Ruling

Resolution Statement – 00032-24 Hudson v The Mail on Sunday

  • Complaint Summary

    Ian Hudson complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Mail on Sunday breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Police alert as drug gangs use drones to spy on rivals”, published on 31 December 2023.

    • Date complaint received

      28th March 2024

    • Outcome

      Resolved - IPSO mediation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Resolution Statement – 00032-24 Hudson v The Mail on Sunday


Summary of Complaint

1. Ian Hudson complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Mail on Sunday breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Police alert as drug gangs use drones to spy on rivals”, published on 31 December 2023.

2. The article, which appeared on page 35, reported on the use of drones in criminal activity. It stated police had “received 18,290 complaints about drone misuse in last three years", with the criminal use of drones rising by ten per cent in the first ten months of 2023 against the same period in 2022. It also reported in September 2023 a plane “came within 50ft of crashing into a drone just five minutes after taking off from Heathrow”. It also contained a photograph with the caption “Police forces are dealing with a serious and growing number of cases of spy drones being used by criminal gangs and stalkers”.

3. The article also appeared online in substantially the same format under the headline “Drones are being used by drug gangs to spy on rivals and stalkers use them to look at victims, as police reveal they get called more than a dozen times a day about their criminal use”.

4. The complainant said the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. He said that there were not 18,290 police “complaints”, but rather “incident logs”, and these logs did not indicate that a crime had taken place each time. He said, therefore, it was also inaccurate to report that the criminal use of drones had risen by ten per cent – the correct position was that logged incidents had risen by this amount. The complainant provided FOIA evidence to show incident logs recorded legal use of drones. The complainant also said it was not definitively proven that the plane had almost crashed into a drone – the UK Airprox Board had only stated the object “could have been a drone” rather than explicitly confirming that the object was a drone. The complainant also said the use of the term “spy drones” was unwarranted, and he considered the article lacked balance and context.

5. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It considered people reporting concerns about drones to the police could reasonably be described as making a “complaint”. It also stated that the UK Airprox Board had listed the incident with the plane as relating to a “drone”, when it had the option to list the incident as involving a drone, balloon, model or unknown object. The publication also said that the Board made clear that, in its opinion “the reported altitude and/or description of the object were sufficient to indicate that it could have been a drone”. The publication said the article was accurate on this point.

6. The publication did not accept the article’s claim regarding the ten per cent increase in the criminal use of drones represented a significant inaccuracy. However, it offered to publish the following correction in its Corrections and Clarifications column, and as a footnote to the online article, which it said would also be amended:

An article ‘Police alert as drug gangs use drones to spy on rivals’ (Dec 31) said that a recent report had found that the “criminal use” of drones rose ten per cent in the first ten months of last year. In fact, the Civil Aviation Authority said that while there had been a ten per cent rise in the number of recorded incidents, these included “legal, nuisance, criminal or safety” concerns – not solely criminal use.

7. The publication also offered to publish a letter on the topic from the complainant.

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.

Mediated Outcome

8. The complaint was not resolved through direct correspondence between the parties. IPSO therefore began an investigation into the matter.

9. The complainant made some additional suggestions of ways the publication could amend the article.

10. The publication removed the reference to “complaints” and instead reported that “Police logged 18,290 incidents”. It also amended the article to state “incidents related to drones logged by the police rose by ten per cent” rather than referring to criminal use rising by ten per cent; it further removed the term “spy drones” in the caption.

11. The complainant said that this would resolve the matter to his satisfaction.

12. As the complaint was successfully mediated, the Complaints Committee did not make a determination as to whether there had been any breach of the Code.


Date complaint received: 03/01/2024

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 26/02/2024