Decision of the Complaints Committee – 18586-23 Longthorpe v Daily Mail
Summary of Complaint
1. Sian Longthorpe complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Daily Mail breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 3 (Harassment) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Parkrun record held by trans athlete jailed for attempted murder… as another trans woman scoops a separate title”, published on 25 May 2023.
2. The article reported that a “Parkrun women’s record” was “still held by a transgender champion fell runner who was jailed for attempting to murder a UK Athletics official”. It also included details about the conviction, and reported on concerns raised by a former Olympian that it was an “example of the erasure of female achievement in Parkrun” – the “popular community 5km races held across the country”.
3. It also reported that the complainant – who was, according to the article, aged 43 – had “completed the Porthcawl Parkrun in a record 18 minutes and 53 seconds on Saturday” and was “living as a married man until four years ago”. The article reported that the complainant “came out as transgender in 2019”; was “now one of the UK’s most high-profile trans runners”; and was an “ambassador” for a high-profile sportwear brand. It also reported that, in an interview for “Women’s Running magazine in 2021”, the complainant said, “she buried her ‘true feelings’ about her gender identity by marrying and having children – but when the relationship ended she was forced to confront them”, adding: “I’ve now been Sian for about 18 months and it’s been amazing. It’s not without its difficulties, but generally it’s been just so much better than I feared”.
4. The article also included further comments made by the former Olympian athlete on social media, which reportedly “allud[ed]” to the complainant’s Parkrun: “a female group course record had been ‘smashed to smithereens by a trans-identifying male’, adding the title may now be ‘out of female hands forever’”.
5. The article was accompanied by a photograph of the individual convicted of attempted murder, alongside two photographs of the complainant, titled “AS A MAN…AND A WOMAN”, and showed her prior to and following transition. The photographs were captioned: “Porthcawl record: Sian Longthorpe was living as a married man until 2019”.
6. The complainant said the article was inaccurate and misleading, in breach of Clause 1. She denied that she had “smashed to smithereens” the women’s record at the Parkrun. Her “record 18 minutes and 53 seconds” was in the female age category 45 to 49 years rather than for all females – the record for all females was 16:40; 2 minutes less than her best time. She also disputed that the “Parkrun” could be classified as a “race” and said that the article misreported her age: she was 45 not 43.
7. She also said that the inclusion and positioning of her photographs beneath the headline inaccurately and misleadingly suggested that she was the “trans athlete jailed for attempted murder”. She also said that the prominence afforded to the photographs of her was misleading, as the vast majority of the article related to this individual.
8. In addition, the complainant said that the inclusion of comments she had previously provided to another publication misleadingly suggested that she had spoken with the newspaper. She expressed concern that she had not been approached for comment by the newspaper prior to the article’s publication.
9. The complainant also said that the article intruded into her privacy in breach of Clause 2. She said that the article had identified her as a transwoman, as well as the area where she lived. She also said that the newspaper had published photographs of her without her consent or permission.
10. The complainant said that the publication of the article constituted harassment in breach of Clause 3. She also said that the article was prejudicial to her gender identity as a transgender woman, in breach of Clause 12.
11. The publication did not accept a breach of the Editors’ Code. It said that it was not in dispute that the complainant had completed a parkrun in a record time, and denied that the article reported that the complainant had set the overall women's record, or any specific record or title for this run; instead, the article had referred to a “record time” and a “separate title” to the “Parkrun record” held by the other transgender woman. While it did not accept a breach of the Code, in the publication’s first response during IPSO’s investigation it offered as a gesture of goodwill, to publish the following wording in its regular Corrections and Clarification column:
“An article on 25 May about transgender runners said that Sian Longthorpe had recently completed the Porthcawl parkrun in a record time – to clarify, she set a new record for her age category, rather than any overall women’s course record.”
12. The publication also denied that it was misleading to describe the Parkrun as a “race”: the events were timed and placed; course records are kept and published; and some participants competed against others.
13. While the publication accepted that it had, due to human error, incorrectly reported the complainant’s age, it did not consider that this amounted to a significant inaccuracy. Though the publication did not expand on this reasoning.
14. In addition, the publication did not accept that any reasonable reader would be misled into identifying the complainant as the individual convicted of attempted murder. It noted that the headline clearly referred to two separate women, adding that this was reinforced by the photographs of two different individuals, which were clearly captioned with different names and descriptions. Nor did it consider that the prominence of the published photographs engaged the terms of the Code.
15. The publication also said that the complainant’s comments to a separate publication in 2021 included within the article were clearly attributed and presented as such; there was no suggestion that these quotes were obtained via an interview with the publication itself. Nor did the publication accept that it was necessary to contact the complainant for comment prior to publication or that not doing so had led to the publication of significantly inaccurate information.
16. With regard to Clause 2, the publication did not accept that the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy over the fact of her transition, or her appearance pre-transition: the complainant was a trans ambassador for a high-profile sportwear brand; she frequently posted about her transition – including with similar “before and after” images – on her open social media profile; and the image of the complainant pre-transition used was already in the public domain – it had been published in an interview the complainant had given to another publication. It also denied that the article reported or identified where the complainant lived.
17. The publication did not accept a breach of Clause 3 or Clause 12, and said that the article did not contain any prejudicial or pejorative references to the complainant’s gender identity.
