Decision of the Complaints Committee – 12226-20 Coutts v Daily Star Sunday
Summary of Complaint
1. Graham Coutts complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Star Sunday breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “KILLER FRYING IT ON” published on 28 June 2020.
2. The article, which appeared on page 15, reported that a man currently serving a life sentence for murder wanted compensation because his prison did not serve enough chips. It reported that he said that there were not enough chips in a portion and included a comment from the Prison Service which said that it “robustly defended claims”.
3. The complainant, the man named in the article as having made the complaint, said that the article was inaccurate. He said that he was bringing a case against the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) because he had not received half of his lunch – not because the prison did not serve enough chips. He said that he had blogged about his case, in which the nature of his claim had been made clear. He provided a copy of this blog post entitled “FOOD: PLEASE SIR, CAN I HAVE SOME MORE?”, in which he set out that he had not been served half of his lunch, that this was not the first time this had happened, and that some lunch choices had been removed from the prison menu. The blog post also set out the complainant’s view that the prison owed a duty of care to provide sufficient food, and included the complainant’s comment that “Now, [the prison has] started rationing the portion size of chips!”
4. The newspaper did not accept that the article was inaccurate. It said that the newspaper was entitled to report the publicly available blog and had done so accurately – the blog clearly complained about the portion sizes of chips.
Relevant Code Provisions
5. 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
6. The publication was entitled to report and comment upon the complainant’s publicly available blog provided that care was taken not to significantly mislead readers as to its content. The blog explained that the complainant had not received a complete lunch from the prison and detailed his concern that the prison was not complying with its duty of care by providing a sufficient quantity of food; the blog explained that this was the basis for the complainant’s case against the MoJ. Although he made a comment about the portion sizes of chips being reduced, it was clear from his blog that he was not pursuing the case because the prison did not serve enough chips. As such, reporting that the complainant was seeking compensation for this reason represented a failure to take care to report the nature of the complainant’s claim accurately in breach of Clause 1(i). Where this gave the impression that the complainant’s legal action was being brought for a purely trivial reason rather than a concern that the prison was not serving sufficient food in general, this was significantly misleading and required correction under the terms of Clause 1(ii). Where the newspaper had not offered to take any action to correct the article, there was also a breach of Clause 1(ii).
7. The complaint was upheld.
Remedial Action Required
8. Having upheld a breach of Clause 1, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required. In circumstances where the Committee establishes a breach of the Editors’ Code, it can require the publication of a correction and/or an adjudication, the terms and placement of which is determined by IPSO.
9. The Committee had found that the publication had failed to take care to accurately report the nature of the complainant’s case against the MoJ. As such, it decided that the appropriate remedy was the publication of a correction to put the correct position on record.
10. The Committee then considered the placement of the correction. The print article had been published on page 15 of the newspaper. The Committee therefore required publication of a correction on page 15 of the newspaper, or further forward. The correction should state that it has been published following an upheld ruling by the Independent Press Standards Organisation. The full wording and position should be agreed with IPSO in advance.
Date complaint received: 05/08/2020
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 02/12/2020Back to ruling listing