Decision of the Complaints Committee 10140-16 Williams v North-West Evening Mail
Summary of Complaint
1. Shaun Williams complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the North-West Evening Mail breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Man banned from contacting BAE systems Barrow boss,” published on 24 March 2016, “Barrow man who harassed shipyard boss appeals against sentence”, published on 15 June 2016, and “Barrow man’s appeal against ban to contact any shipyard workers is dismissed by the crown court judge”, published on 1 July 2016.
2. The first article reported that the complainant, who it described as a “submarine enthusiast”, had been given a restraining order banning him from contacting the managing director of a shipyard, or any of its employees. It said that the complainant had been charged with harassment after allegedly sending a series of letters to the managing director, and following allegations that he had posted “insulting and abusive posts” about him and other directors online. It said that the complainant had been due to stand trial on the charge at Furness Magistrates’ Court, but the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) “struck a deal” with his solicitor to dispose of the matter by way of a “civil restraining order and without criminal charges”. The article reported that the complainant maintained his innocence and included a statement from the complainant setting out his position in relation to the matter.
3. The second article reported that the complainant had “appealed against his sentence after he was given a restraining order”; it also said that he had “harassed” the managing director, and had “bombarded” him with letters. The third article reported that the complainant had his appeal against the restraining order dismissed by a judge at Preston Crown Court. It reported the ground for the dismissal given by Judge Cornwall, being “The Crown Court is not the appropriate venue. This is now the end of these proceedings.”
4. The complainant denied that he was a “submarine enthusiast”; he said that he was a professional who ran a recognised defence brand called “British Special Projects”. He denied that he “bombarded” the managing director with letters, and said it was inaccurate for the headline of the second article to report that he had “harassed” the managing director as he had not been convicted of any offence. He also said it was inaccurate to report that he had been “sentenced” as he had never been convicted.
5. He denied that there had ever been a deal with the CPS over his case. He said that while his solicitor had advised him to agree to the restraining order, it was not ordered on the basis of a mutual agreement. However, he said that while his solicitor did object to one or two things that the CPS said in court, he had “very little to say on the matter” of the restraining order, and there was “little anybody could do to prevent it”. He also said that his appeal was heard in Carlisle Crown Court, not Preston, and that it was not dismissed, it was abandoned as the Judge realised it had been listed in error.
6. The newspaper said that in order for a restraining order to be imposed without a trial taking place, the complainant had to agree to accept the restraining order, which was why the article used the phraseology that a deal had been struck. It provided evidence from the CPS that the complainant had appealed against the restraining order at both the Magistrates’ Court and Crown Court. It said that in the Magistrates’ Court, the court found that there were no grounds to revoke the order and the application was refused, and that the appeal to the Crown Court was dismissed. It said that the use of the word “sentence” in reference to the order was not appropriate in the circumstances, and amended the second and third articles to reflect this point.
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.
Findings of the Committee
8. The complainant was made subject to a restraining order and his trial on the charge of harassment did not proceed. While the complainant denied that he “struck a deal” with the CPS to dispose of the matter by way of a restraining order, he did concede that he was advised to agree to the order by his solicitor, and the order was not opposed by his solicitor in court. In these circumstances, the Committee did not consider that it was inaccurate to report that a deal had been struck. There was no breach of Clause 1.
9. While the second and third articles inaccurately referred to the restraining order as a sentence, there was nothing else in either article to suggest there had been a finding of guilt against the complainant. Both articles emphasised that the matter was disposed of “by way of a civil restraining order and without criminal charges” and in this context, the reference to the order as a sentence was not significantly misleading. Nonetheless, while there was no breach of Clause 1, the Committee welcomed the amendments made by the newspaper on this point.
10. Whether the complainant’s appeal in the Crown Court was unsuccessful on its merits, or unsuccessful because it was listed in error, it was not significantly inaccurate to report that his appeal was “dismissed”. Similarly, given that the complainant did not dispute his interest in the area, it was not significantly inaccurate to characterise him as a “submarine enthusiast”.
11. The second article made clear that the complainant had been charged with harassment for allegedly sending a series of letters to the managing director but that the matter had been disposed of without criminal charges. The fact that a restraining order was instead imposed by the court which precluded him from further contacting the managing director provided a sufficient basis for the newspaper’s report that the complainant had previously “harassed” the managing director. The claim that he had “bombarded” him with letters was also not significantly misleading in light of the terms of the restraining order. There was no breach of Clause 1.
12. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 02/11/2016
Date decision issued: 06/02/2017
Back to ruling listing