Decision of the Complaints Committee 13299-16 Ford v Grimsby Telegraph
Summary of Complaint
1. David Ford complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Grimsby Telegraph breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Obsessed stalker who bombarded victim with messages‘ insisted he had done nothing wrong’”, published online on 30 December 2015.
2. The article was a court report which reported the complainant’s conviction on the charge of stalking. It said that he had a “worrying ‘obsession’ with a woman and ‘bombarded’ her with messages that proved he knew a lot about her”. It reported the prosecution case that “he constantly and persistently made attempts to find her, went out of his way to force meetings with her”, that he was an “inquisitive” individual, and he “did not dispute anything in interview”. It also quoted the prosecutor saying that the complainant “wrote to her so much about herself” that she wondered “how does he know this?”
3. The article also reported the submissions of the complainant’s legal representative, who said that the complainant worked as a “state-registered nurse”, that he “insisted he had done nothing wrong”, and that in the complainant’s mind, “his actions would not have caused harassment, alarm or distress”. It also reported the words of the sentencing judge, who said that “he doesn’t appear to have any insight, empathy or remorse”, a comment which was challenged by the complainant’s legal representative in court.
4. The complainant said that much of what was reported in the article appeared to relate to the original charge, not the amended charge of which he was convicted. He said the amended charge did not say that he “constantly and persistently made attempts to locate” the victim, forced “meetings with her despite being told that told there was no relationship”, or deleted her emails.
5. The complainant said that he had no recollection of much of what was reported in the article being said in court, did not believe that there was a reporter in court for his trial or sentencing hearing, and said that a number of quotes were attributed to the wrong person. He denied that he “bombarded” his victim with messages, and said that this charge was amended before trial; however, he did accept sending the victim five “non-threatening” emails. He said that it was inaccurate to report that he “constantly and persistently made attempts to find her and went out of his way to force meetings with her”, and that he had “deleted emails”. He said that he did dispute accusations made against him during his police interview, and that he was a Registered General Nurse, not a “state-registered nurse”.
6. The newspaper said that the article was an accurate account of the complainant’s sentencing hearing. It said that its reporter was in court, and provided his shorthand notes of proceedings, and the court list containing the complainant’s amended charge. It said that the sentencing hearing was conducted in an informal manner between the prosecutor and judge, and that the reporter’s notes confirmed the published quotes.
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 Committee acknowledged the complainant’s position that the article should now be amended as the proceedings were conducted on the basis of a probation report that was erroneously based on the original charge he faced, and not the amended charge of which he was convicted. However, newspapers are entitled to report what is said during proceedings in open court, and are responsible for accurately reporting what is said during these proceedings, rather than the accuracy of the evidence given.
9. The complainant said that he was unable to recollect much of what was reported in the article being said at the hearing, and that some quotations were incorrectly attributed. However, the newspaper had provided the reporter’s notes of the complainant’s sentencing hearing which supported the account of the hearing reported. In the absence of any further information from the complainant to suggest that the notes were inaccurate, the Committee did not consider that there was any failure on the part of the newspaper to take care over the accuracy of the article in breach of Clause 1(i).
10. Of the inaccuracies highlighted, the Committee noted in particular the complainant’s position that he had disputed the charges against him at his police interview, contrary to what the prosecutor was reported to have said during the hearing. However, in circumstances where the article also reported the complainant’s legal representative saying that “he insisted that he had done no wrong”, it considered that the article had made the complainant's position on the charges clear, and that any inaccuracy on this point, was not significant; there was no breach of Clause 1(ii) on this, or any other, point.
11. The Committee acknowledged the complainant's position that he was a registered general nurse, and not a “state-registered nurse”. However, it did not consider that the inaccuracy on this point was significant in the context of an article that reported his conviction, and sentence, on the charge of stalking. There was no breach of Clause 1.
12. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complained received: 16/11/2016
Date decision issued: 31/03/2017
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