06077-20 Henderson v Sunday Life

Decision: Breach - sanction: publication of correction

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 06077-20 Henderson v Sunday Life

Summary of Complaint

1. Margaret Henderson complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Sunday Life breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) in an article headlined “KILLER MAGGIE LOSES PRISON COVID-19 JOB” published 10 May 2020.

2. The article reported that the complainant had been paid £100 per week or “five times the going inmate work rate to act as a behind the bars coronavirus cleaner”. It reported that the “enhanced salary — most inmates get just £20 per week for doing a variety of jobs — was because of the dangers involved”. It reported a source’s comments that “the other women prisoners were furious when they found out she was getting paid five times as much as everyone else”. The article also reported that the complainant had been “sacked” and “axed” from this role after the newspaper had made inquiries. The article also reported that the complainant “was returned to prison last year for breaching the terms of her early release licence when she was caught shoplifting”. The article stated that “Another factor that contributed to Henderson's recent return to prison was her close relationship while on probation with [a] fellow [named] killer” and that “Prison chiefs were fearful the pair were in a relationship - a concern that also played a role in [the other named individual] being sent back to jail”.

3. The article appeared online in a substantially similar format.

4. The complainant said she had not been contacted by the publication prior to publication. She said it was inaccurate to claim that “officials at Hydebank women's jail sacked” her or “axed her position”. She said that she did not lose her job nor her additional cleaning responsibilities nor the additional pay associated with this. She said it was inaccurate to claim that she was paid “five times the going inmate work rate”, which the article reported as being £20. She said she only received double this, due to the fact that she held qualifications in industrial cleaning. She disputed the claim that she “was returned to prison last year for breaching the terms of her early release licence when she was caught shoplifting”. She said this was inaccurate as she was not caught shoplifting and was returned to jail for disengaging with her probation officer. She also said that it was inaccurate to claim that “Another factor that contributed to Henderson's recent return to prison was her close relationship while on probation with [a] fellow [named] killer” as this did not play a role in her return to jail, and the pair were not on probation at the same time. She also said it was inaccurate to claim “Prison chiefs were fearful the pair were in a relationship - a concern that also played a role in [the other named individual] being sent back to jail” as to the best of her knowledge she did not believe she had played any role in the named person being sent back to jail. During IPSO’s investigation, there was a substantial delay in the complainant clarifying the correct position on each alleged inaccuracy.

5. The publication said it had relied on a number of reliable prison and Ministry of Justice sources with regard to the claims that the complainant had been returned to jail “after being caught shoplifting”; had been “sacked” from her job; and had received “five times the going inmate work rate [amounting to £100 per week]”. It attempted to obtain official confirmation from the Department of Justice but was told it did not comment on individual cases. On receipt of the complaint, the publication accepted it was inaccurate to state that the complainant had “lost” her job; it had clarified with its sources that the complainant continued with general cleaning duties at the prison but had lost her enhanced payments and additional cleaning responsibilities. 

6. The publication removed the online version of the article prior to IPSO’s investigation. At this stage, it also offered to publish a print clarification making clear that the complainant had not lost her job. 153 days into IPSO’s investigation it offered to publish the following wording on page 23 – the page on which the article had originally appeared – or further forward:

CORRECTION In a report in our May 10th edition concerning Hydebank Wood prison inmate Margaret Henderson it was incorrectly stated that she had been dismissed from her cleaning job at the jail. We apologise for the error and are happy to set the record straight.

Relevant Code Provisions

7. 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 correction, 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.

8. Clause 14 (Confidential sources)

Journalists have a moral obligation to protect confidential sources of information.

Findings of the Committee

9. Newspapers are entitled to report claims of fact based on information obtained from confidential sources. However, where these claims are disputed, a newspaper must be able to establish it had corroborated such claims with on-the-record information or a statement from the complainant. As the newspaper considered itself prevented by Clause 14 from disclosing its sources, it was unable to demonstrate that it had taken care not to publish inaccurate information with regards to all the claims under dispute apart from one point which the Committee considered at paragraph 14. There was a breach of Clause 1(i).

10. The Committee next examined whether each disputed claim constituted a significant inaccuracy requiring correction and, if so, whether each claim had been corrected promptly and with due prominence as required by Clause 1(ii). First, it considered the claim that the complainant had been “sacked” and “axed” from her cleaning role at the prison. The complainant had stated that this was untrue. In the case of the online article, the newspaper had not offered to correct this significant inaccuracy and there was therefore a breach of Clause 1(ii).

11. With regard to the print article, the Committee noted the significant time taken for the publication to propose a wording for a correction. The correction was not offered promptly. There was therefore a breach of Clause 1(ii) in respect of the print article too.

12. The complainant had also stated that she had not been returned to prison after being caught shoplifting as the article had reported nor had “her close relationship while on probation with [a] fellow [named] killer” been a factor in her return. These claims about why the complainant’s license was revoked were significantly inaccurate, especially as the article implied there was a suspicion that the complainant had committed an offence whilst on probation; something the newspaper could not support. As the newspaper did not offer to correct these points, there was a breach of Clause 1(ii).

13. The complainant had stated that the claim that she received £100 per week for her additional cleaning responsibilities, or “five times the going inmate work rate”, was inaccurate as she had instead received around £40. This claim was significantly inaccurate, especially as it had been linked to “furious” criticism from “the other women prisoners” that she was “getting paid five times as much as everyone else”. As the publication did had not offer to correct this point, there was a breach of Clause 1(ii).

14. The claim that “Prison chiefs were fearful the pair were in a relationship - a concern that also played a role in [the other named individual] being sent back to jail” was about the revocation of the license of a third party to this complaint. In addition, the complainant had not established that she had first-hand knowledge of why this individual was returned to jail. The complainant’s concern was therefore outside of IPSO’s remit as she was a third party on this point.

Conclusions

15. The complaint was upheld.

Remedial Action Required

16. Having upheld the complaint, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required. In circumstances where the Committee establishes a breach of the Editors’ Code, it can require the publication of a correction and/or adjudication. The nature, extent and placement of which is determined by IPSO.

17. There were multiple breaches of Clause 1 of the Editors’ Code. However, the publication had been open to resolving the complaint prior to IPSO’s involvement. In addition, the Committee noted that the complainant had not been forthcoming about the context around the disputed claims of fact and the correct positions on each until late in the investigation. This had made it difficult for IPSO to investigate the complaint and for the publication to offer a prompt correction that would set the record straight on each point. In light of these considerations, the Committee concluded that a correction was the appropriate remedy.

18. As the online article had been deleted, the correction should be published on the newspaper’s website, appearing on the top half of the newspaper’s homepage, on the first screen, for 24 hours; it should then be archived in the usual way. It should also appear in print on page 23 of further forward. This wording should only include information required to correct the inaccuracies: that the article had stated that the complainant had been “axed” or “sacked” from her job; that this was incorrect as the complainant had stated that this had not happened; that the article had also reported that the complainant had been returned to jail after “being caught shoplifting” and her relationship with a named individual killer was also a factor in her return; that this was incorrect as the complainant had stated that her license was revoked after she disengaged from her probation officer; that the article had claimed the complainant received £100 per week or “five times the going inmate work rate” of £20; and, that this was incorrect as she in fact received only around £40 per week. The wording should be agreed with IPSO in advance and should make clear that it has been published following an upheld ruling by the Independent Press Standards Organisation.

 

Date complaint received: 11/5/2020

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 9/3/2021

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