Decision of the Complaints Committee – 17841-23 Centre for Media Monitoring v The Mail on Sunday
Summary of Complaint
1. The Centre for Media Monitoring complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Mail on Sunday breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “My mission to ensure there really is NO hiding place for the evil gangs grooming our vulnerable young girls”, published on 2 April 2023.
2. The complainant was one of a number who raised concerns to IPSO about the article; in line with IPSO’s usual procedures, he was selected as the lead complainant.
3. The article – which appeared on page 27 of the newspaper – was an opinion piece by the Home Secretary, in which she discussed her “mission” in government to address child sexual exploitation (CSE). The article claimed that the “systematic rape, abuse and exploitation of young girls by organised gangs [and] the disgraceful failure of the authorities to act” was one of the country’s “greatest injustices” in modern times and made specific reference to the “grooming gangs scandal” in Rotherham.
4. The article then detailed the Home Secretary’s plans to address this issue, including the government’s consideration of the recommendations from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA). In doing so, the article claimed there were “four critical facts about the grooming gangs phenomenon”, adding that each needed to be “acknowledged and addressed” in order to approach this issue. First, she said, the “victims were – and are – some of the most vulnerable people in […] society”, adding that these “[y]oung females, overwhelmingly white girls from disadvantaged or troubled backgrounds”, and had been “consistently let down by the authorities”. Second, that the “perpetrators [of this crime] are groups of men, almost all British-Pakistani, who hold cultural attitudes completely incompatible with British values”, and that they “have been left mostly unchallenged both within their communities and by wider society”. Third, the failure of authorities – “local politicians, social workers, teachers, police officers and others – to safeguard the girls, who thought “it more likely that they would be accused of racism than praised”. Fourth, the systemic abuse of young girls across the country was still happening today.
5. The article was accompanied by the images of six individuals, with the caption identifying them each by name and reading: “GROOMERS IN ROTHERHAM”.
6. A substantially similar version of the article also appeared online.
7. The complainant said the claim that the “perpetrators” of group-based CSE were “almost all British-Pakistani” was inaccurate and misleading. In fact, research by the Home Office in 2020 showed that offenders of CSE are “most commonly white” and grooming gangs come from diverse backgrounds. Although a number of high-profile grooming cases mainly involved men of Pakistani ethnicity, links between ethnicity and this form of offending could not be proven.
8. The publication did not accept a breach of the Editors’ Code. It said that it was entitled to rely on information provided by the Home Secretary about the ethnicities of the perpetrators: the Home Office was the department responsible for tackling grooming gangs and the Home Secretary was the most senior member of that department. It added that, during the drafting of the article, it had queried the claim with the advisors to the Home Secretary and Prime Minister directly and had been informed that there was no concern over this particular line.
9. Further, the publication argued that there were limited reliable statistics in the public domain about members of grooming gangs and queried why a report produced under a previous Home Secretary was considered to be authoritative by the complainant, while information provided by the current Home Secretary was not to be relied upon. It also noted that the 2020 report had said that it was “difficult to draw conclusions about the ethnicity of offenders as existing research is limited and data collection is poor”.
10. Following the article’s publication, and upon receipt of what it said were a small number of complaints, the publication said it contacted the Home Secretary, whose representative confirmed that she had been referring to three high-profile grooming gang cases in particular (specifically, Rotherham, Rochdale, and Telford), where the Home Office had evidence of the ethnicity of the perpetrators.
11. On 6 April – four days after the article’s publication and one day after it had received the complaint from IPSO – the publication offered to amend the online article to make clear that the claim related specifically to high profile grooming gangs and offered to print the following clarification in its Corrections and Clarifications column and as a footnote to the online article:
“An opinion piece ‘My mission to ensure there really is NO hiding place for the evil gangs grooming our vulnerable young girls’ (Apr 2), said that ‘almost all’ those involved in the ‘grooming gangs phenomenon’ are British-Pakistani men. We are happy to clarify that this was intended to refer specifically to high-profile cases such as Rotherham and Rochdale, as confirmed by independent reports. The perpetrators of child sexual abuse, more broadly, are a variety of ethnicities.”
