Ruling

00016-24 Janner v The Times

  • Complaint Summary

    Daniel Janner KC complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Times breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Anonymity law for sex crime suspects must be repealed”, published on 29 December 2023.

    • Date complaint received

      8th May 2024

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 4 Intrusion into grief or shock

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 00016-24 Janner v The Times


Summary of Complaint

1. Daniel Janner KC complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Times breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Anonymity law for sex crime suspects must be repealed”, published on 29 December 2023.

2. The article was comment piece which appeared on page 24 of the newspaper, under the “Thunderer” heading. The article gave the writer’s view on new legislation in Northern Ireland, which would give anonymity to alleged sex offenders. It opened with: “Jimmy Savile was a serial sex offender who preyed on young women and girls for his depraved personal pleasure” and went on to say “[b]ut to publish the identity of someone who has been reported to police over such appalling acts now constitutes an offence in one part of the United Kingdom”.

3. The article then detailed the legislation in question: “In September an extraordinary law came into force in Northern Ireland that gives suspected sex offenders who have never been charged with any offence anonymity for life. Then this law goes even further — extending that ban on naming suspected sex offenders until 25 years after their death”. The article then set out numerous criticisms of this law. As part of this, it said: “A public inquiry would not be able to investigate and report in the way that the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse examined the claims against MPs such as [a named individual], Greville Janner and [a named individual], as well as many other unconvicted sex offenders”.

4. The article also appeared online, under the headline “Absurd anonymity law for sex crime suspects must be repealed".

5. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 because it reported that his late father, Lord Greville Janner, was a sex offender. He said that Lord Janner was not a sex offender, was never found guilty of being a sex offender, and that all civil proceedings brought against him were withdrawn or collapsed; he therefore stated that the article had ignored the presumption of innocence.

6. The complainant also said the article breached Clause 4 for the same reasons – and because its publication had caused his family considerable pain and distress.

7. On 31 December 2023, the complainant complained to IPSO, and directly to the publication. While the publication did not accept a breach of the Code, upon receipt of the direct complaint, as a gesture of goodwill, the publication amended the online article to read: “A public inquiry would not be able to investigate and report in the way that the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse examined the claims against MPs such as [a named individual], Greville Janner and [a named individual]”, removing the reference to the complainant’s father being an “unconvicted sex offender”. This amendment was made on 4 January.

8. It also published a correction in print and online, in its designated Corrections and Clarifications column. The print version was published on 5 January, on page 26, and read:

“We referred to claims made against the late Greville Janner "and other unconvicted sex offenders" (Comment, Dec 29). While Lord Janner was charged with 22 offences relating to nine complainants, he died before the offences could be tried. We are happy to make this clear”

9. The online version was published on 4 January, and read:

“We referred to claims made against the late Greville Janner “and other unconvicted sex offenders” (comment, Dec 29). While Lord Janner of Braunstone was charged with 22 offences relating to nine complainants, he died before the offences could be tried. We are happy to make this clear.”

10. The complainant said that the correction had failed to amend the alleged inaccuracy and had made the matter “worse”; it had “underline[d] the wrongful reference by referring to the number of charges” against his late father.

11. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. Turning first to the alleged breach of Clause 1, it said the article under complaint was a “Thunderer” column, a brief often polemical expression of strong personal opinion by an individual author. It said that the wording of such columns were “forthright, emphatic and concise”. The publication said that the article was providing the author’s view on the proposed legislation, which he considered to be a “grave mistake” as it would prevent the investigation of allegations of sexual assault.

12. In this context, the publication said that the article referenced a number of high-profile cases in which allegations of sexual abuse made over many years, against public figures, could not have been reported were laws such as the new Northern Irish law in place at the time. Such cases included the cases against – Lord Janner who, it said, had been charged with 22 offences at the time of his death and had passed away before he could be tried. This was the point of the article, it said; that accusations like those against Lord Janner would not be properly investigated or reported under the proposed legislation. It also added that the article did not say Lord Janner was convicted or tried for sexual offences – and that it would take a “considerable leap for a reasonable reader” to make this assumption from the context of the article.

13. The publication did not accept that Clause 4 was engaged by the complainant’s concerns. It noted that Lord Janner died in 2015, and that the claims against him had been widely reported in his later years and following his passing. It added that the claims had been subject to official inquiries, which was a matter of public record in of themselves. It argued, therefore, that reporting these claims was a legitimate subject for public comment and debate.

14. In response, the complainant maintained that the article had breached Clause 1. He said that the fact the article was short, and a comment piece, was irrelevant, and that the article should have prefaced the sentence with the word “alleged”; being charged with an offence does not, he said, equate to being convicted.

15. Further, the complainant added that all civil proceedings in the High Court had collapsed due to the cases being withdrawn, and that his late father was “falsely accused” by several individuals, all of whom he said had “serious criminal records”.

