Decision of the Complaints Committee 05917-17 Barron v Daily Star Sunday
Summary of complaint
1. Richard Barron complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Star Sunday breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Paedo sings at kids’ events”, published in print and online on 9 April 2017.
2. The article reported that the complainant had been jailed in 2012 “for a catalogue of crimes against a schoolgirl”. The article said that he had been “found guilty of 18 charges relating to the sex attacks on the child and the indecent images on his PC“; he was ordered to sign the Sex Offenders Register indefinitely; and was the subject of a Sexual Offences Prevention Order for 10 years. It was reported that the complainant was “singing at pubs, holiday camps and family parties,” and had discussed a booking for a christening with a potential customer, without advising that he was a sex offender. The article included quotations from a source close to the family of the victim, who expressed concern that the complainant was performing where children may be present. The article also reported that since his release from prison, he had worked as a skydiving instructor, after earning his “wings” with the Parachute Regiment, and that staff at the club ”later learned about his sex crimes”.
3. The complainant said that the headline of the article was inaccurate, as he had not performed at events for children, but only in pubs and clubs, where licensing laws required the audience to be over 18. The complainant said that he had placed an online advertisement describing himself as a singer “for all occasions” before his conviction, and he was unable to remove it from the internet. He said that he carried out his own risk assessment before agreeing to sing at any event, and kept his Probation Officer and the police informed of where he was performing.
4. The complainant also said it was inaccurate for the article to report that he had been jailed “for a catalogue of crimes against a schoolgirl,” as he had been convicted of one count of sexual assault against a female child under the age of 13, and 17 other counts relating to the indecent images of children found on his computer, which did not involve the victim of sexual assault. He said that he was not charged with any grooming offence.
5. The complainant also said that the article had inaccurately reported his age, that he had taken part in skydiving with the Parachute Regiment and had lost his job as a skydiving instructor after he failed to disclose that he was a sex offender. The complainant said he was a volunteer, not an employee of the parachute club; the day after his sentencing, a third party had informed the parachute club of his conviction. After his release from prison, he returned to the parachute club, but he chose to leave when the story was published due to concern about the level of publicity his involvement may draw to the organisation.
6. The complainant also expressed concern that the newspaper had intruded into his private life by publishing a photograph of him, which he said he had not put in the public domain. He said that reporting that he was an ex-soldier had put the safety of himself and his family at risk.
7. The newspaper said that the headline was not inaccurate, and that the basis for the claim that the complainant performed at events for children was made clear in the article. The newspaper said it had been provided with information by the administrators of an online database which reported on the convictions of child sex offenders, as well as a source close to the case, who had expressed concern that the complainant was performing at events where children may be present. The newspaper then found an online advert on an entertainment website, where the complainant advertised himself as a “solo artist for all occasions” and stated that he performed at holiday camps. The newspaper further contacted the complainant to make inquiries about booking him as a singer for a christening and provided email correspondence with the complainant, in which he asked for further details about the event and inquired about the customer’s budget. The newspaper said that the complainant had not made clear at any point that he was a child sex offender and would be unwilling to perform at an event with children. The newspaper said that all these sources supported the claim that the complainant performed at “kids’ events”, and did not accept that the headline was inaccurate.
8. The newspaper accepted that the complainant had been convicted on one count of sexual assault against a female child under the age of 13, one count of possessing indecent photographs and sixteen counts of making indecent images of children. The newspaper said that the article made clear he had been convicted of “18 charges relating to sex attacks on the child and the indecent images on his PC,” and did not claim that the complainant had been convicted of a grooming offence. In these circumstances, and where the particulars of the complainant’s charges were still unknown, the newspaper did not accept it was significantly inaccurate to refer to the complainant as having been convicted of a “catalogue of offences against a schoolgirl.”
9. The newspaper said that it had accurately reported that the complainant had “worked as a skydiving instructor before being unmasked by his victim’s family”, which referred to the period before he had been convicted. Once the complainant was “unmasked”, he had stood trial and he had been found guilty of sexual assault. It said that later in the article, it had reported that he had resumed working at the skydiving school following his release from prison, and although he had informed the school about his firearms conviction, the staff were “unaware of his convictions for sex crimes”. It said this had been based on information provided by the source of the story who had spoken with staff at the school. It noted that the article had not asserted that he had been dismissed from the parachuting school.
10. Regardless, the newspaper offered to publish the following clarification:
In our article, “Paedo sings at kids’ events” published on 9 April 2017, we said that Richard Barron was jailed for three years for a catalogue of crimes against a schoolgirl. In fact he was found guilty of a sexual assault on a female child under the age of thirteen and in addition, found guilty of 16 counts of making indecent images and one count of possession an indecent image. Mr Barron states that he did inform the skydiving club about all of his convictions.