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.
Clause 2 (Privacy)*
i) Everyone is entitled to respect for their private and family life, home, physical and mental health, and correspondence, including digital communications.
ii) Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual's private life without consent. In considering an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy, account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information and the extent to which the material complained about is already in the public domain or will become so.
iii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals, without their consent, in public or private places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.
Clause 3 (Harassment)*
i) Journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit.
ii) They must not persist in questioning, telephoning, pursuing or photographing individuals once asked to desist; nor remain on property when asked to leave and must not follow them. If requested, they must identify themselves and whom they represent.
iii) Editors must ensure these principles are observed by those working for them and take care not to use non-compliant material from other sources.
Clause 12 (Discrimination)
i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's, race, colour, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.
ii) Details of an individual's race, colour, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.
Findings of the Committee
18. The Committee first considered whether the article had misreported or misrepresented the complainant’s Parkrun record. The Committee noted that, while the complainant disputed that any record had been “smashed to smithereens”, this was clearly presented as the characterisation of an Olympic athlete, who had posted this statement on social media. Further, the article did not report that the complainant held the overall woman’s Parkrun record. Instead, the headline stated that the complainant had “scoop[ed] a separate title” and went onto report that she had “completed the Porthcawl Parkrun in a record 18 minutes and 53 seconds”. In these circumstances, and where the complainant accepted that she had set a new record for her age category, the Committee did not consider that the report of the complainant’s “record” was inaccurate or misleading. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point. Nonetheless, the Committee welcomed the publication’s offer to publish a clarification to address this.
19. While the Committee recognised that Parkrun events are not formally considered races, it did not consider the article was significantly inaccurate or misleading to describe the events as such where distances are measured and individual times for those involved are recorded. Further, the Committee did not consider that misreporting the complainant’s age represented a significant inaccuracy; this did not materially affect the accuracy of the article, which was about the Parkrun event and the complainant’s time, and where the difference between the complainant’s actual age and reported age was small. There was no breach of Clause 1 on these points.
20. The Committee was clear that the selection and sourcing of material is a matter of editorial discretion, as long as the material does not otherwise breach the Editors’ Code. While the complainant was concerned that the article referred to her and someone who had been convicted of a serious crime, the article did not suggest in any way that the complainant was the individual convicted for attempted murder – the text of the article and captions of the published photographs clearly identified two separate individuals and the respective parkrun “record[s]” each of them held. Further, where the text of the article made clear that the complainant had completed the Porthcawl parkrun in a record time and this had prompted discussion about whether trans athletes should be allowed to compete in their self-assigned gender, the article’s focus on her – and the prominence afforded to her photographs – did not render the article inaccurate or misleading. There was no breach of Clause 1 on these points.
21. The article did not report or suggest that the complainant had provided comment to the publication. Instead, the publication accurately reported the remarks she had made to a separate publication a number of years prior, and which were clearly distinguished as such. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
22. A failure to seek comment, in certain circumstances, may represent a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article. However, in this instance, and taking into consideration the factors outlined above, and where no significant inaccuracies were found, the Committee concluded that not contacting the complainant for comment prior to the publication of the article did not amount to a breach of Clause 1.
23. The Committee next considered the complainant’s concerns under Clause 2. The Committee noted that the complainant was a brand ambassador for a high-profile sportswear brand and had previously discussed her gender identity and transition with another publication. It also noted that she had posted images showing herself pre- and post-transition on her open and publicly accessible social media page. In addition, the photographs included in the article were already in the public domain – as they had appeared in another publication before the article under complaint was published. The Committee also noted that the article reported only the county in which the complainant lived and did not include sufficient information to identify her home address. In these circumstances, the Committee did not consider that the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy over the information included in the article, and its publication did not represent an intrusion into her private life. There was no breach of Clause 2.
24. The Committee then considered the complainant’s concerns under Clause 12. The article identified the complainant as a “trans woman” and reported details of her pre-transition life. This was a clear reference to her gender identity and therefore Clause 12 was engaged.
25. The Committee then considered whether the references to her gender identity were prejudicial or pejorative. The Committee did not consider that any pejorative or prejudicial language was used; it was a factual description of the complainant’s gender. There was therefore no breach of Clause 12(i).
26. The Committee next considered whether the references to the complainant’s gender identity were genuinely relevant to the story, as required by the terms of Clause 12 (ii). The article reported on the complainant’s participation and achievement in the Porthcawl Parkrun and the subsequent reaction. The Committee noted that the participation of transgender women in the female category of sports events was a subject of live public debate. In the view of the committee, these details of her gender identity provided relevant context to the criticism of the practice that transwomen’s results are counted in the results for women athletes. The Committee therefore found that the details relating to the complainant’s gender identity were genuinely relevant to the story, and there was no breach of Clause 12(ii).
27. The complainant said that the publication of the article constituted harassment. Clause 3 generally relates to approaches made by journalists during the newsgathering process, and not the decision to publish a single article; this was not sufficient to establish a pattern of behaviour on the part of the publication which could be said to be intrusive, intimidating, or harassing. There was no breach of Clause 3.
28. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial action required
Date complaint received: 25/05/2023
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 19/10/2023
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