28014-20 Findlay v The Scottish Sun

Decision: No breach - after investigation

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 28014-20 Findlay v The Scottish Sun

Summary of Complaint

1. Gillian Findlay complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Scottish Sun breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “RAPE RAP SOCIAL WORKER IS DEAD” published on the 11 September 2020.

2. The article reported that a man, whose name and age was given and a photograph of him included, had been found dead whilst awaiting trial for rape. It reported that his body had been found at the foot of Salisbury Crags in Edinburgh, and that the police were not treating his death as suspicious. It reported comments from two alleged unnamed victims of the man, who expressed their anger that he would now not face trial. It included a comment from Edinburgh Council, who confirmed that the man was a former employee and was being investigated by the council and the police. The article also included a comment from the police who confirmed that a man – whose age was given as the same age as the man named in the article – had been charged with “non-recent sexual offences”.

3. The article also appeared online with the headline “DEATH FURY Man found dead at Scots beauty spot was social worker awaiting trial for ‘rape and sexual abuse of two women’”. It was largely the same as the print version but included more quotes from the unnamed alleged victims. It reported that the police said his death was not suspicious, “However, his alleged victims say his death was a suicide” and that “his accusers claim he killed himself to avoid going to court”. One of these unnamed victims was also quoted as saying “He killed himself and he is still controlling things. I think that the amount of women he had charges against, we couldn’t all be liars”. The online article also included a photograph of police cars and an ambulance at the foot of Salisbury Crags.

4. The complainant was the wife of the accused man who had died. She said that the article contained several inaccuracies, in breach of Clause 1. She said that it was not the case that her husband had taken his own life, as claimed by the alleged victims in the online article. She said that the procurator fiscal had not made a finding as to the narrative or possible motivation for her husband’s death – it had only confirmed the medical cause – multiple injuries due to fall from a height – and it was possible her husband had died accidentally. She said that the inclusion of these quotes was misleading as to what had been officially established.

5. The complainant also said that both the print and the online articles were misleading and unbalanced to report the allegations against her husband without making further investigations into the merits or motivations of the alleged victims’ claims. She said that the reporter should have contacted the family to obtain their denial. The complainant also disputed that the quote attributed to the police was in reference to her husband. She also said that including the quote from one of the alleged victims as saying that “…I think that the amount of women he had charges against, we couldn’t all be liars” was misleading as she considered it inflated the number of alleged victims beyond two, which was her understanding of his charges. The complainant also said that the online article was misleading to include the photograph of the emergency services attending Salisbury Crags, as this gave the impression that her husband was a criminal being transported by the police.

6. The complainant also said that the photograph of the man which was used in the article had been taken without the family’s permission, and was the photograph which had been used during the man’s funeral’s order of service. It said the article was published on the day of the man’s funeral, which had caused the family great distress. It said that these points constituted a breach of Clause 4.

7. The newspaper did not accept that either article breached Clause 1. It said that the online article was not significantly misleading as to the facts of the man’s death. It said that the article was entitled to report the alleged victim’s claims that the man had taken his own life and had clearly distinguished their claims as their own views by presenting their comments in quotation marks. Furthermore, it said that it was not the case that there had been an official finding that the man had not taken his own life – it said that the police had simply said that the death was not suspicious, as was reported in the article. It said that the police generally described deaths by suicide as being “not suspicious” and so it was reasonable to infer from the police statement that the man may have taken his own life. It said that the procurator fiscal only investigated the circumstances of unexplained deaths to establish the cause of death for a death certificate – not the narrative of how a person died.

8. The newspaper said that in relation to both the print and online versions of the articles, it was entitled to report on the allegations against the man which had been made by the alleged victims, and that the articles made clear that the man had not been convicted of any charges. It said that as the man had died, there was no person who could provide a denial on his behalf. It said that it had taken care to contact the police press office after the death, who confirmed that the man had been charged with “non-recent sexual offences”, as reported in the article. It provided a copy of the emails which were exchanged with the police pre-publication. Furthermore, Edinburgh City Council had confirmed that the man had been investigated by the police and suspended by the council at the time of his death. It said that it had been told by a confidential source that the man had been charged with offences involving three women. It also said that there were multiple charges in relation to each of the three offences, and that it had been told by one confidential source that one case contained three charges of rape alone. As such, it said that including the quote from the alleged victim did not misleadingly overstate the number of alleged victims. It also noted that the complainant was unable to dispute exactly how many charges the man faced prior to his death. Furthermore, it said that it was not misleading to include a photograph of the emergency services at Salisbury Crags – it said that they were in attendance because that was where the man’s body had been found, and this was clear from the context of the article.