12. The complainant, however, did not consider that the steps proposed by the newspaper were sufficient to resolve his complaint. He said that any clarification should make clear that Home Office research had found group-based child sexual offenders are most commonly white, and should include an apology. The complainant proposed the publication of the following correction:
“An opinion piece ‘My mission to ensure there really is NO hiding place for the evil gangs grooming our vulnerable young girls’ (Apr 2), said that ‘almost all’ those involved in the ‘grooming gangs phenomenon’ are British-Pakistani men. We are happy to clarify that this was intended to refer specifically to specific high-profile cases such as Rotherham and Rochdale, as confirmed by independent reports, and not referring to grooming cases more broadly. According to the Home Office, research has found that group-based child sexual offenders are most commonly white. We apologise for the error."
13. The alternative wording proposed by the complainant was not accepted the publication. The publication did not consider that an apology was appropriate in the circumstances: the alleged inaccuracy related to a general point of fact and did not personally affect the complainant; and the Home Secretary was ultimately responsible for not qualifying her remarks about ethnicity in the article – the publication could not be required to apologise for an error that it had not made.
Relevant Clause 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.
Relevant Clause of IPSO’s Regulation:
40. If a Regulated Entity offers a remedial measure to a complainant which the Regulator or, if applicable, the Complaints Committee considers to be a satisfactory resolution of the complaint, but such measure is rejected by the complainant, the Regulator or, if applicable, the Complaints Committee shall notify the complainant of the same and that, subject to fulfilment of the offer by the Regulated Entity, it considers the complaint to be closed and a summary of the outcome shall be published on the Regulator's website.
Findings of the Committee
14. The publication requested that IPSO consider whether the remedial measures it had offered amounted to a satisfactory resolution of the complaint – in line with the provisions in Regulation 40 of IPSO’s Regulations – and the complaint could be closed. The Committee considers such requests on a case-by-case basis. In this case, the Committee did not consider that the application of Regulation 40 was appropriate: there was a clear public interest in the Committee considering and ruling on the complaint given its nature and the context of the disputed claim.
15. The Committee was clear: the publication was ultimately responsible for the content it published; and was obligated under Clause 1 to take care over the accuracy of any claims of fact made within its published editorial content, regardless of whether claims of fact appeared in a news report or a comment piece.
16. The article made the clear assertion that the “perpetrators” of group-based CSE were “almost all British-Pakistani men”. While the publication had said this applied to three high-profile cases of group CSE – and the Committee acknowledged that the article made multiple references to the cases in Rotherham – the article did not qualify that this claim related to these specific cases. Rather, the article suggested a direct link between the identified ethnic group and a particular form of offending – this was misleading, where it was not made clear that the claim was made in relation to a specific sub-set of cases.
17. Though the article was misleading on the above point, the Committee considered the care demonstrated by the newspaper, prior to the article’s publication, in line with its obligations under Clause 1 (i): the author of the article was the Home Secretary, responsible for crime and policing for the UK, and the publication had queried the claim directly with the author’s representative and had been informed that there was no concern over this statement. There was therefore no failure to take care in breach of Clause 1 (i).
18. Notwithstanding that the publication had taken care, given the nature of the subject matter and the historical context of the claims made, linking the identified ethnic group and a particular form of offending was significantly misleading and, as such, required prompt and prominent correction under the terms of Clause 1 (ii) of the Editors’ Code.
19. The Committee next considered whether the remedial action taken by the newspaper was sufficient to meet the terms of Clause 1 (ii). The Committee noted the complainant’s request for an apology, which Clause 1 (ii) acknowledges may be appropriate in certain cases. While there may be some circumstances in which an apology may be appropriate, the nature of this breach was not one of those occasions: the misleading information related to a general point of fact and did not directly affect the complainant. Therefore, the lack of apology did not raise a breach of Clause 1 (ii).
20. The Committee next turned to the promptness and prominence of the remedial action. Upon receipt of the complaint, and four days after the article’s publication, the publication had offered to amend the online article and to publish a clarification, in print and online. The remedial action was offered promptly and its location, at the foot of the online article and in the print publication’s established print Corrections & Clarifications column, was sufficiently prominent. The clarification made clear what the misleading information was and put the true position on record: this claim related specifically to the high-profile cases of CSE such as Rotherham and Rochdale and did not refer to grooming cases more broadly. There was, therefore, no breach of Clause 1 (ii).
21. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial action required
22. The publication had offered to publish a clarification, which identified the inaccuracy and put the correct position on record. This clarification should now be published.
Date complaint received: 02/04/23
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 23/08/23
Independent Complaints Reviewer
The complainant complained to the Independent Complaints Reviewer about the process followed by IPSO in handling this complaint. The Independent Complaints Reviewer decided that the process was not flawed and did not uphold the request for review.
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