Decision of the Complaints Committee – 27710-20 Mailey v Sunday Life
Summary of Complaint
1. Richard Mailey complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Sunday Life breached Clause 1 of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “LOCKDOWN DRUGS BUST SHOCKS PRISON BOSSES”, published on 23 August 2020.
2. The article reported that there had been “more than 50 drug seizures during the coronavirus lockdown” at a prison. It said that “Ricky” Mailey, the complainant, was “among the main dealers” at the prison and that “sources” at the prison had told the publication this. It also reported that Mr Mailey was “serving a 30-month prison sentence.” It went on to state that Mr Mailey “had a job as an orderly [in the prison…] allowing him to transport drugs around” and that “his gang included […] a UVF gunman who has fallen foul of the terror gang [and a] drug dealer who survived a UVF revenge murder bid after being accused of trying to shoot a prominent loyalist.”
3. The article also appeared online in substantially the same form, with the headline “Lockdown drugs busts shock Maghaberry Prison bosses”.
4. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. While the article named him as “among the main dealers” at the prison, he said that he had not dealt drugs in prison and in fact had been released from prison in January 2020, prior to the lockdown period. He provided an email from the prison confirming this. He said, therefore, that it was impossible for him to have been “one of the main dealers” in the prison during the lockdown period, as he was not incarcerated during this period, and noted that he was not at the time of the article’s publication “serving a 30-month sentence.”
5. He also said that it was inaccurate to link him to two individuals with links to the UVF and to state that they were part of his “gang”, where he said no such gang existed.
6. The publication said it accepted that the article had been inaccurate in reporting that Mr Mailey had been “among the main dealers” at the prison during the lockdown period and that he was “serving a 30-month sentence” at the time of publication. It said it had relied upon a single confidential source for the information about the complainant included in the article, and that it did not consider it necessary to verify the information given by the source as the publication had previously used the same source and had found them to be reliable and accurate. It did not provide the original information from the source, citing the need to maintain the confidentiality of its sources. However, it offered to print the following clarification to put the correct position on the record:
An article dated 24 August 2020 headlined "Lockdown drugs busts shock Maghaberry Prison bosses" referred to Ricky Mailey. The article referred to Mr Mailey being one of the main drug dealers in the prison during the lockdown period and that two unnamed individuals were part of his 'gang'. Mr Mailey was not in fact in Maghaberry prison during the lockdown period and left prison in January 2020. We are happy to make that clear.
7. The publication also stated that the article had not linked Mr Mailey to the UVF, and said that it had simply reported that he dealt drugs in conjunction with two individuals who were linked to the organisation.
8. The complainant said that only a retraction, apology, and monetary compensation would be sufficient to resolve his complaint.
9. The publication said that it would not pay compensation to resolve the complaint. It did, however, amend the proposed correction to include an apology. The amended correction, which the publication proposed to publish on page 24 or 25 of its print edition – which was where the original article was published - and also online – as a standalone correction, a link to which would appear on the top half of its homepage for a day - to resolve the complaint, was as follows:
An article dated 24 August 2020 headlined "Lockdown drugs busts shock Maghaberry Prison bosses" referred to Ricky Mailey. The article referred to Mr Mailey being one of the main drug dealers in the prison during the lockdown period and that two unnamed individuals were part of his 'gang'. This was incorrect as Mr Mailey was not in fact in Maghaberry prison during the lockdown period and left prison in January 2020. We are happy to retract this and apologise to Mr Mailey for the error.
10. The complainant said that he did not wish to resolve his complaint on this basis, and requested that the matter proceed to the Complaints Committee so that they might make a determination as to whether the Code had been breached.
Relevant Code 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
11. The publication did not dispute the complainant’s position that he was not incarcerated during the lockdown period, and could not have been part of a prison drug-dealing gang which operated during that time. It was therefore not in dispute that the complainant had not “been among the main dealers” in the prison during the lockdown period and had not been a member of a drug-dealing “gang” with two individuals with links to the UVF, and that the article was inaccurate on these points.
12. Although both parties agreed that the article contained inaccuracies, the Committee still needed to consider, in accordance with the terms of Clause 1 (i), what care had been taken prior to publication over the accuracy of the information. The publication had relied on a single unnamed source for the information linking the complainant to drug-dealing in prison during the lockdown, and had not taken any steps to verify this information. While the Committee understood that identifying the source would have potentially breached the terms of Clause 14 (Confidential sources) – as this Clause makes clear that publications have a moral obligation to protect confidential sources of information – it did not consider protection of its source absolved the publication of its requirement to take care over the accuracy of information included in its articles. In this instance, the publication had not taken any steps whatsoever to verify the information given by the source – for instance, by contacting the prison, the complainant or his representative for comment – and had consequently published uncorroborated and inaccurate information. This amounted to a serious failure on the part of the publication under the terms of Clause 1 (i) and resulted in a significant breach of the Code. The breach related to a serious allegation that the complainant had engaged in criminal behaviour while incarcerated and was demonstrably inaccurate. For these reasons, the Committee considered that the inaccuracy was significant and raised a possible breach of Clause 1 (ii).
13. The publication had, upon receiving confirmation from the complainant that he was not in prison during the lockdown period, offered to print a correction, and had amended the proposed correction upon being made aware of the complainant’s further concerns. The publication proposed to print the correction on page 24 or 25 of its print version, which was the location of the original story, and online. The proposed correction identified all disputed points of accuracy, put the correct position on record, and apologised to the complainant. It was offered promptly and the Committee considered that the proposed position of the correction to be duly prominent, where the publication offered to publish the correction in the location of the original story in print, and had offered to publish a separate online correction. For these reasons, there was no further breach of Clause 1 (ii).
14. The complaint was partly upheld under Clause 1 (i).
Remedial Action Required
15. The correction which was offered put the correct position on record, and was offered promptly and with due prominence, and should now be published.
16. The Committee noted that it the Complaints Committee cannot compel publications to pay money to complainants should it find that the Code had been breached, and that it would not require nor request that a publication do so.
Date complaint received: 26/08/2021
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 02/06/2021Back to ruling listing