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 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

16. The Committee understood that the article had caused a great deal of distress to the complainant and his family, but wished to be clear from the outset that its role was to consider whether the publication had breached the Editors’ Code. It would not, and could not, rule on the truth of the allegations against the complainant’s father; rather, its role was to decide whether the article had included inaccurate, misleading, or distorted information, and whether publication had been handled sensitively.

17. In making its decision, the Committee was mindful of the context of the article: It was a comment piece, which reported the author’s personal view on legislation introduced in Northern Ireland. This was made clear from the outset of the article – the headline stated: “Anonymity law for sex crime suspects must be repealed”, and the article opened by discussing claims made against Jimmy Saville. In this context, the Committee noted the publication’s argument that, where it referenced Lord Janner, the article was reporting the author’s personal view on difficulties that he considered would be had in investigating individuals subject to allegations of sexual offences, as Lord Janner was.

18. The fact that an alleged inaccuracy appears in a comment piece does not absolve a publication of its obligations under Clause 1, however. The Committee recognised that, at the time of this death, Lord Janner had faced allegations that he had committed a number of sexual offences against several complainants. It also recognised that claims against Lord Janner had been investigated by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. Nevertheless, it was not in dispute that Lord Janner had not, ultimately, ever been found to have committed the sex offences for which he was charged. In the Committee’s view, the statement under complaint – “Greville Janner […] as well as many other unconvicted sex offenders” – could be interpreted to mean that it was an accepted fact that Lord Janner was a sex offender. Where Lord Janner had not been convicted for such an offence, and there was no official finding either by an inquiry, a criminal court, or a civil court that he had committed such an offence, the Committee considered that the publication did not have a sufficient basis for referring to him in this manner. This therefore constituted inaccurate and misleading information, and the publication had failed to take due care over the accuracy of the article on this point. There was a breach of Clause 1(i).

19. The Committee next considered whether the inaccuracy was so significant as to warrant correction under the terms of Clause 1 (ii). The Committee had regard for the inherently serious nature of an allegation that an individual is, or was, a “sex offender”. The article was therefore significantly inaccurate in a manner that required correction in accordance with Clause 1(ii).

20. The publication had published a correction. In print, this had appeared in its designated Corrections and Clarifications column, seven days after the original article’s publication. The online version of the article had been amended to remove the disputed reference, and a standalone correction had appeared in the publication’s online Corrections and Clarifications column, six days after publication. The Committee was satisfied that the correction was therefore published promptly, and with due prominence.

21. The Committee then considered the wording of the correction itself. The correction identified the inaccurate information – “We referred to claims made against the late Greville Janner "and other unconvicted sex offenders" (Comment, Dec 29)”. The Committee was also satisfied that the correction put the correct position on record: it made clear that, although charged with sex offences, Lord Janner had passed away before he could be tried – the clear implication being that he was not, therefore, ever convicted of these offences or had been found to have committed them. The Committee appreciated that the complainant was displeased with this correction. Nevertheless, the Committee was satisfied that the publication had fulfilled its obligation to correct significantly inaccurate, misleading or distorted information. There was no breach of Clause 1(ii).

22. The Committee then turned to the Clause 4. Clause 4 is explicit in its requirement that, during times of personal grief or shock, publication should be handled sensitively. However, this should not be interpreted to mean that it is unacceptable to publish criticism of deceased individuals, or coverage which paints them in a negative light.

23. The Committee had regard for the upset the article had caused the complainant and his family. However, the Committee recognised that the article was not a report of Lord Janner’s death, or the circumstances of his death. Rather, in passing, it referenced allegations, albeit in a misleading manner, against the complainant’s father which were a matter of public record; they had been widely reported, and had been the subject of legal proceedings in the past. The Committee further noted that the terms of Clause 4 recognise the importance of being able to report on legal proceedings, provided this is not done in an insensitive manner.

24. The Committee recognised that there was a balance to be struck between the publication’s right to reference coverage which the complainant may find upsetting and to report on a matter of importance and relevance to the public, and the complainant’s right not to have his grief unnecessarily intruded upon. The balance is recognised in the wording of Clause 4, which does not prohibit the reporting of matters relating to grief or shock, but requires that such reporting is handled sensitively. In this case, the Committee did not consider the passing reference to the complainant’s father constituted insensitive reporting in breach of Clause 4: Although the inaccuracy was unfortunate, it was a brief factual reference to serious allegations, and did not make light of the circumstances of his death or the grief felt by his family at his death. For these reasons, there was no breach of Clause 4.

Conclusions

25. The complaint was partly upheld under Clause 1(i).

Remedial action required

26. The published correction put the correct position on record and was offered promptly and with due prominence. No further action was required.


Date complaint received: 07/02/2024

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 02/05/2024