Decision of the Complaints Committee 07037-19 Foley v Mail Online
Summary of Complaint
1. Dr Conor Foley complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Mail Online breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 3 (Harassment) and Clause 4 (Intrusion into Grief and Shock) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “EXCLUSIVE: Never-before-seen photographs show Labour's Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell at wedding of Guildford Four's [name] inside Long Lartin top security jail after his wrongful IRA terror conviction”, published on 9 September 2019.
2. The article reported on “never-before-seen” photographs it said had “never been published before” that showed Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell at the wedding of one of the Guildford Four, which was held in prison. It showed four photographs including one of seven people, one of whom was the complainant. The article also reported that the complainant “had been wrongly suspected of planting a bomb at Chelsea Barracks” and said he was a “regular at the Irish Centre in Islington, North London, a well-known Republican stronghold”. The article also reported that he had “carved out a career in writing and humanitarian work”. After a paragraph in which the complainant was named, a quote from the groom’s family member stated “[t]hey were big players in the London Republican movement and very committed to the cause. As [the groom’s] family, we never knew the full extent of what they got up to but they were very supportive of his case and that's all we cared about”. It was not specified who the “they” referred to. A further fact box described the complainant as a “republican activist”.
3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. He said that describing him as a “republican activist” or a “big player in the London Republican movement” implied he was a member of the Irish Republican Army and a terrorist. He also said it was wrong to say that he was “wrongfully suspected of planting a bomb at Chelsea Barracks”; the accurate position was that he had been wrongly detained, then released without further investigation.
4. The complainant also said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 as the photographs had already been published in another magazine in 1988 in an article that he wrote. They could not therefore be described as “never-before-seen” or “never been published before”.
5. The complainant said that the article represented an intrusion into his privacy in breach of Clause 2. He said that inaccurately stating that he was a terrorist because he had attended a wedding and inaccurately stating that he had been “suspected of planting a bomb”, and publishing this information over 30 years later was a breach of his privacy. He said that he was a private figure and there was no public interest in writing a story about him.
6. The complainant said that the article constituted harassment in breach of Clause 3 as it slurred the reputations of the people named in the article with the aim of attacking John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn.
7. The complainant also said that the article was an intrusion into shock in breach of Clause 4 as another person mentioned in the article had lost his daughter a few weeks before publication; the article had been written at this time to increase their grief.
8. The publication denied that it had reported that the complainant was a member of the IRA or a terrorist. It said that it was accurate to describe the complainant as a Republican activist where he had said himself he was the National Organiser of the Labour Committee in Ireland that supported Irish reunification, and that he had supported the release of the Guildford Four. It also said it had accurately reported the quote taken from a member of the groom’s family, in which they had said “[t]hey were big players in the London Republican movement and very committed to the cause. As [the groom’s] family, we never knew the full extent of what they got up to but they were very supportive of his case and that's all we cared about.” The publication said this quote could be taken to include the complainant, however, it was not a breach of Clause 1. It said it had taken care when using the term “IRA” or the wider term “Republican” throughout the article. Whilst not accepting any inaccuracy, the newspaper offered to publish a clarifying footnote as follows:
Since this article was published Connor Foley has contacted MailOnline to confirm that although he worked for the release of [name], he was not involved in and does not condone acts of violence in the name of the Irish republican movement.
9. The publication accepted that two of the four photographs had been published before, however, previously, the photo including the complainant had been heavily cropped to only include the bride, groom and Mr Corbyn and not Mr McDonnell. It noted that the images had been published in 1988 in a magazine with a circulation of 80,000 with a focus on Irish politics and society. It said that this meant the photos would not have been seen by many Mail Online readers, and that the person who had supplied the images said that they had not been published before. The publication denied that it had breached Clause 1, but said as a gesture of goodwill it would amend the headline to:
EXCLUSIVE: Newly unearthed photographs show Labour's Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell at wedding of Guildford Four's [name] inside Long Lartin top security jail in 1988 after his wrongful IRA terror conviction
The text would also be amended as follows:
Although it was well documented at the time that Mr Corbyn attended [name]'s wedding, only one photograph of him there has ever been published, and none which capture John McDonnell’s presence.
