Decision of the Complaints Committee 16947-17 Fox v The Bolton News
Summary of complaint
1. Craig Fox complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Bolton News breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code in an article headlined “Man sentenced after admitting sale of online tools for hacking” published in print on 14 July 2017. The article also appeared online headlined “Craig Fox handed suspended sentence over sale of hacking tool after investigation by Titan” published on 13 July 2017.
2. The article reported that the complainant had been sentenced after pleading guilty to three counts of making or supplying articles for computer misuse and one count of unauthorised access to computer materials. The article included the complainant’s name and partial address and stated that as part of his sentence he was required “to notify the police of any online identities and usernames.” The article also included a quotation from a police representative, stating “Detectives gathered evidence against Craig Fox and were able to prove he was also responsible for defacing a website.”
3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate, as although he pleaded guilty to the offences outlined in the article, the police had no evidence to support his conviction. The complainant was concerned that the article did not make clear that several other charges, including a further charge of defacing a website, were dropped. The complainant also said he was only required to make police aware of online identities within communicative platforms, and was not required to inform them of all his online activity.
4. The complainant was also concerned that the newspaper published the street on which he lived, which the complainant said intruded into his private life. He said that due to the high profile nature of the case, publishing this information put his personal safety at risk.
5. The newspaper said that the article accurately reported the press release that was published by the North West Regional Organised Crime Unit, which it provided. The newspaper said it had checked the information with the police officers involved, who confirmed the charges the complainant had been convicted of. The newspaper accepted that one charge of defacing a website was dropped, however it confirmed with police that the complainant had pleaded guilty to one charge relating to defacement of a website and said this was accurately reported in the article. Nevertheless, the newspaper offered to publish a clarification, making it clear that one charge relating to website defacement had been dropped and outlining the four offences he was convicted of.
6. The newspaper said that it was standard practice to publish the name and street address of a person who has been convicted of an offence, as this helped distinguish between others in the area who may have the same name. The newspaper said that this information was heard in court and was therefore in the public domain and its publication did not represent an intrusion into the complainant’s private life.
Relevant Code provisions
7. 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.
Clause 2 (Privacy)*
i) Everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence, including digital communications.
ii) Editors’ will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual’s private life without consent. Account will be taken of the complainant’s own public disclosures of information.
iii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals, without their consent, in public or private places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.
Findings of the Committee
8. The newspaper had relied upon information published in a police press release. The newspaper was entitled to report the details of the press release, and had done so accurately. The article also accurately reported the complainant’s conviction and detailed the four counts he had pleaded guilty to, including an offence relating to defacement of a website. It was not misleading for the article not to report that one further charge of defacement had been dropped. Also, where the complainant pleaded guilty and was convicted of all four counts reported in the article, it was not inaccurate for the article to include a statement from the police force involved, stating that they had gathered evidence to facilitate his conviction. Reporting that the complainant was required to inform the police of any online identities or usernames did not misrepresent this aspect of his sentence. There was no breach of Clause 1.
9. In the absence of any reporting restriction, the newspaper was entitled to report details that had been heard during court proceedings. As such, the publication of the complainant’s name and street address did not represent an intrusion into his private life. There was no breach of Clause 2.
11. The complaint was not upheld
Remedial Action required
Date complaint received: 20/07/2017
Date decision issued: 11/09/2017
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