Decision of the Complaints Committee 09240-16 McGarry v Croydon Advertiser
Summary of complaint
1. Peter McGarry complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Croydon Advertiser breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in online articles headlined “Exclusive: Questions over police accounts of knife incident that led to Croydon club closure”, published on 13 April 2016; “Croydon Council’s licensing committee takes no action against Dice Bar”, published on 15 April 2016; “Senior police officer’s evidence raises further issues over knife incident behind nightclub closure”, published on 18 April 2016; “Police refuse to answer key questions about conduct of officers towards Croydon nightclub Dice Bar”, published on 20 April 2016; Police inspector drove van along pavement to force clubbers out of Croydon town centre”, published on 27 April 2016; “Met outlines extensive allegations facing Croydon officer who ‘failed to respond to fatal stabbing’”, published on 5 May 2016; “'We could have done something' says PC who claims police sergeant failed to attend fatal stabbing”, published on 16 May 2016; Racist Croydon police officer who ignored reports of stabbing sacked for gross misconduct”, published on 28 May 2016; “Met Police says ‘no public interest’ in how much it spent on barrister during Croydon nightclub case”, published on 31 May 2016.
2. The first article reported on what it described as “serious discrepancies” in the evidence that police had relied on to close down Dice Bar, a nightclub in Croydon. It said that the complainant, a police Chief Inspector, had issued the nightclub with a closure notice because a customer in a nearby street had been seen on CCTV with a “large knife”. The article reported that official police documents had stated that a detective had later reviewed the CCTV footage and had found that it had not shown that the man had a knife. It quoted the detective’s evidence in which he had said “you cannot see what he is concealing on his person”, and it noted that the officers who had arrested the customer had made no mention of a weapon in their accounts of the incident.
3. The second article reported that Croydon Council had rejected the police application to close down Dice Bar. It said the police had claimed that “high levels of drunkenness” had regularly put officers, customers and the general public at risk. The article repeated the claim made in the first article that the complainant’s evidence had been contradicted by a detective. It reported that the complainant had told the Licensing Committee that he had taken the CCTV to a “forensic hub” and he had seen what he had believed to be a knife. It also reported the complainant’s position that the officer who had been unable to see the knife had used “low grade technology” to view the footage.
4. The third article also reported on discrepancies in the police evidence relating to the closure of Dice Bar. It reported that the complainant had informed the nightclub owner the day after the incident that CCTV footage had shown the customer with a “large knife”, which contrasted with his written evidence, in which the complainant had said that he had first seen the footage on 29 June, eight days after the incident. The article repeated the complainant’s assertion that the detective who had been unable to see the knife on the CCTV footage had used “low grade technology”, and additionally noted that a “well-placed source” had said that “officers who want CCTV footage to be digitally enhanced or analysed must send it to a central unit in Denmark Hill”, with such requests taking weeks to fulfil.
5. The fourth article reported that the police had refused to answer questions relating to the conduct of its officers towards Dice Bar. It said that the Licensing Committee’s decision to reject the police application for the nightclub’s opening hours to be restricted had represented a “damaging blow” to Croydon police, which had invested a “huge amount” of time and resources in building its case against the venue. It repeated the claim that the complainant’s evidence had been contradicted by a colleague, and the assertion that a source had said that to view CCTV in detail, it must be sent to a forensic hub at Denmark Hill, with requests sometimes taking weeks to fulfil.
6. The fifth article stated that the complainant had driven a police van on to the pavement towards a small group of nightclub customers in order to force them to move from the town centre. It quoted the complainant who had said that it was an “approved public order technique”, and a nightclub owner who had said that the tactic had been “terrible to watch” and could “incite tensions”. The article was illustrated by three photographs showing the police van on the pavement behind a group of people.
7. The sixth article reported that a police officer who had been accused of refusing to attend reports of an “ultimately fatal stabbing” in Croydon, had also been accused of making “derogatory and unpleasant” comments about colleagues and members of the public. It said that the accused officer was due to face a misconduct hearing, and described her as a “close ally” of the complainant.
