20685-23 Adams v Telegraph.co.uk

Decision: No breach - after investigation

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 20685-23 Adams v Telegraph.co.uk

Summary of Complaint

1. Mark Adams complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Telegraph.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “‘It’s only a matter of time before a drone brings down a jet’”, published on 1 September 2023.

2. The article – which appeared online only – reported on the risks posed by drones to aviation. It referenced the “infamous episode at Gatwick in 2018, in which sightings of two – or possibly one, or possibly more – drones closed the airport for upwards of 30 hours, causing countless delays and plenty of Christmas heartbreak, at a reported cost of £55 million”. The article then stated that over “the course of the resulting investigation, some 170 sightings were reported, with only 115 being labelled ‘credible’ by police”, and that a “local couple were arrested, then released without charge (and with an apology)”. The article then stated that “the cause of the Gatwick drone remains unknown”. It then quoted an academic, who reportedly said that “Gatwick was a crucial turning point” which “exposed the safety risks, because obviously a drone can interfere with an aircraft that is landing or taking off” and led to a “wave of both research into the effects of drones, and the hasty reinforcement of detection systems”.

3. The complainant was one of a number of individuals who raised concerns about the article; in line with IPSO’s usual procedures, he was selected as IPSO’s lead complainant for the purpose of investigating the complaint.

4. The complainant said the article inaccurately reported, in breach of Clause 1, that “the sightings of two – or possibly one, or possibly more – drones closed” Gatwick airport in 2018, as there was no credible evidence to support this claim and it had subsequently been “debunked”.

5. The publication did not accept a breach of the Editors’ Code. The publication said that the article accurately stated that reported sightings of drones had closed Gatwick airport in 2018. It noted that the alleged involvement of drones was widely reported at the time of the incident and continues to be referred to in such terms by multiple other publications. In order to demonstrate this, the publication provided a number of articles from a range of publications. The publication also noted that a leading academic – quoted within the article – who studied drones and their risks had cited the incident as a “crucial moment” in policymaking for these vehicles.

6. The publication also said that no “official statement” had been released by the government, the police, or the airport itself on the incident in the intervening years – and noted that the complainant had been unable to provide any evidence to support his position that the involvement of drones had since been “debunked”.

7. The publication also did not consider that its readers would have been misled by the article as a whole, which it said made sufficiently clear that drone sightings had been reported, with multiple allegations of sightings; it did not state, as fact, that drones had been involved. For clarity, however, it amended the text of the article on 6 September – five days after the article’s publication – to make clear that the “reported sightings of two – or possibly one, or possibly more – drones closed the airport”; and that the incident was “still unconfirmed by the government”.

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.

Findings of the Committee

8. The Committee recognised that there were conflicting accounts regarding the role drones played in the closure of Gatwick Airport in 2018. However, it noted that the possible sighting of these vehicles had been widely reported at the time, and the publication had provided several examples of articles to demonstrate this, with a quoted academic referring to the incident as a “turning point” regarding the safety risk posed by drones to aviation. Further, while the complainant claimed that the involvement of drones in the incident had since been “debunked”, he had been unable to substantiate this or supply any statement from the police or the airport itself definitively stating that drones had not been involved. The Committee also considered that the article made sufficiently clear that the sightings of drones had not been verified and an element of uncertainty persisted over the episode, stating that “some 170 sightings [were] reported” to the police over the “course of the resulting investigation”, with only “115” labelled “credible” by the police and a local couple “arrested, then released without charge (and with an apology)”. In such circumstances, the Committee did not consider there had been a failure to take care over the accuracy of the reporting of the incident nor identified any significant inaccuracy requiring correction. Nevertheless, the Committee welcomed the amendments made by the publication to further clarify that these sightings were “reported” in response to the concerns raised by the complainant. There was no breach of Clause 1.


9. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

10. N/A

Date complaint received by IPSO: 04/09/2023

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 09/01/2024

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