Decision of the Complaints Committee – 13300-21 Hagyard v Liverpool Echo
Summary of Complaint
1. Tom Hagyard complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation, through a representative, that Liverpool Echo breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Lawyer denies sex attacks”, published on 12 October 2021.
2. The article reported that the complainant had appeared in court charged with rape and sexual assault. It reported the complainant’s position: these acts had been consensual but “did not lead to full sex and he remained fully clothed throughout, unlike the woman whose jeans he removed”. It also reported that the complainant told the jury he had looked forward to a “distinguished career” before his arrest and being charged.
3. The article also appeared online under the headline “Trainee solicitor accused of raping student at colleague's party” in substantially the same format.
4. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. First, the article had reported that he had told the jury he was looking forward to a “distinguished career”; this was, in fact, a claim made by his lawyer. Second, the article had reported that he had removed the woman’s jeans; he had told the court that she had removed this item of clothing herself.
5. The newspaper did not accept a breach of the Editors’ Code. It maintained that the article was an accurate account of court proceedings, and provided a copy of the relevant contemporaneous shorthand notes taken by the reporter to support this. It said the article was not inaccurate to attribute the comments about a “distinguished career” to the complainant in circumstances where the comments were made by the complainant’s legal representative, and with his consent, during proceedings.
6. Notwithstanding this, upon receipt of the complaint, in a gesture of goodwill, the newspaper amended the online article to reflect this and recorded the changes with the following footnote clarification. It also offered to publish this wording in print.
“An earlier version of this article stated that it was Tom Hagyard who told the jury that he had been looking forward to a distinguished career before he was arrested and charged. In fact, as the article now states, this was said on his behalf by his defence counsel, Karina Arden.”
7. Finally, the newspaper did not accept that the article was inaccurate to report that the complainant had “removed” the woman’s jeans where the reporter’s notes showed that the complainant had told the court: “I began to take her jeans off and she lifted her hips”.
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.
Findings of the Committee
8. The newspaper’s obligation was to report court proceedings accurately. In this case, the article had attributed the statement that the complainant looked forward to a “distinguished career” to him rather than to his lawyer. The Committee noted that it was within the convention of court reporting to attribute submissions made by a legal representative in court to the party being represented because such a representative would be speaking under the defendant’s instructions and on their behalf and that doing so was not significantly inaccurate or misleading. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point. Nonetheless, the Committee welcomed the newspaper’s offer to publish a clarification to address this point.
9. The Committee next considered whether the article was inaccurate to report that the complainant had “removed” the woman’s jeans. The publication produced the reporter’s contemporaneous notes of court proceedings, which included the following statement from the complainant: “I began to take her jeans off”. In such circumstances, there was no failure to take care over the accurate reporting of court proceedings and there was no inaccuracy requiring correction. There was no breach of Clause 1 in regard to this.
10. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 22/11/2021
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 05/04/2022Back to ruling listing