10. The publication did not accept that Clause 2 was engaged as none of the information shared was private. It said that the complainant had already published in the public domain that he had attended the wedding, and said that the complainant had written two detailed accounts of his arrest, and that he once referred to himself as a “suspected bomber” in an article by another publication.
11. The publication did not accept that the terms of Clause 3 was engaged, as the complaint did not refer to the behaviour of journalists prior to publication.
12. The publication said it did not believe that the terms of Clause 4 had been engaged and additionally, it would not be for the complainant to make a complaint, but the other person pictured who had recently been bereaved.
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.
14. 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. In considering an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy, account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information and the extent to which the material complained about is already in the public domain or will become so.
iii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals, without their consent, in public or private places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.
15. Clause 3 (Harassment)*
i) Journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit.
ii) They must not persist in questioning, telephoning, pursuing or photographing individuals once asked to desist; nor remain on property when asked to leave and must not follow them. If requested, they must identify themselves and whom they represent.
iii) Editors must ensure these principles are observed by those working for them and take care not to use non-compliant material from other sources.
16. Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock)
In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively. These provisions should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings.
Findings of the Committee
17. The Committee noted the complainant’s concern that the article had inaccurately suggested that he was a terrorist or a member of the IRA. However, the complainant had accepted that he had campaigned for a reunified Ireland and for the release of the Guildford Four. As such, the Committee did not consider that it was significantly inaccurate to describe him as a
“Republican activist”; this characterisation did not suggest that he had been a member of the IRA.
18. The Committee also noted the complainant’s concern that the article had inaccurately stated that he was “wrongly suspected of planting a bomb at Chelsea Barracks” because in fact he had been wrongly detained. However, the complainant had been arrested on this basis, even though he was released and not charged. It was therefore not inaccurate to report that he had been “wrongly suspected of planting a bomb at Chelsea Barracks”.
19. The Committee noted that the quote from the groom’s family member could have related to the complainant. However, the comment clearly represented the opinion of this individual in relation to a number of people who had attended the wedding. The quotation had not given the significantly misleading impression that it was a fact that the complainant was a member of the IRA or had been involved in terrorist activity. As previously noted, the article had made clear that the complainant had been “wrongly” suspected of planting a bomb.
The Committee considered the complainant’s concern about the cumulative effect of the references in the article. Whilst some of the references were made about the IRA, others plainly related to Republican activists and activism in a sense unconnected to the IRA. For the reasons above, the Committee concluded that the references in the article, both separately or taken together, had not suggested that the complainant had been involved in terrorist activity or had been a member of the IRA. There was no failure to take care in breach of Clause 1(i) on this matter. Although there was no breach of Clause 1, the Committee welcomed the proposed clarification by the publication.
20. The Committee noted that although two of the photos had been described as “never-before-seen” or “never been published before”, they had in fact been published in a separate magazine in 1988. However, one of the two photographs had been cropped, and the full photos were the first to show that Mr McDonnell had been at the wedding. Given that the images had appeared more than 30 years ago and one had been published in a different form, the description was not significantly misleading. The Committee appreciated the offer of the newspaper to amend the headline and text; however, it found that there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
21. The Committee recognised the complainant’s concerns that he was not a public figure and that the article and photos of him at the wedding were an intrusion into his private life, particularly as the event had taken place so many years ago. It considered, however, that the published photograph had disclosed only the complainant’s attendance at the wedding, which he had written an article about previously in another publication. Publishing the article in the Mail, including the photograph, did not constitute a breach of Clause 2.” Similarly, the complainant had referred to himself as a “suspected bomber” and had written two further accounts of his arrest and including this information did not constitute a breach of Clause 2.
22. The complainant also complained that Clauses 3 and 4 had been breached, however his concerns related to third parties to the complaint, so these were not considered by the Committee.
23. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received by IPSO: 09/09/2019
Date decision issued: 28/01/2020