Decision of the Complaints Committee 06046-18 Sher-e Panjab v The Sun (Sunday)
Summary of complaint
1. Sher-e Panjab complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sun (Sunday) breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “GANGS FIGHT TO RUN WORST JAIL IN BRITAIN” published on 26 August 2018.
2. The article reported that eight named “gangs” were “battling to control the drugs trade in Britain’s most dangerous prison”. The article explained that sources had told the newspaper that “young and inexperienced” staff at a named prison were being “forced to smuggle in drugs or just to turn a blind eye”; it said that “last week” the private security firm in charge of the prison had been “stripped of control”. The article reported that a gang named Sher-e Panjab was one of the eight “gangs” in the prison; it also reported that it had a rivalry within the prison with a group named the “Muslim panthers”, which “dated back decades”.
3. The article was also published in substantially the same form online, under the headline: “DRUG BATTLE: Eight gangs in fight to run the drugs trade in Britain’s most dangerous prison”, dated 26 August 2018.
4. The complainant said that the article had given the inaccurate impression that it was a gang which was involved in a “fight to run” the prison, in breach of Clause 1.
5. The complainant said that it was a social and welfare organisation that had been registered with Companies House. It said that the main aim nowadays of the organisation was to raise awareness of the racial discrimination, social problems and injustice that Sikh-Panjabi communities suffered across the world. The complainant denied that any members of its organisation were currently incarcerated in the prison. The complainant acknowledged that there may be prisoners who claim to be members of Sher-e Panjab for self-glorification purposes, as they may know of the community work which it undertook.
6. The complainant denied that it had a gang-related rivalry “dating back decades” with a gang named the Muslim Panthers. The complainant acknowledged that as an organisation, it had sought to protect the Sikh community from alleged criminal activities that were being committed by members of this group, but denied that this was in the context of gang related activity.
7. The complainant expressed concern that the newspaper had failed to contact it prior to publication, despite the fact that it had an email address and it had a social media presence, including accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. It said that it held meetings in Sikh Gurdwaras, seminars in Colleges, universities and Gurdwaras and had been liaising with the local police to deal with issues affecting the Sikh community. The complainant said that these activities were not the activities of a criminal gang, and noted than none of the other seven groups named in the article had any online presence.
8. The newspaper did not accept a breach of the Code; it said that Sher-e Panjab had long been considered a gang and had been referred to as such, without complaint, since the 1980s.
9. The newspaper said that the reporter had spoken to multiple sources across the Sikh community in the West Midlands, the prison community, the Prison Service, and people with decades of experience of dealing with gang issues in Birmingham and the wider area. The journalist had been told that Sikhs incarcerated in the prison in recent years had boasted of either being Sher-e Panjab members, or having strong links with the group. He had also been told that while gang rivalries ebbed and flowed over time, the rivalry between Sher-e Panjab and the Muslim gang referred to in the article still existed, especially amongst younger generations. The newspaper said that given the nature of the story, these sources had spoken off the record. The newspaper said that the journalist had dealt with some of these sources for more than 15 years and therefore had every faith in the information he had been provided with. The newspaper said it was unable to provide further details because of the need to protect its confidential sources.
10. The newspaper provided a number of reports from other publications which characterised Sher-e Panjab as a gang. The newspaper noted that in 1988, the BBC had broadcast a documentary entitled: “Gang Warfare in Birmingham” which specifically named Sher-e Panjab and described it as one of the "biggest gangs in the Midlands". The newspaper noted that the documentary had described the group’s aim as being the prevention of relationships between Sikh women and Muslim men.
11. The newspaper provided a court report, dated June 1989; it said that the defendants in the trial were “said to be members of the Sher-e Panjab, a vigilante gang, who were arrested - armed with sticks and bottles - while on their way to confront the rival Muslim gang, the Aston Panthers, in Handsworth, Birmingham, last June”. An article published in 1999 reported: “In the West Midlands the Sher-e-Panjab and Panther activity was at its height in the 1980s but incidents were mainly confined to petty crime and drunken brawls after Asian dance parties. Now the same young men are more likely to own the club from huge profits made out of importing drugs, bank fraud, immigration rackets and prostitution”. A further article provided by the newspaper, dated from April 2003, referred to Sher-e Panjab as one of a number of gangs in Birmingham.
12. The newspaper said that it did not contact the complainant prior to publication, because gangs do not have press offices, nor do they usually have centrally-held lists of all current members. The newspaper said that the article was an investigation into long-standing issues within the prison, and was not a list of prisoners and their gang affiliations as of the date of publication. However, the newspaper did not accept that no members of Sher-e Panjab were in the prison when the article was published, as the complainant had claimed. It said that, in any case, the complainant was not in a position to claim which individuals incarcerated in the prison do, or do not, identify themselves as members of Sher-e Panjab. The newspaper noted that no official figures on gang memberships in prisons exist.
Relevant Code provisions
13. 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.
Clause 14 (Confidential sources)
Journalists have a moral obligation to protect confidential sources of information.
Findings of the Committee
14. A gang “known as the Sher-e Panjab” was identified as one of eight gangs involved in a fight to run a well-known prison. Save for an apparent rivalry which existed between this group and another, the article did not make any further specific claim regarding the activities of this group, or its members.
15. The name “Sher-e Panjab” had been referred to in a variety of contexts since the 1980s, including in reports of Birmingham’s gang culture. This was clear from the cuttings which the newspaper had provided in defence of the complaint; one such article was a court report which had specifically referred to the defendants in the case as being members of a gang named Sher-e Panjab. The Committee acknowledged that the complainant shared a common name, however, in its capacity as a social welfare organisation, the complainant was not in a position to dispute the claims made by the newspaper’s confidential sources that inmates incarcerated in the prison in recent years had claimed to be members of a group named Sher-e Panjab. The article did not claim that the complainant as an organisation was, or might, be involved in the alleged activities set out in the article. Furthermore, the complainant had accepted that it was possible that inmates in the prison were choosing to self-identify as members of Sher-e Panjab.
16. Taking into consideration the factors referred to above, it was not a failure to take care to report that members of a “gang” named Sher-e Panjab were involved in a gang “rivalry” and “fight” to run the prison. In such circumstances, and particularly where it had been acknowledged that inmates in the prison may be associating themselves with the name Sher-e Panjab, the Committee did not establish that the article had contained any inaccuracy which required correction under the terms of Clause 1 (ii). There was no breach of Clause 1.
17. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 12/09/2018
Date decision issued: 27/03/2019
Back to ruling listing