8. The seventh article reported claims made by a police officer that his colleague had refused to attend reports of a stabbing. It said that he believed that his team may have been able to save the victim’s life had they attended the scene more quickly. The article reported that the misconduct hearing had heard that this colleague had approached this officer, who was to give evidence against her at the hearing, and had said that the complainant had “indicated” to her that he was among the officers who “must be trying to do her legs”, which meant that he was behind the complaints against her.
9. The eighth article reported that the police officer who had faced a misconduct hearing had been sacked. It repeated the claim that the complainant had told her that another officer was among those who “must be trying to do her legs”.
10. The last article reported that the police had hired a barrister to assist with its application to restrict Dice Bar’s opening hours, but the police had refused to say how much had been spent on this as no public interest would be served by the disclosure. The article said that the barrister representing the nightclub had told the Licensing Committee that the closure notice, which had been issued by the complainant, had been illegal because he had failed to submit an application to a magistrates’ court within 48 hours of it being issued. It stated that the barrister representing the police had explained that “it couldn't be done at Croydon because it was a Saturday and it couldn't be done in Hampstead because Hampstead refused to accept it. That doesn't nullify or negate the closure notice which was properly made out when the notice was issued”. The article noted that the barrister had since informed the newspaper that he had meant to refer to Hammersmith Magistrates’ Court rather than Hampstead Magistrates’ Court, which has been closed since the 1990s.
11. The complainant said that the newspaper had deliberately attempted to discredit him by including his name in any negative stories relating to Croydon police.
12. The complainant expressed concern that the newspaper had given the misleading impression that he had been unable to see an individual holding a “large knife” from the CCTV footage, and that there had been discrepancies in the police evidence. He said that three police officers had agreed that a knife could be seen from the CCTV footage; the one officer who had been unable to see a weapon had viewed the footage on lower quality technology. The complainant noted that at no point had this officer said that the footage had shown that the individual had not been in possession of a knife; rather, he had said that he had been unable to see what the individual had been holding. The complainant said, contrary to the information given to the newspaper by a “well-placed source”, Croydon police station had its own forensic hub where he had been able to slow down and view the enhanced CCTV footage. He also noted that the individual who had been seen with the weapon would have had time to dispose of it before being arrested by the officers at the scene.
13. The complainant accepted that in written evidence he had said that he had viewed the CCTV footage for the first time on 29 June, eight days after the incident. However, this had been a typing error in his notes; it was clear from the other documents submitted as evidence that he had watched the CCTV footage before discussing the matter with the nightclub owner. He said the newspaper had made no attempt to clarify the timings before publication.
14. The complainant denied that the knife incident had formed a key part of the police evidence used in an effort to restrict Dice Bar’s opening hours. He said the case was made up of 31 incidents, which had all been documented in written submissions to the Licensing Committee, and mainly consisted of violence between drunk customers after midnight. He also expressed concern that in one article, the newspaper had wrongly suggested that the police had attempted to shut the nightclub down; rather, the police had wanted to curtail its opening hours.
15. The complainant also expressed concern that the nightclub owner who had been quoted by the newspaper had provided contradictory evidence relating to how he had been informed of the knife incident. He said that the article stated that the police had informed him, while his evidence provided to the Licensing Committee suggested that it had been the council who had informed him about the knife.
16. The complainant said that the article reporting that a barrister had been hired to assist the police had failed to state that he had been unable to get the closure notice listed at court because the majority of magistrates’ courts are closed on Saturdays.
17. The complainant considered that the photographs used to illustrate the article about his driving a police van along a pavement were misleading as the timings, which showed how slowly the vehicle had moved, had been removed. He said that he had not driven the vehicle in order to move the pedestrians out of the town centre; rather, he had driven around the group in order to prevent them from spilling onto the carriageway. He said this was evidenced by the published photographs, which showed that the group had not moved.
18. The complainant considered that the description of him as an “ally” of an officer who had faced a misconduct hearing had been a further attempt by the newspaper to discredit him. He said that he had been the officer’s line manager, and he only had contact with her in relation to work matters. He noted that when the investigation into her conduct had commenced, he had removed the officer from her post and had restricted her duties. In addition, he denied that he had ever told this officer that a colleague was amongst those who were “trying to do her legs”. He said he had not been present during the misconduct hearing where this claim had allegedly been made, but a contact who had attended had told him that this had not been said during the proceedings.
