Decision of the Complaints Committee 05877-17 Coutts v Metro
Summary of complaint
1. Graham Coutts complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Metro breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Sex killer hankers after a room with mountain view,” published on 1 February 2017.
2. The article reported that the complainant had requested a transfer from HMP Wakefield in West Yorkshire, to a prison in Scotland. The article reported that the complainant had written in his blog that HMP Edinburgh would be his “top choice” as he had spent 6 weeks there in 2010 and had enjoyed the view. The article also stated that he wished to be transferred to Scotland to be closer to his mother.
3. The article was based on a blog post published by the complainant. In the blog post he stated that he had applied to be transferred to a Scottish prison in order to be closer to his mother. He said he had not made the application before as he had wanted to be close to his appeal solicitor and had not expected to still be in prison. The complainant recounted his stay in HMP Edinburgh in 2010 and noted he had had a beautiful view of the snow topped mountain.
4. The complainant said that the article, including the headline, was inaccurate. He had applied for a prison transfer to be closer to his mother; and that the view from the prison was not a factor in this decision. He said he had never stated that he wanted to move to HMP Edinburgh specifically, and had never stated it was his “top choice.”
5. The complainant also said it was inaccurate for the article to report he was homesick as this was not mentioned in his blog post.
6. The newspaper said that it had accurately reported that Mr Coutts had requested a prison transfer to Scotland. The article referred to the “snow-topped mountains” as although the complainant had not explicitly stated that the view was a consideration in his decision, the inclusion of this detail, referred to in a positive light, in his blog post implied that it had formed part of his reasoning in requesting a transfer.
7. The newspaper said that it had accurately reported that Mr Coutts wanted to be closer to his mother, and had included a direct quotation from his blog to support this.
8. The newspaper did not accept it was misleading to say that the setting of the prison had been a contributing factor in his decision to request a transfer, as he had commented on it in his blog. The newspaper said he had referred to this memory from his time in HMP Edinburgh in a positive way in his blog and this suggested it formed part of his consideration in requesting a transfer.
9. Nonetheless, the newspaper offered to publish the following clarification.
“An article on 1 February suggested that prisoner Graham Coutts had applied for a transfer from HMP Wakefield to a Scottish prison so he could enjoy the views. It also described HMP Edinburgh as his ‘top choice’. We are happy to clarify that while this was a reasonable interpretation of his comments, it was not a direct quote from his blog and Mr Coutts’s main reason to move is, as the article later stated, that it would be easier for his mother to visit him in Scotland. We apologise for any confusion caused.”
Relevant Code provisions
10. 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.
Findings of the Committee
11. The Committee acknowledged that the complainant had not, in his blog post, expressed an explicit preference to be transferred to HMP Edinburgh. He had, principally, explained that his application for a transfer was to make it easier for his mother to visit, saying that “anywhere in Scotland is going to be closer”. However, he had gone on to refer only to one Scottish prison in his blog, HMP Edinburgh, in which he had previously been an inmate and which he praised for having a “beautiful view”. In that context, the Committee did not consider that, in presenting its conclusion that the complainant had a preference for HMP Edinburgh because of the view, the newspaper had failed to take care to avoid publishing inaccurate, misleading or distorted information.
12. The Committee expressed concern that the phrase “top choice” appeared to be presented as a direct quote taken from the complainant’s blog, which was not the case. However in the context of the article, it was not significantly misleading to characterise the comments made about HMP Edinburgh in this way. Neither was it significantly misleading to claim that the view was the reason for his application for a transfer, in the context of an article which went on to explain that he wanted to move to be closer to his mother. Where the complainant stated he had requested to be transferred to Scotland to be closer to his mother, it was not misleading for the newspaper to report the complainant was homesick. The Committee welcomed, however, the newspaper’s offer to publish a clarification. There was no breach of Clause 1.
13. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial action required
Date complaint received: 06/04/2017
Date decision issued: 19/07/2017
Back to ruling listing