Decision of the Complaints Committee – 09798-20 Taylor v Sunday Mirror
Summary of Complaint
1. Robert Taylor complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Sunday Mirror breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “EX RIPPER COP 'TRIED TO SILENCE WHISTLEBLOWER'”, published on 14 June 2020.
2. The article reported on a tribunal hearing in which one of the police officers involved in the Yorkshire Ripper case “was said to have tried to intimidate [a whistleblower] by posing as a boss at the Care Quality Commission.” The article described the ex-police officer as a “self-employed investigator” and stated that “He allegedly warned [the whisleblower] off reporting concerns about a home, saying: ‘There would be consequences.’” It also said that the tribunal heard that he had been “enlisted by home boss [named person] to “frighten off” [the whistleblower]” and that the whistleblower had received “a ‘threatening’ call” from the ex-police officer. The article also reported that the “employment court judge blasted Mr Taylor, once dubbed SuperCop, for being ‘deliberately evasive’ and not giving a statement ‘dealing truthfully’ with the incident. The article stated that the ex-police officer “had no comment when approached at his home”.
3. The article also appeared online on 13 June 2020 under the headline “Ex Yorkshire Ripper cop 'tried to silence whistleblower by posing as CQC boss'” in substantially the same format.
4. The complainant, the ex-police officer referred to in the article, said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 as he was the whistleblowers contact point. He said that he had only acted as a witness in the court case and that it had not been put to him that he had said there would be consequences; nor that he tried to intimidate the whistleblower; nor had he been paid to silence her. He also said it was inaccurate that the judge had described him as evasive or his statement as untruthful. The complainant provided a text he had sent to the whistleblower which he said was not threatening, and also said that whilst he had been persuasive in his call to her he was not aggressive. He also said it was inaccurate to describe him as a “self-employed investigator” as he was a commissioned employee of the company who does investigations.
5. The complainant also said it was inaccurate to report that he “had no comment”. He said that the journalist had approached his house during a period of social distancing restrictions due to COVID-19 and he was therefore not able to invite the journalist in, and did not wish to discuss the matter in his communal hallway. He said it was misleading not to include his comment, which he would have given if he had been phoned rather than have a journalist come to his property.
6. The complainant also said that the article represented a breach of Clause 2 as it included a photograph of him from his Facebook profile which was set so only friends of his friends could see his images. He also said it was an intrusion of his privacy for the publication to come to his home during a period of social distancing restrictions due to COVID-19.
7. The publication said it did not accept a breach of Clause 1. It said that every alleged inaccuracy that the complainant had complained of was reported in quotes and had come straight from the publicly available tribunal judgments. It provided a copy of these judgments.
8. The publication said that a journalist had gone to the complainant’s house and that he had declined to comment and closed the door, and it was not misleading to report this.
9. The publication said that the complainant’s Facebook profile had not been private at the time it took the photo, but had been made private since. It demonstrated that it could see the complainants profile picture and cover image, but did not have any evidence to show that the profile was public at the time it took the image. The publication said that it would not have been able to access the image if the complainant’s account had been set to private when it retrieved the image. It also said that the image did not include any private information. It also said that it was not a breach for a journalist to attend a person’s house in order to gain their comment.
Relevant Code Provisions
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. 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.
Findings of the Committee
10. The article reported on the judgments in tribunal proceedings in which the complainant gave evidence as a witness. The publication provided the judgments from the tribunal, and had accurately reported what was said, the majority of which were direct quotes from the judgments. Whilst the complainant may have disagreed with the outcome of the tribunal, where the newspaper had accurately reported its findings there was no failure to take care not to report inaccurate information. In addition, the publication had also gone to the complainant for comment, though he had refused to speak to the publication due to concerns regarding the contemporaneous lockdown. However, there was no failure to take care in reporting the public judgments by omitting a comment from the complainant. There was no breach of Clause 1(i) and there were no significant inaccuracies to correct under Clause 1(ii) on these points.
11. The complainant accepted that a journalist had come to his house and that he had refused to comment. It was not misleading to report this and there was no breach of Clause 1.
12. The Committee recognised that there was a disagreement between the publication and complainant as to whether the complainant’s Facebook profile was public at the time the photograph was taken by the publication. The Committee were concerned that publication was not able to demonstrate that the complainant’s social media page was public at the time photograph was taken from his Facebook page. However, it was not disputed that the photo had been published on Facebook. The committee had not been presented with any evidence that the publication had acquired the image by any nefarious means. In addition, the complainant had stated that the most stringent privacy settings in place was that his profile was visible to “friends of friends”, which potentially left it accessible to a wide range of people not personally known to the complainant. Whilst the publication could not definitively show it had come from a fully public profile, where the photograph did not reveal anything private about the individual, and simply showed his likeness, on on the balance of probabilities committee did not consider there was basis to establish a breach Clause 2. However the Committee reminded the publication of the importance of keeping contemporaneous notes and screenshots when such images are taken.
13. Going to individuals for comment is an important part of the newsgathering process. Even during a pandemic, journalists are still entitled to contact individuals for comment. It was not an invasion of the complainant’s privacy for the publication to attend his house for this purpose, and there was no breach of Clause 2.
14. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 15/06/2020
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 14/12/2020Back to ruling listing