to report that the complainant had been found guilty of “forcing the child to watch sexual acts”.
7. The complainant did not accept the amendments to the online article and the proposed correction as a resolution to his complaint.
Relevant Code Provisions
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
8. In regard to the first point, the newspaper accepted that it had been inaccurate to report that the complainant had “raped children”, as he had been found guilty of offences related to a single child. The publication said that the error resulted from a misreading of a police press report. The Committee considered that this amounted to a failure to take care not to publish inaccurate information, resulting in a breach of Clause 1(i). This was a headline claim and the article had been reporting on the complainant’s serious criminal convictions; as such, the inaccuracy was significant and required correction under the terms of Clause 1(ii).
9. The Committee considered the corrective action undertaken and, in the case of the print article, proposed, by the publication and assessed whether it had fulfilled its obligations to correct the inaccuracy promptly and with due prominence. The publication had amended the online article and published a footnote correction which identified the inaccuracy and set out the correct position. The amendment had been made shortly after publication on 14th May 2021, fulfilling the requirement of Clause 1 (ii) for due promptness. As the headline and article had been amended on the same day as it was published, the publication of a footnote correction represented due prominence on this occasion. The publication had also offered to publish a correction in print, appearing on page 2 in the Corrections and Clarifications column. This was sufficiently prominent as the original article had appeared on page 5. As such, there was no breach of Clause 1(ii).
10. The Committee considered that, where the offence involved a child and where the complainant had been found guilty of “causing a child to watch a sexual act”, it was not significantly inaccurate for the article to characterise this as “forcing”. The publication had made clear the offences for which the complainant had been convicted and his sentence, and had, therefore, taken sufficient care to not publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
11. The complaint was partially upheld under Clause 1.
Remedial Action Required
12. The published correction online put the correct position on record and was offered promptly and with due prominence. No further action was required.
correction which was offered in print clearly put the correct position on
record, and was offered promptly and with due prominence, and should now be
Date complaint received: 14/05/2021
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 18/10/2021Back to ruling listing