07143-18 McLaughlin v thescottishsun.co.uk

Decision: Breach - sanction: publication of correction

Decision of the Complaints Committee: 07143-18 McLaughlin v thescottishsun.co.uk

Summary of complaint

1. Chris McLaughlin complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that thescottishsun.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code in a tweet linking to an article headlined “IN COURT Celtic Boys Club founder Jim Torbett claims he is asexual amid 'ulterior motive' denial for schoolboy group trips in abuse trial”, published on 30 October 2018. 

2. The tweet which linked to the article read: “Ex-Celtic coach Jim Torbett claims he is asexual amid denial at Scots abuse trial”. It featured a photograph of the defendant outside court; he was subsequently convicted of five abuse charges. The linked article expanded on the tweet, and made clear that the man was the founder of Celtic Boys’ Club, not a coach for Celtic Football Club.

3. The complainant said that it was inaccurate for the tweet to say that the man on trial was an “Ex-Celtic coach”; he was the founder of Celtic Boys’ Club and was never employed by Celtic Football Club. He also denied that Celtic Boys’ Club was ever the “youth wing” of Celtic Football Club.

4. The publication said that it was reasonable and accurate to abbreviate Celtic Boys’ Club as “Celtic” in the brief tweet. It pointed out that the tweet linked to the article, the headline of which referred accurately to Celtic Boys’ Club. Any reader would immediately understand upon clicking on the tweet that the reference to “Celtic” was an abbreviation for Celtic Boys’ Club.

5. In any case, the publication said that there were links between the organisations: they did not simply share the same name; they also shared the same crest and strip. Although it accepted that the two organisations were separate legal entities, it pointed to a statement from Celtic Football Club about the trial, issued after the article was published, which acknowledged that “although Celtic Football Club is an entirely separate organisation, we have always taken these allegation extremely seriously because of our historic contacts with Celtic Boys’ Club”. It also noted reports, issued after the tweet was published, stating that the coach’s alleged victims were planning to sue Celtic Football Club, as they claimed that the two organisations were “utterly intertwined”, and that “the connection, both financial and institutional, between the two is a very significant factor”. It said that it was widely understood that Celtic Boys’ Club was the “unofficial youth wing” of Celtic Football Club.

Relevant Code Provisions

6. 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

7. The Committee considered that similar requirements apply to tweets as to headlines: care must be taken in tweets to avoid publishing inaccurate or misleading content including that which is not supported by the text to which they link. The tweet had referred to an “ex-Celtic coach”, and the Committee noted the widespread association between the term “Celtic”, when used in certain circumstances, and Celtic Football Club. The publication said that the connection between the two clubs was evidenced by the fact that the Boys Club operated as an “unofficial” youth wing of Celtic FC, wearing the same strip and crest. The publication had also sought to rely upon reports - which had been published after the publication of the tweet - which suggested that a number of the alleged victims might pursue legal proceedings against Celtic FC due to the alleged “connection” between the two clubs. However, in the context of a report of the prosecution of a football coach, and where it was known, as explained in the article text, that the individual had in fact been a former coach of Celtic Boys Club, the publication was required to take care to avoid giving the misleading impression that the individual had been a coach at Celtic Football Club. It had not done so, and there was a failure to take care in breach of Clause 1(i).

8. It was accepted that the two clubs were legally distinct, a position which Celtic FC maintained in its public statement on the matter, and that the coach accused of the crimes had not been employed by Celtic FC. The tweet had referenced the nature of the serious criminal allegations made against the coach, and gave the misleading impression that there was an established, material connection between Celtic FC and the allegations; such a connection was not sufficiently supported by the material relied upon by the publication. The tweet’s description of him as an “ex-Celtic coach” therefore represented a misleading statement, which, given the seriousness of the offence for which the coach was being tried, was sufficiently significant so as to require correction under the terms of Clause 1(ii). No such correction had been offered, and Clause 1(ii) was therefore breached.

Conclusions

9. The complaint was upheld under Clause 1(i) and Clause 1(ii).

Remedial Action Required

10. Having upheld the complaint, the Committee considered what remedial action was appropriate.

11. The misleading statement had been confined to the tweet; the article it linked to had been accurate. In these circumstances, the appropriate remedy was that the publication publish a tweet making clear the respect in which the Committee had found the original tweet to be misleading, and setting out the correct position. This should be published on the same Twitter account as the original tweet, and remain on the publication’s Twitter feed indefinitely. The wording should state that the tweet was being published following a decision by the Independent Press Standards Organisation, and should be agreed by IPSO in advance.

Date complaint received: 30/10/2018

Date decision issued: 5/2/2019

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