11. The newspaper said that the photograph showed only the complainant’s appearance, and did not portray any information that was private in nature. The newspaper highlighted that other images showing the complainant’s appearance were in the public domain, and provided publicly available video footage of the complainant performing.
Relevant Code Provisions
12. 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.
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 intrusions into any individual’s private life without consent. Account will be taken of the complainant’s own public disclosures of information.
iii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals, without their consent, in public or private places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.
Findings of the Committee
13. The complainant had been convicted of one sexual offence against a child under the age of 13, and 17 separate counts relating to the possession and making of images of child sexual abuse. The article had accurately reported that the complainant had been found guilty of a total of 18 charges, which included charges relating to indecent images of children. However, it had also asserted that the complainant had been jailed for a “catalogue of offences against a schoolgirl”; it had referred to “sex attacks” against the child; it had stated that the court had heard that he had “groomed” his victim; and it had said that the abuse had “continued for many years”. The Committee considered that overall, the article had given the significantly misleading impression that more than one of the complainant’s convictions related to the offence against the child. This represented a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article in breach of Clause 1(i). A correction was required in order to avoid a breach of Clause 1(ii).
14. The complainant had said that he had made the parachute club aware of the nature of his conviction, and had decided to leave the club voluntarily, due to concerns that the publicity surrounding his conviction would cause it reputational damage. The newspaper had reported that the complainant resumed his work at the parachute club following his release from prison, and “staff later learned about his sex crimes”. The newspaper had based this on information provided by a confidential source who had spoken to staff at the club, but it had not checked it with the parachute club, or the complainant. The article had given the significantly misleading impression that it was a fact that the complainant had failed to inform the parachute club of his conviction, when this had not been established by the publication and was later denied by the complainant. This represented a failure to take care, in breach of Clause 1 (i). A clarification was required in order to avoid a breach of Clause 1(ii).
15. The newspaper had first been informed that the complainant may be performing at events for children by an administrator of an online database of individuals convicted of child sex offences. The newspaper then obtained information from the complainant’s publicly available advertisement, where he had referred to himself as a performer for “all occasions” and stated that he performed at a variety of locations, including holiday camps. Further, the newspaper contacted the complainant directly to check if he would be willing to perform at a christening. The complainant had engaged in conversation regarding the possibility of performing at the event, and had asked questions relating to the date and budget available, but he had not made it clear that he would be unable to perform where children are present. As the event was a christening, it was evident that, by its very nature, it would bring him into contact with children and provided the basis for the newspaper’s claim that he performed at “kids’ events” and “family parties.” In these circumstances, where the newspaper had relied on a number of sources, and the complainant had not made it clear, either on his publicly available profile or in correspondence with a potential customer, that he performed at events for over 18s only, the newspaper had taken appropriate care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, and the headline of the article was not inaccurate. There was no breach of the Code on this point.
16. Where the complainant had been in the army, and had also worked as a skydiving instructor, the Committee did not find it significantly inaccurate, in the context of this article, to state that he had gained skydiving experience with the Parachute Regiment. There was no breach of the Code on these points.
17. The complainant was concerned that the article had inaccurately reported his age. However, this did not represent a significant inaccuracy in the context of an article reporting on his previous convictions and the possibility for him to come into contact with children as part of his career as an entertainer. There was no breach of the Code on this point.
18. The newspaper had offered to publish a clarification, which made clear that the complainant had been found guilty of one offence of sexual assault on a female child under the age of 13 and additionally, 17 offences relating to indecent images. The wording also recorded the complainant’s position that he had made the parachute club aware of his conviction. The Committee considered that the wording offered addressed the significant inaccuracies and misleading information identified by the complaint; it was sufficient to meet the requirements of Clause 1 (ii).
19. The photograph published in the article showed only the complainant’s physical appearance, as did a variety of other photographs and videos already in the public domain. In the context of this article, the Committee did not consider the photograph to reveal information about which he had a reasonable expectation of privacy. Similarly, reporting that the complainant was an ex-soldier did not represent private information about him, nor did the publication of this information represent an unjustified intrusion into his private life. There was no breach of Clause 2.
20. The complaint was upheld.
Remedial Action Required
21. Having upheld the complaint, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required.
22. The newspaper had offered to publish a correction on page two and as a footnote to the online article, which made clear the true position relating to the complainant’s convictions, and recorded his position that he had informed the skydiving club of his convictions. This wording should now be published.
Date complaint received: 09/04/2017
Date decision issued: 19/10/2017Back to ruling listing