Decision of the Complaints Committee 06786-18 Crick v The Sunday Telegraph
Summary of complaint
1. Jeremy Crick complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sunday Telegraph breached Clause 1(Accuracy) of the Editors' Code of Practice in an article headlined "No place for 'Taliban' Cromwell next to Parliament, says historian" published on 30 September 2018.
2. The article reported that a "row" had "broken out between historians" over calls to remove a statue of Oliver Cromwell from outside the Houses of Parliament. It reported that in a letter published by The Times newspaper, the complainant, a social historian, had compared Oliver Cromwell to the Taliban and said "there should be no place for him outside the Palace of Westminster" and that he was "responsible for the wholesale destruction by Parliamentarian troops of many religious and church buildings". It reported that the complainant said its removal would be "poetic justice" for his "Taliban-like destruction" of England's religious and cultural artefacts. The article referenced the campaign to remove the statue of Cecil Rhodes at Oxford University's Oriel College. It reported that the Cromwell Association had dismissed the complainant's proposal as an attempt to "rewrite history".
3. The article also
appeared online under the headline "Parliament's statue of Cromwell
becomes latest memorial hit by 'rewriting history' row" published on 29
September 2018. The online version featured some additional details but these
were not relevant to the complaint.
4. The complainant
said that the article was misleading as it distorted views he expressed in the
published letter, treating it as a serious suggestion, when in fact it had been
written in jest and was not intended to be taken literally. He said he had
written the letter in response to a previous letter which advocated moving
unloved statues to a statue park similar to "Moscow's Park of Fallen
Idols", rather than destroying them. This letter, in turn had been
published in response to an article which claimed that demolishing monuments
was a “Taliban-like trend”; both the article and letter to which the
complainant was responding featured in The Times and referenced the Taliban.
The complainant said this was intended as a "whimsical" or tongue in
cheek response and not a literal endorsement to remove Cromwell's statue, nor
was he literally comparing him to the Taliban. Therefore, it was inaccurate to
report that he said "there should be no place for [Cromwell] outside the
Palace of Westminster"; he had never made this claim.
5. The complainant
said that by suggesting his proposal was serious, the article mischaracterised
his beliefs as a historian and his position in the "rewriting
history" debate, as he does not endorse historical revisionism, or the
views of the group advocating the removal or destruction of the Cecil Rhodes
statue. He said the publication had published what he considered to be damaging
claims about him, without contacting him first. The complainant said that had
the publication contacted him prior to publication, this would have been clear.
6. The publication
apologised for misinterpreting the complainant's letter but denied a breach of
the Code. It said that on normal reading, the letter had called for the removal
of Cromwell's statue, implying that his religious zealotry and cultural vandalism
had made him an unsuitable individual to be honoured with a statue outside
parliament. It did not attribute the claim that there was "no place"
for Cromwell next to Parliament directly to the complainant and on normal
reading this was what the complainant's letter was suggesting. The publication
said that the nature of his letter, which had appeared to call for a statues
removal, was relevant to the "rewriting history" dispute, it was
reasonable to set this view in the wider context of the debate.
7. The publication
denied that not contacting the complainant prior to publication constituted a
failure to take care under the terms of the Code; it was not under any
obligation to; it was entitled to rely on the natural meaning of the letter.
8. Nonetheless, the
publication accepted the complainant's position that it had misinterpreted the
meaning of his letter. The publication removed the online article and offered
to publish a clarification in print in its 'Corrections and Clarifications' column
with the following wording:
Oliver Cromwell's statue A 30 Sept report that Jeremy Crick
had called for the statue of Oliver Cromwell in front of the Houses of
Parliament to be removed was based on a letter Mr Crick wrote to a national
newspaper. Mr Crick has asked us to point out that although the letter appeared
to call for removal of the statue, it was written in jest; he does not wish the
statue moved. We are happy to clarify.
Relevant Code Provisions
9. 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.
Findings of the Committee
10. The Committee acknowledged the complainant's position that he had written the letter in jest but considered that this was not obvious from reading it. The letter, published in a national newspaper, had suggested sending Cromwell's statue to Coventry and claimed "its banishment would be poetic justice" for his "Taliban-like destruction". The publication was entitled to take these claims and apparent motivation at face value. It was not misleading to state that the complainant said there was "no place" for the statue outside Parliament. The complainant appeared to call for the statue's removal and referenced a motive: the destruction of historic artefacts by Cromwell's "fanatical puritan followers". There was no breach of Clause 1(i) on this point. The complainant had compared Cromwell to the Taliban in his letter; whether he introduced the comparison or analogy was irrelevant; there was no breach of Clause 1(i) on this point.
11. The article was reporting the complainant's published letter; both his letter, and the letter to which he responded, were already in the public domain. While the Committee acknowledged that the complainant considered that the publication had “attacked” him by misconstruing his position, there were no grounds to establish that the publication had been aware that the claims could be damaging in a conventional sense; without knowledge of the complainant’s intentions, it appeared to be a report of a disagreement amongst historians. In these circumstances, and where the source material was in the public domain, the newspaper was under no obligation to contact the complainant before publication; this did not constitute a failure to take care in breach of Clause 1(i).
12. It was not misleading to reference the letter in the
context of the "rewriting history" debate; the letter appeared to
call for the removal of Cromwell's statue; this view was opposed by a member of
the Cromwell society. Where the two opposing views were relevant to the
dispute, it was not misleading for the article to present the claims in this
context; there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
13. Regardless, the publication was made aware that it had
misinterpreted the complainant's letter. Given that it accepted having
misunderstood his position, and had published critical comment about his
proposal on the basis of this misunderstanding, it was appropriate for the
publication to offer to clarify his position. The Committee welcomed the
publication's prompt offer of a clarification. This clarification appropriately
identified the misleading impression given, provided clarifying information and
was offered with due prominence. The clarification was sufficient under the
terms of Clause 1 (ii) and should now be published.
14. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial action required
Date complaint was received: 13/10/2018
Date decision issued: 16/01/2019
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