Decision of the Complaints Committee 06142-17 Ballard v Sunday Mail
Summary of Complaint
1. Heather Ballard complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Sunday Mail breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “EL CRAPO”, published on 9 April 2017 and an article headlined “Prisoners face jailbreak rap”, published on 16 April 2017
2. The 9 April
article reported that a “source” had informed the newspaper that the
complainant’s son had attempted to escape from his jail cell by sawing through
the bars on his window with a smuggled hacksaw. It said that he had been
unsuccessful, “managing to blow a whistle on his escape bid by getting into a
fight with [his] cellmate”. The article reported that the source had claimed
that “[the escape] was obviously a long time in the planning”. It also said
that the complainant’s son was jailed for 20 months for his part in a
nationwide heroin ring.
3. The 16 April
article reported that the complainant’s son had been charged, along with his
cell mate, in relation to the incident. The article stated that “Police
Scotland said two men had been reported to the Procurator Fiscal in connection
with the alleged breakout bid.
4. The 9 April
article appeared in substantively the same form online, under the headline
“Would-be jail breaker saws through prison bars and makes rope from bedsheets
but blows escape after scrap with cellmate” and was published on the same day.
The 16 April article appeared in substantively the same form online, under the
headline “Prisoners face jailbreak rap after staff discover hacksawed prison
bars and rope made from bedsheets”, and was published on the same day.
5. The complainant
said that her son had not been involved in any attempt to break out of his
prison cell: it was inaccurate to report that he had been charged for such an
offence. While the complainant did not dispute that her son had been previously
convicted for a drug related offence, her son was not a “drug dealer”, as the
articles had claimed, because his current sentence of four and a half months
related to a conviction for dangerous driving.
6. The complainant
also said that her son had not been jailed for 20 months, nor had he been
transferred to HMP Saughton, as reported in the article: he had been sentenced
for four and a half months for dangerous driving, and had in fact been
transferred to HMP Dumfries. The complainant said that given that her son had
only been in prison for four weeks, the “source” had inaccurately claimed that
the escape bid would have been “a long time in the planning”.
7. The newspaper
said that it had obtained the information that the complainant’s son had made
an attempt to break out of jail from confidential and trusted sources, whose
identities it was obliged to protect.
8. Prior to
publication of the 9 April article, the newspaper had contacted Police
Scotland and had requested that it provide a statement in response to the
allegation that the complainant’s son had been involved in a disturbance, and
escape attempt, in his cell. In response, the police spokesman had told the
newspaper: “we can confirm that police responded to a request for assistance
from the Scottish Prison Service in relation to an incident that occurred
within HMP Dumfries on March 26. An investigation is under way”.
9. Prior to
publication of the 16 April article, a journalist had made a further request to
Police Scotland for their comment on whether the complainant’s son had been
charged in relation to the escape attempt. This request had referred to the
complainant’s son’s name and age. In response, on 14 April, the newspaper
had received the following statement: “two man, aged 41 and 27 years, are the
subject of a report to the Procurator Fiscal in connection with the alleged attempted
break out of prison”. The newspaper noted that it was normal practice for the
police to only give the relevant ages of each of the accused.
10. The newspaper said the ordinary process for such
incidents would be that the individual would be detained by the police, charged
and then released, with a report being sent to the Procurator Fiscal for
consideration, detailing the charge(s). It said that the Procurator Fiscal
would then consider the report and assess if what happened amounted to one or
more offences, and if so which one(s) and which course of action, if any,
should be taken.
11. While the newspaper acknowledged that the complainant’s
son’s was currently serving a sentence in relation to his conviction for
dangerous driving, it said that he had been previously convicted as a “sub
dealer” as part of a nationwide drug ring and had been sentenced to 20 months
imprisonment. The newspaper offered to add a line to the online article to make
clear that the complainant’s son had previously been jailed for drug offences,
had been released having served a portion of his sentence, and then had been
jailed again for dangerous driving. The newspaper further noted that the
complainant’s son had not been transferred to HMP Saughton and offered to remove
references to this prison from the online article.
12. The newspaper said that the claim that the escape had
been “a long time in the planning” had been clearly presented in the article as
the source’s opinion and had reflected their belief that the escape had not
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.
Findings of the Committee
14. The newspaper had reported on the testimony of its source and had also taken steps, prior to publication, to obtain on the record statements from the Scottish Prison Service and Police Scotland.
15. The newspaper had requested that the Scottish Prison
Service provide a statement in response to the specific allegation that the
complainant’s son had been involved in an attempted escape, and disturbance, in
a cell in HMP Dumfries. The statement which the newspaper had received in
response did not explicitly confirm the source’s claims, however, it did not
contain a denial and had acknowledged that an “incident” had taken place. The
Committee did not conclude that there had been a failure to take care over the
accuracy of the article on these points.
16. The newspaper had received a statement from Police
Scotland, which had said that a man, aged 27, was the subject of a report to
the Procurator Fiscal in connection with the alleged attempted break out of
prison. This statement had been made in response to a specific enquiry from the
newspaper, which had referred to the complainant’s son’s name and age. In those
circumstances, and given the difficulty in contacting the complainant’s son for
comment, the Committee did not conclude that in reporting that he had been
charged in relation to the incident, there had been a failure to take care over
the accuracy of the article on this point. Where the newspaper had taken steps
to verify the source’s claims and had received on the record comments, which
did not contain any denial, the Committee did not establish that the articles
contained significant inaccuracies, such as to require correction.
17. The Committee noted the complainant’s concern regarding
the reference to her son’s previous conviction for a drug related offence,
given that this had not been the reason for his current sentence. However, the
complainant did not dispute that her son had been previously sentenced for 20
months for his part in a nationwide heroin ring. In this context, the inaccuracy
relating to the reason for his current sentence was not significant. The
Committee welcomed, however, the newspaper’s offer to amend the online article
to make clear the reason for the complainant’s son’s current sentence. Further,
in the context of an article which reported on an attempted prison escape, any
inaccuracy in relation to which prison the complainant’s son had been
transferred to, was not significant. There was no breach of the Code.
18. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial action required
Date complaint received: 18/04/2017
Date decision issued: 22/08/2017
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