Ruling

00722-17 Goring v Press & Journal

    • Date complaint received

      6th July 2017

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 00722-17 Goring v Press & Journal

Summary of Complaint

1. Mareece Goring complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Press and Journal breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Man who said he hugged his lover convicted of assault”, published in print on 17 January 2017, “Man claimed he hugged his married lover … Now he’s been found guilty of assault”, published online on 17 January 2017.

2. The article reported that a man had been found guilty of assaulting the complainant following an incident where he claimed to have hugged her. It said that the complainant, who it described as the man’s “secret lover”, was found guilty of seizing her at her marital home after a “boozy all-night party”. It said that the complainant’s husband was not at home at the time of the incident, and that the “affair” continued after the row, and the incident was only reported to police after the pair had broken up.

3. The article reported the man’s evidence in court that he had given the complainant a hug because she was upset. It also reported the evidence of the complainant, who said in court: “We had all been drinking and Karl became upset. I held him and spoke with him in a soft, gentle voice. I then told him that one of his friends had acted inappropriately with me, being touchy-feely, trying to get me on my own and threatening to come around to my house. I told Karl this and he started screaming at me and told me not to be stupid. I got a fright and was really scared. I tried to leave the room and he locked both his arms tightly around me from behind. I didn’t think it was a hug”. It also reported that, under cross-examination, she said: “I have been married for seven years and my husband was not aware of the relationship. But we were talking about separating. I had sex with Karl after the break-up. My husband found out and we separated. I am no longer separated.”

4. The complainant said that she did not say much of what she was quoted as saying in the article. She said that she was asked in court whether she had sex with the man after the break-up, and answered yes; she said that she did not say “I had sex with Karl after the break-up”. She denied saying that “we had all been drinking and Karl became upset”, and using the term “unwanted contact”; she had only answered “yes” or “no” to questions on these topics, so there was nothing to quote. She said that the quote “I didn’t think it was a hug” was an altered version of what she did in fact say, which was something along the lines of “It definitely was not a hug. There was definitely nothing affectionate about it, it was aggressive and controlling”.

5. The complainant said that it was inaccurate for the article to suggest that she had an affair with the man. She said that she was separated from her husband at the time she was in a relationship with the other man, and while she did say in court that they were talking about a separation, she had been referring to a formal separation; she said that she had not been “cheating” on her husband. She said that when she was asked about her marital status, she replied “married”, and when she was asked for how long, she said “seven years”. She said that she was then asked whether her husband was aware of the entire duration of the relationship, and had answered “no”; she did not say “my husband was not aware of the relationship”.

6. The complainant also said that the article was written to suggest that she was the guilty party. She said that the article omitted any reference to the evidence of another witness at the trial, who supported her position, and to evidence she had given about the man’s conduct and that of his friends. She also pointed out that the article on page three was published alongside a large photograph of her, with no photograph appearing on this page of the man who was convicted.

7. The newspaper accepted that best practice was not followed in reporting the question and answer sequence as though the complainant had been quoted directly. It said that its reporter had not followed the correct procedures, but said that this was human error, rather than the wilful making-up of quotes. However, it said that had the sequence been put into reported speech without quotes, it considered that would have been an accurate summary of the exchanges between the complainant and the defence representative, and that overall, the way the matter had been reported did not give a distorted view of the evidence the complainant had given.

8.  The newspaper also accepted that the complainant had said that it definitely was not a hug, not that she “didn’t think” it was a hug as reported; however, it did not consider that this represented a significant inaccuracy. It said that the complainant had told the court that she was married, and explained that she and her husband were talking about a separation. It said that it was not unreasonable to conclude from this answer that she and her husband were still together at the time of she was in a relationship with the man. Nonetheless, the newspaper suggested the wording for a number of corrections, including the correction below, and offered to publish it on page two of the newspaper, and as a footnote to the online article:

We have been asked to clarify our reporting of a case at Inverness sheriff court on January 16 in which Karl Pattinson was found guilty of assaulting Mareece Goring. We have been asked by Mrs Goring to clarify that although she was legally married at the time, she and her husband had agreed to a separation before her relationship with Pattinson, so it was incorrect to imply that it was an affair. We are happy to clarify this. Furthermore, in our reporting of cross-examination of Mrs Goring, we mistakenly used words attributed to Mrs Goring in quotes which were, in fact, put to her by defence counsel in the form of questions about her marital status and relationship with Pattinson. In court, Mrs Goring had simply replied in the affirmative or otherwise in answer to those questions. We apologise for any upset caused to Mrs Goring.

Relevant Code Provisions

9. 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

10. The complainant had provided a number of “yes” and “no” answers to the questions asked of her in court. While the newspaper would have been entitled to note her agreement or disagreement with the questions asked, it had instead paraphrased them, and presented them as direct quotations from the complainant. The accurate reporting of evidence given in court is fundamental to the principle of open justice. The presentation of the questions the complainant had been asked in court, to which she had responded with “yes” and “no” answers, as direct quotations attributed to her represented a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article in breach of Clause 1(i). This had given a significantly misleading impression of the manner in which the complainant had given her evidence to the court, and a correction was required to avoid a breach of Clause 1(ii).

11. The newspaper did not dispute the complainant’s assertion that she was separated from her husband at the time she was in a relationship with the other man. However, the complainant gave evidence that she and her husband were “thinking about separating” at the time she was in relationship with the man, which gave the impression that she and her husband were still together at that time. As a result, there was no failure to take care over the accuracy of the article in breach of Clause 1(i). The Committee noted the complainant’s position that she and her husband were not “formally separated” at the time of her relationship with the other man, it was not significantly misleading of the article to characterise her relationship with the man as “an affair” in circumstances where she was still married. There was no breach of Clause 1(ii).

12. The Committee noted the complainant’s position that the tone of the article, the prominent photograph of her, and the failure to report corroborating evidence from another witness, all suggested that she was the guilty party. However, it considered that the article made clear that the man was found guilty of assault, and that his case had not been believed. There was no misleading impression in breach of Clause 1.

13. The newspaper accepted that the complainant had rejected the suggestion in her evidence that the man had hugged her. However, in the context of an article that made clear that the man had been convicted of assault, and where the quotation attributed to her did contain a denial that the physical contact constituted a hug, this did not represent a significant inaccuracy. There was no breach of Clause 1.

14. The newspaper had offered to publish a correction, both in print and online, which clarified that it had incorrectly attributed words to her in quotations that were in fact put to her as questions. This correction was offered promptly by the newspaper, and addressed the inaccuracy found in the article. The Committee also considered that the correction, which was to be printed on page 2 of the newspaper, had been offered in a sufficiently prominent position in circumstances where the inaccuracy upheld was predominantly published in the article that appeared on page 3, rather than the article published on the front page. Further, the offer to publish the correction as a footnote to the online article was also sufficiently prominent. In the Committee’s view, the correction was sufficient to meet the requirements of Clause 1(ii), and should now be published. There was no further breach of the Code on this point.

Conclusions

The complaint was upheld.

Remedial Action Required

16. Having upheld the complaint, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required.

17. The newspaper had promptly offered to publish corrections in print and online, with due prominence, which corrected the inaccuracy. This should now be published.

Date complaint received: 30/01/2017

Date decision issued: 16/05/2017