Decision of the Complaints Committee 06497-17 A Woman v Daily Star Sunday
Summary of complaint
1. A woman 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 “Cheat’s £110k high life”, published in February 2017.
2. The article reported that the complainant had fraudulently claimed £110,000 in benefits while “living the high life”. It said that during a police raid of her house, the police had found a Porsche and a Mercedes-Benz, and luxury items such as a hot tub and expensive jewellery. The article was illustrated with a photograph of the complainant’s wedding. It was not published online.
3. The complainant said that the newspaper had given an inaccurate impression of her lifestyle. She said that she had never owned a designer handbag; the items found during the police raid were either gifts or fakes; and the hot tub had been bought from ebay. She said that the police had not found two luxury cars at her property: she owned a 12-year-old Porsche, and she had previously owned a 13-year-old Mercedes.
4. She also objected to the publication of a photograph of her wedding. She said she was married before she claimed benefits, and it was a basic wedding which she paid for herself.
5. The newspaper said that the article was an accurate account of the police search and the complainant’s appearance at the magistrates’ court. The published information had been provided by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), which had confirmed that its investigators had recovered receipts for luxury items, and that the complainant had a Porsche and before that, she owned a Mercedes. All of these items had formed part of the evidence bundle used in court, showing the total of what was found at the complainant’s property.
6. The newspaper said that in circumstances in which the complainant had pleaded guilty in court, there was no obligation to seek her comments before publication.
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 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 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.
Findings of the Committee
8. The newspaper had accurately reported information it had been provided by a credible source, the DWP, following the complainant’s sentencing in court on charges of benefits fraud. While the Committee acknowledged the complainant’s position that the “expensive” items were in fact gifts or fakes, it was accepted that she had owned the jewellery pictured in the article, a hot tub, wallets and handbags. Furthermore, while she had maintained that she had not owned two cars at the time of the police raid, she had accepted she owned a Porsche, and prior to that, she had owned a Mercedes. In light of this, the Committee did not consider that the newspaper had given a significantly misleading impression of the complainant’s lifestyle while she was making benefit claims. There was no failure to take care over the accuracy of the article on this point. There was no breach of Clause 1.
9. The newspaper had published a photograph of the complainant taken on her wedding day. She was not engaged in a private activity at the time the photograph was taken, and the image had not disclosed any private information about her. There was no breach of Clause 2.
10. The complaint was not upheld.
Date complaint received: 20/04/2017
Date decision issued: 10/07/2017
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