19. The newspaper said that a reliable, confidential source with knowledge of the facilities available at Croydon police station had informed the reporter that there was no forensic hub for enhanced viewing of CCTV footage at the station. It noted that the existence and/or capabilities of the forensic hub had been one of a number of questions put to the complainant’s Commanding Officer following the result of the council’s licensing review, but he had declined to comment.
20. During IPSO’s investigation, the newspaper contacted the police press officer and was informed that the Metropolitan Police has a central digital forensics laboratory at Lambeth and eight local laboratories, including one at Croydon police station. The press officer confirmed that any matters that cannot be dealt with at the local hubs are sent to the central hub. While it did not accept that this represented a significant inaccuracy, it offered to amend the relevant articles and to append the following footnote:
A previous version of this article said, in relation to comments by Chief Inspector Peter McGarry that he had taken CCTV footage to a “forensic hub”, that “officers who want video footage to be analysed in detail must send it to a specialist unit in Denmark Hill”. In fact, there is a “forensic hub” at Croydon police station where Ch Ins McGarry says he was able to view the footage.
21. The newspaper said that two confidential sources had described the complainant as an “ally” of the officer at the centre of the misconduct hearing. It said it was alleged at the hearing that the complainant had told this officer that another officer was amongst those “trying to do her legs”, and it provided the reporter’s contemporaneous shorthand notes and a transcript to support this position. It noted that it had not reported this assertion as fact, but had reported that the officer had claimed that the complainant had made the comment.
22. The complainant said that his Commanding Officer had not commented on the reporter’s question regarding the forensic hub because he had considered that the reporter had an agenda centred on attacking the police.
Relevant Code provisions
23. 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 14 (Confidential sources)
Journalists have a moral obligation to protect confidential sources of information.
Findings of the Committee
24. The newspaper had been entitled to report that the complainant’s evidence that CCTV footage had shown a customer of Dice Bar with a “large knife”, which had been submitted to the Licensing Committee, had been undermined by evidence given by another police officer who had viewed the same footage. The newspaper had accurately reported that this officer had said “[the suspect] can be seen leaving a crowd of people whilst fidgeting or possibly putting something up his sleeve. You cannot see what he is concealing on his person”; it had not given the misleading impression that this officer had concluded that the CCTV had shown that the individual had not been carrying a weapon. There was no breach of the Code on this point.
25. Three of the articles additionally reported the complainant’s position that he had taken the CCTV footage to a “forensic hub” to view, while the officer who had been unable to see the weapon had viewed the footage using “lower grade technology”. Two of these articles cast doubt over the complainant’s position by stating that a “well-placed source” had informed the newspaper that to enhance CCTV footage, it must be taken to a central unit in Denmark Hill, with such requests taking weeks to complete.
26. It was accepted that the newspaper had asked the complainant’s Commanding Officer about the existence of a forensic hub at Croydon police station before publication, and the Commanding Officer had declined to comment. However, the newspaper had not asked for comment on the serious allegation that the complainant had been unable to access facilities that would have enabled him to view the enhanced footage as he had claimed in his evidence to the Licensing Committee. This represented a failure to take care over the accuracy of the information in breach of Clause 1(i).
27. During IPSO’s investigation, the newspaper accepted that the information provided by its source had been inaccurate: there was a central forensic hub in Lambeth, but a local hub was also available at Croydon police station. This inaccuracy had given the significantly misleading impression that the complainant’s evidence to the Licensing Committee had been false, and he had been unable to access facilities to enhance the CCTV footage, as he had claimed. A correction was therefore required in order to avoid a breach of Clause 1(ii).
28. The newspaper had offered to amend the relevant articles and to append a corrective footnote, which made clear that the complainant had been able to access a forensic hub as he had claimed. This was sufficient to meet the requirement of Clause 1(ii). There was no further breach of Clause 1.
