Resolution Statement – 05745-19 Yaxley-Lennon v Daily Star Sunday
Summary of Complaint
1. Stephen Yaxley-Lennon complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Star Sunday breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock), and Clause 16 (Payment to criminals), in an article headlined “OAP BEATS UP TOMMY ROBINSON IN JAIL” published on 21 July 2019.
2. The article appeared on the front page and continued on page 7 with the headline “If you act like you’re the boss in here, they will take you down…”. It reported that Tommy Robinson, also known as Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, had been “decked” in the showers of Belmarsh prison by a 70-year-old man “hours after arriving”. It reported that a “source revealed” that Mr Robinson had been attacked after “throwing his weight around” and that the altercation took place 72 hours after he arrived at the prison, although according to sources, no official report of assault was made. The article explained the conviction that led to the prison sentence and included a comment from the Ministry of Justice which said: “We do not comment on individuals”.
3. The article appeared in largely the same form online on 22 July 2020, with the headline “Tommy Robinson ‘decked in showers’ by OAP on first day in prison”.
4. The complainant said that the information provided by the source was inaccurate; furthermore, the source’s claims were presented as fact. He said that it was not the case that he was attacked on his first day in Belmarsh prison, or at any time during his imprisonment. He said that he had been kept in solitary confinement for the entirety of his sentence – he had no physical contact with any other inmate and so it was not possible for any of the events described to have taken place. He said that there appeared to have been no attempt to verify the information provided by the source, for example, by contacting him for comment.
5. The complainant also said that the article breached Clause 4 and Clause 16 – the inaccuracies had distressed him and his family, and he speculated that the source may have been an inmate at the prison who was paid for information.
6. The newspaper said that the claim that the complainant had been attacked in the showers of Belmarsh prison had been provided by a reliable anonymous source which had been used numerous times. It said that it taken care to put the claim to the Ministry of Justice, and its response was included in the article. It said that it was not possible to contact the complainant for comment as he was in prison at the time; it was not aware that he had a representative. The newspaper said that the complainant had previously claimed in 2018 to have been held in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day, and this was shown to be untrue by a statement released by the Ministry of Justice.
7. The newspaper said that the main body of the article made clear that the allegation was the source’s own claim. It said that if the complainant was able to provide any evidence showing that he had been kept in isolation for the entire time he was in prison, it would be happy to publish a clarification making this clear. The publication confirmed that no payments were made to a criminal for the information and it did not accept that the article breached Clause 4.
Relevant Code Provisions
8. Clause 1 (Accuracy)
i) 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.
9. Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock)
In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively. These provisions should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings.
10. Clause 16 (Payment to Criminals)
i) Payment or offers of payment for stories, pictures or information, which seek to exploit a particular crime or to glorify or glamorise crime in general, must not be made directly or via agents to convicted or confessed criminals or to their associates – who may include family, friends and colleagues.
ii) Editors invoking the public interest to justify payment or offers would need to demonstrate that there was good reason to believe the public interest would be served. If, despite payment, no public interest emerged, then the material should not be published.
11. The complaint was not resolved through direct correspondence between the parties. IPSO therefore began an investigation into the matter.
12. During IPSO’s investigation, the complainant provided an email from the Governor of Belmarsh prison which read:
“In answer to your e-mail, I can confirm that during your stay at HMP Belmarsh earlier this year, you were not involved in any incidents of any type, and most definitely not involved in an fight/assault on or by another prisoner as described in a newspaper article at the time”
13. As a result, the newspaper offered to print the following correction in print at the top of page 2 and in a box, as well as online:
Tommy Robinson - Correction
Our article OAP BEATS UP TOMMY ROBINSON IN JAIL, 21 July 2019, reported that Tommy Robinson was 'decked by a 70-year-old lag in the prison showers'. The information within this article was provided by a reliable source; however, on this occasion, the information proved to be unreliable. We did ask the MoJ to comment on the story, but they declined. The Governor of HMP Belmarsh has since provided an email confirming that Tommy Robinson was 'not involved in any incidents of any type, and most definitely not involved in a fight /assault on or by another prisoner as described in our newspaper article at the time.' We are happy to clarify the correct position and offer our apologies to Tommy Robinson (real name Stephen Yaxley Lennon) and his family.
14. The complainant said that this would resolve the matter to his satisfaction.
15. 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: 27/07/2019
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 03/06/2020Back to ruling listing