Ruling

Resolution Statement – 00226-18 Sachania v The Times

    • Date complaint received

      17th May 2018

    • Outcome

      Resolved - IPSO mediation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Resolution Statement – 00226-18 Sachania v The Times

Summary of Complaint 

1.  Sejal Sachania complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Times breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Lawyers chase victims of Grenfell Tower fire”, published on 8 July 2017. 

2.  The article reported that a law firm had suspected “two legal clerks” after they appeared to have been “touting for business” among the survivors of the Grenfell Tower disaster. It reported that these two individuals, named in the article, had put up a poster offering to “kick-start” insurance claims, contact embassies and draft letters for people affected by the disaster. It reported that the poster contained the following disclaimer: “We do not charge for the assistance we provide. However a third party may charge for their services.” The article reported that the poster was placed on walls, alongside pictures and tributes to the dead and missing, close to the tower block. It reported that there were wider concerns about “ambulance chasing” in the aftermath of the disaster. 

3.  The complainant, one of the pair responsible for the poster, said that the article’s claim she was “touting”, was inaccurate. She said that she was in fact offering voluntary work to the victims of the disaster, not on behalf of any individual, firm, company or professional body. She said that nothing in the poster suggested to the contrary. The complainant said that her posters were placed alongside other posters offering voluntary services, having sought permission from the police in the vicinity, who had seen the poster; she said that they were consciously not put next to any missing persons posters, or tributes to the deceased. She said that her employer had told her that she was not allowed to speak to the press, which is why, in accordance with her contractual duty of confidentiality, she did not respond to the newspaper’s enquiries. 

4.  The newspaper said that its journalist saw the posters in a number of locations around Grenfell Tower, in areas where there were high concentrations of other posters, including those from people seeking missing relatives or friends. It said that it was possible that the missing persons posters were placed near the complainant’s poster, after she had had stuck up her posters. It said that the language of the poster, especially the disclaimer’s reference to “third-party costs” and to “kickstarting” claims, gave rise to concerns that those behind the poster might be acting as agents for other service providers. It said that the law firm that employed the complainant at the time, said that it “would never have given authority for the posters or their display and we are taking this matter extremely seriously”. 

5.  The newspaper said that it had tried to contact the complainant via the email address on the poster. It said it had repeatedly tried to speak to the complainant via her telephone number, leaving messages for her. It said it had also called her home phone, which was answered, but when the journalist explained who he was, the call was ended; it said that subsequent calls were screened. It said that it also tried to contact her at her place of work.  It said that had the complainant responded to its requests for comment, it would have been happy to record her position.    

Relevant Code Provisions 

6.  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 

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

8.  During IPSO’s investigation of the complaint, the newspaper said that, as a gesture of goodwill, it would be willing to publish the following clarification of the complainant’s position, both in its corrections and clarifications column in print, and at the top of the online article: 

We reported (News, July 8, 2017) that Sejal Sachania and another paralegal had been suspended by the law firm for which they worked after putting up posters that were interpreted as advertising for business among survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire. Ms Sachania did not respond to requests for comment before publication. She has told us that she was unable to comment at the time due to her duty of confidentiality to her employers. She has now contacted us and we are happy to put on record that in offering to help victims with insurance, immigration and legal problems she was acting in a purely personal, voluntary capacity and not on behalf of any individual, firm, company or professional body. She says she was careful not to place her posters next to sensitive material, such as missing persons posters. She subsequently left the law firm on good terms, and says she believes the posters had been misinterpreted. We are happy to make this clear.

9.    The complainant accepted the newspaper’s offer of resolution, and the Complaints Committee did not make a determination as to whether there had been any breach of the Code. 

Date complaint received: 16/01/2018

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 06/04/2018