29. It was accepted that the complainant had stated in written evidence submitted to the Licensing Committee that he had first viewed the CCTV footage on 29 June 2015, eight days after the customer had allegedly been in possession of a knife. The newspaper had been entitled to highlight that this conflicted with the fact that the complainant had told the nightclub owner the day after the incident that he had seen the CCTV footage, which had shown one of his customers with a knife. It was not significantly misleading for the newspaper to have described this as a “discrepancy”. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
30. The Committee noted the complainant’s position that the CCTV footage had formed just one part of the police application to restrict Dice Bar’s opening hours, and was not a “key point” as stated in the coverage. However, the allegation that a customer of Dice Bar had been seen with a knife had resulted in a closure notice being issued, which had shut the venue for 24 hours. Furthermore, the articles had made clear that the police had submitted 404 pages of evidence against the nightclub, and the case and had not, therefore, rested solely on the evidence relating to the knife. It was not significantly misleading to refer to the knife incident as a “key point”. There was no breach of the Code on this point.
31. The Committee noted the complainant’s concern that one article had inaccurately asserted that the police had sought to close down Dice Bar. However, the article had also clearly stated that the Licensing Committee had “rejected [the police’s] call for its opening hours to be curtailed”. It was not significantly misleading for the newspaper to characterise this as an “attempt to shut a nightclub”. There was no breach of the Code on this point.
32. The Committee noted the complainant’s concern that the newspaper had reported comments made by the nightclub owner, which appeared to be inconsistent with the evidence he had given to the Licensing Committee. However, the newspaper had been entitled to report the comments made by the nightclub owner. It was not obliged to additionally report that this information may have differed to the version of events he had given in written evidence to the Licensing Committee. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
33. The complainant had expressed concern that one article had failed to detail his explanation for not listing the closure notice at a magistrates’ court. However, the article had reported comments made by the barrister representing the police who had said “police intended to apply for a hearing but the courts ‘seemed unwilling to list the matter’…It couldn't be done at Croydon because it was a Saturday and it couldn't be done in Hampstead because Hampstead refused to accept it. That doesn't nullify or negate the closure notice which was properly made out when the notice was issued". As such, the Committee did not consider that the article had given a significantly misleading impression of why the closure notice had not been listed with a magistrates’ court. There was no breach of the Code on this point.
34. The Committee noted the complainant’s concern that the newspaper had reported that he had driven a police van along a pavement to “force clubbers out of Croydon town centre”, when in fact he had sought to drive around the group to prevent them from spilling onto the carriageway. The article, however, had clearly reported the complainant’s position that he had employed an “approved public order technique” and stated that he had “used the van to funnel the group…away from High Street”. The newspaper had been entitled to publish the opinion of a nightclub owner that it had been “terrible to watch”. The Committee did not consider that the article had given a significantly misleading impression of the incident. Indeed, as noted by the complainant, the action he had taken had been accurately documented in the photographs which had accompanied the article. The Committee did not consider that the omission of the timings from these photographs had given a misleading impression of the speed with which the vehicle had moved. There was no breach of the Code on these points.
35. The Committee noted the complainant’s concern that the newspaper had described him as a “close ally” of the officer who had been the subject of a misconduct hearing, when he had been her line manager. It noted that the newspaper had based this assertion on information provided by two confidential sources. However, this reference had not implicated the complainant in the allegations against the officer. The brief reference was not a significant point that required correction under the terms of the Code.
36. Finally, the Committee considered the complainant’s concern that he had not told the officer who had been the subject of a misconduct hearing that her colleague had been amongst those “trying to do her legs”. However, the complainant had not been at the hearing at which this allegation had allegedly been made. As such, he was not in a position to dispute what had been said. In addition, the newspaper had provided the reporter’s contemporaneous notes, which recorded that this claim had been made during the proceedings.
37. Furthermore, the newspaper had made clear in the coverage that it had been the officer giving evidence to the hearing who had claimed that he had been told that the complainant had “indicated” that he had been amongst those who had made complaints about the officer’s conduct. It was clear from the coverage that this assertion was a claim about the complainant’s conduct, and not a statement of fact. There was no failure to take care over the accuracy of the article on this point. There was no breach of the Code.
38. The complaint was upheld.
Remedial action required
40. The newspaper had published significantly inaccurate information which required correction. To remedy the established breach of the Code, the newspaper should now amend the relevant articles and append the corrective footnotes, as offered.
Date complaint received: 12/10/2016
Date decision issued: 23/03/2017
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