Decision of the Complaints Committee 13577-16 Ayub v Telegraph & Argus
Summary of complaint
1. Mohammed Ayub complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Telegraph and Argus breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Three convicted of ‘systemic’ fraud”, published in print on 10 November 2016, and “Boss of Chambers solicitors in Bradford and two co-accused found guilty of £600,000 fraud”, published online on 24 November 2016.
2. The article reported that the complainant, who was a managing partner of Chambers Solicitors, had been convicted, along with two others, of conspiracy to defraud the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) “out of nearly £600,000”. The article reported evidence from the proceedings that the defendants had defrauded the LAA by claiming disbursements for an agency called Legal Support Services (LSS) for their provision of interpreters to Chambers Solicitors, when in-fact no such agency was used. The article reported that almost £600,000 was paid into LSS accounts over a four-year period; however, it said that the firm was not registered at Companies House and there was no evidence of it having ever offered interpretation services.
3. The complainant said that the headline was inaccurate because it claimed that the defendants were “found guilty of £600,000 fraud”. He said that the amount of fraud was unknown and yet to be determined. Although the complainant did not dispute that over the course of four years almost £600,000 was credited to the LSS bank account, he did not accept that this represented the value of the fraud.
4. The publication said that the article was based on statements made by the prosecution throughout the trial. It said that, during the prosecution’s opening statements, the jury was told that almost £600,000 was paid into LSS bank accounts over a four year period. It also said that LSS was described as a “sham company existing in name only” to claim the LAA fees. The publication argued that any monies paid into a sham company set up as a “vehicle for fraud” then became part of the conspiracy to defraud, for which the defendants were convicted. It further noted that the complainant did not dispute during trial that £592,000 was paid into LSS accounts.
5. While the newspaper did not consider that the article was inaccurate, it amended the headline of the online article to “Boss of Chambers solicitors in Bradford and two co-accused found guilty of fraud involving up to £600,000”, and have said that they will fully report on the agreed final figure of the fraud once sentences have been passed.
Relevant Code Provisions
6. 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
7. As the complainant was found guilty of conspiracy to defraud the Legal Aid Agency, his complaint related only to the reporting of the scale of the fraud. In that respect, the Committee acknowledged the complainant’s position that the scale of the fraud was not explicitly stated during trial. However, during the trial, the prosecution stated that £592,000 had been paid into the LSS bank account over the four year period in question, and the Committee noted that this figure was not disputed by the complainant. Furthermore, it was not disputed that it was the prosecution’s case at trial that LSS was a sham company, existing in name only, and that it had been established for the purposes of the fraud. In this context, the Committee did not consider that the inclusion of the £600,000 figure in the article gave a significantly misleading impression of the offence for which the complainant was convicted.
8. For these reasons, there was no breach of Clause 1. However, the Committee welcomed the amendment to the headline of the online article, and the further offer of clarification once the final figure of the fraud was agreed.
9. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial action required
Date complaint received: 24/11/2016
Date decision issued: 27/04/2017
Back to ruling listing