9. The newspaper did not accept that the article breached Clause 4. It said that Clause 4 recognised the right to report on legal proceedings, which the article did in reporting the charges that the man faced. It said that furthermore, there was a public interest in reporting on the serious charges faced by the man prior to his death. It said that the reporter did not attend the funeral, or approach the man’s family or friends. It said that it was not aware that the article was published on the day of the man’s funeral, but noted that although this made the timing of the article unfortunate, it did not mean it was insensitive as to breach Clause 4. It accepted that the photograph of the man was the same as the one used in the order of service, but said that this was a coincidence, and this was not where the newspaper had found the photograph. It said that it was provided by a press agency, which advised that the photograph had been taken from the man’s open Facebook page, Nevertheless, on receipt of the complaint it removed this photograph from the online article.

Relevant Code Provisions

10. 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.

11. Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock)

In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively. These provisions should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings.

Findings of the Committee

12. The Committee extended its condolences to the complainant for her loss.

13. The Committee first considered the complaint against the online article. It was not for the Committee to make a finding in respect of the man’s death which went beyond the finding made by the procurator fiscal. The question for the Committee was whether the article was significantly misleading in light of the fact that the full circumstances of the man's death had not been officially established. The claim that the man had taken his own life was clearly attributed to the alleged victims and had been distinguished from the official position of the police who had had said that the man’s death was not suspicious. The article had taken care to present the alleged victims’ comments as claims and not as established fact. There was no breach of Clause 1(i) and the article was not significantly misleading on this point so as to require correction under the terms of Clause 1(ii).

14. In relation to the claims made against the man by the alleged victims which appeared in the print and online articles, the newspaper was free to publish the allegations provided that the Code was not breached, for example, by suggesting that a court had made findings in respect of the allegations. It was clear from the article that the man had yet to appear in court in connection with the allegations and that he had not been found guilty of the offences of which he had been accused. Further, the complainant had not demonstrated that the alleged victims’ quotes had been reported inaccurately. The Code does not include a standalone requirement that the subject of an article must be contacted for comment prior to publication although there may be instances in which not doing so constitutes a failure to take care over the accuracy of the information published in an article. In this case the subject of the allegations, who would have been the most appropriate person to contact, had died. In these circumstances, and where it was clear from the article that the man had not been tried in respect of the allegations, the publication of the claims without including a denial did not amount to a failure to take care not to publish inaccurate information.   With regards to the statement from the police which had been included in the article, it was clear from the emails which had been provided by the newspaper during the investigation of the complaint that the statement had been made in relation to the complainant’s husband; there was no failure to take care in reporting the police statement.  One of the alleged victims was quoted as saying that her account was supported by “the amount of women [the man] had charges against”.  It was not significantly misleading to report the alleged victim’s comment, which was clearly distinguished as such, where it was accepted that the man had been charged in relation to offences against more than one person. Finally, publication of the photograph of the police at the location where the man had been found did not suggest that the man was a convicted criminal as the photograph simply illustrated that the emergency services had attended the scene. In respect of each point of complaint, due care had been taken to report the matters accurately and there were no significant inaccuracies which required correction.  There was no breach of Clause 1.

15. It was accepted by the complainant that the man had been charged with criminal offences and that he was due to appear in court. The fact that the man had been charged had been confirmed by the police and his former employers had also named him in relation to the charges. Reporting these matters did not amount to a breach of Clause 4.  The photograph of the man which had been published had been taken from a publicly available social media account and did not show the man engaged in any embarrassing or private activity. Publishing the photograph in these circumstances did not represent a failure to handle publication sensitively. However, the Committee welcomed the newspaper’s offer to remove the photograph where it had caused the complainant distress. It was unfortunate that publication of the article on the same day as the man’s funeral had caused the complainant distress, but there was no evidence to support the complainant’s belief that this had been intentional; the timing of publication of the article did not breach Clause 4.

Conclusions

16. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

17. N/A

 

Date complaint received: 16/09/20

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 20/01/21

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