Ruling

01193-22 A woman v metro.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      15th December 2022

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 01193-22 A woman v metro.co.uk

Summary of Complaint

1. A woman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that metro.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article originally published in February 2021, and amended in December 2021.

2. The complaint only concerned the changes made to the article in December, following correspondence sent to the publication by the man referred to in the article.

3. The amended article reported on a hearing in legal proceedings between the man and his former partner, the complainant, in which the man applied to have their marriage nullified on the grounds it had not been consummated. It stated that he had been “accused of suggesting his wife should get her hymen tested”; that he “denied claims in court he had suggested his wife should undergo a hymen examination” and that “the court heard […] claims that [the man] even suggested she undergo a hymen examination to prove she still was [a virgin]. These claims are denied by [the man]”. The article stated that the “court made no finding of fact in relation to the accusation”. The article also contained a footnote which stated that: “Since publication of the article, legal representatives of [the man] say it was not claimed in court that he wanted his wife to have a hymen examination and that the court made no finding of fact with regard to that allegation. We are happy to make that clear.”

4. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. She said that, in fact, her former partner had requested that the court order her to undergo a hymen examination.  Accordingly, she said it was inaccurate for the article to state that it was not claimed in court that he wanted his wife to have such an examination. She supplied a skeleton argument from the court case in which her barrister had submitted that “The Petitioner [the man] sought a hymen examination of the Respondent [the complainant] during proceedings to apparently confirm that she is still a virgin”. The complainant also provided a transcript of a previous hearing which indicated that the man may have invited the complainant to agree to a medical examination.

5. The complainant also said it was inaccurate to report that the man had “denied claims in court” that he had suggested the complainant undergo a hymen examination.  She said that the man had made no such denial during the proceedings and that a denial had been issued by the man only after the conclusion of the proceedings and in correspondence sent to the publication after the article had first been published. The complainant also said that the judge had not been required to make a finding of fact as to whether the man had suggested the complainant undergo such an examination, because the judge was considering whether the nullity petition was appropriate and, in any event, a finding was unnecessary as it was accepted that such a request had been made. In these circumstances, the complainant said it was misleading to report that “no finding of fact” had been made. The complainant also said it was misleading to report that the man had only been “accused” of suggesting she undergo the examination given that he had, in fact, made such a request. In addition, the complainant said that the publication had not taken care not to publish inaccurate or misleading information because it had failed to contact her or her representatives to verify the accuracy of the amendments made to the article.

6. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code; however, as a gesture of goodwill, it deleted the article from its website. It said the changes to the article were brought about following a complaint received from the man named in the article, who provided the publication with a transcript of the hearing which was the subject of the article. The publication said that the article accurately reflected what was claimed in court.

7. The publication relied upon the transcript of the hearing, which recorded the complainant’s barrister saying that the man was “even attempting to pursue what appeared to be an application of suggestion that [the complainant] should undergo a hymen examination during the course of the proceedings to confirm that she is in fact a virgin”. The publication argued that what had been said in court by the complainant’s barrister had extemporarily changed from the submission which had been made in her skeleton argument, so that it was softened from being a submission that a request had been made by the man that she undergo an examination to a submission that a suggestion had been made by him. It said, therefore, that it was accurate to report that the man was “accused of suggesting his wife should get her hymen tested” as this was what had been heard in court, as reported in the article. The publication emphasised that the article was reporting on a specific hearing in the proceedings, and what had been heard at that hearing, and therefore it was unnecessary to report on what may have been said at any previous hearings in the proceedings.

8. The publication also said it was not inaccurate to report that the man had “denied claims in court he had suggested his wife should undergo a hymen examination to prove she was still a virgin”. It said that the complainant had misread this part of the article, and it was not meant to be read that he had denied the claims whilst in court, but rather that he had denied the claims which had been made in court. The publication said that it was entitled to include the man’s denial in the article, and this did not amount to a breach of the Code.

9. The publication said it was accurate to report that “no finding of fact” had been made in relation to the claim that the man had suggested the complainant should undergo a hymen examination, and that the transcript of the hearing demonstrated this. It also said that the article took no position on the veracity of the claim and was simply a report of what had happened at the hearing. The publication said that the transcript made clear that the man had been accused of suggesting that the complainant undergo an examination, and therefore it was not inaccurate to report that he had been “accused” of making this suggestion. The publication said that as the amendments to the article were made by the newspaper with the benefit of sight of the full hearing transcript, there was no obligation under Clause 1 to contact the complainant for comment before making these changes.

10. The complainant maintained that the article remained inaccurate. She said that her barrister’s skeleton argument clearly reflected her position and that the phrase used by her barrister in court – “application of suggestion” – was a “slip of the tongue”. The complainant also said that the publication’s position itself was contradictory and if the article was a contemporaneous report of the hearing, it was misleading for a retrospective denial to be published as part of the article.

Relevant Code 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.

Findings of the Committee

11. The Committee noted that the complaint was unusual in that it related to actions taken by a publication in response to a separate complaint by a third party. The amended version of the article reported that the complainant’s former partner was accused of suggesting that the complainant should have a hymen examination; the footnote which was added post publication stated that “legal representatives of [the man] say it was not claimed in court that he wanted his wife to have a hymen examination and that the court made no finding of fact with regard to that allegation”. The complainant considered that this was contradictory and that her barrister’s skeleton argument constituted an unequivocal claim that the man had requested she undergo an examination and not that he had suggested she might do so.

12. The article was a report of a hearing before a High Court Judge in proceedings between the complainant and her former partner, the man named in the article.  In court reports, newspapers are responsible for accurately reporting what is heard in court, and the transcript of a previous hearing and the skeleton argument of the complainant’s barrister were, therefore of limited assistance. The Committee considered the transcript of the hearing which recorded that the complainant’s barrister had said that the man was “even attempting to pursue what appeared to be an application of suggestion that [the complainant] should undergo a hymen examination during the course of the proceedings to confirm that she is in fact a virgin”.  The transcript of the hearing did not record that the man had made a request that the court order the complainant to undergo such an examination. On this basis, the Committee found that it was not inaccurate for the newspaper to characterise this submission as the man having been “accused of suggesting his wife should get her hymen tested”; that claims had been made in court that “he had suggested his wife should undergo a hymen examination” or that “the court heard […] claims that [the man] even suggested she undergo a hymen examination to prove she still was [a virgin]”. There was no breach of Clause 1 on these points.

13. The Committee next considered the footnote which had been added to the article which read: “legal representatives of [the man] say it was not claimed in court that he wanted his wife to have a hymen examination and the court made no finding of fact with regard to that allegation”. It was clear that the footnote set out the man’s position, rather than being a definitive statement on the issue, and given the ambiguity surrounding the meaning of the complainant’s barrister’s submission in court, the Committee did not consider that the inclusion of the footnote rendered the article inaccurate or misleading in breach of Clause 1.

14. The complainant had also said that it was inaccurate to include the man’s denials in the article and, in particular, that the article gave the misleading impression that the man had denied the claim during the court proceedings themselves. It was not in dispute that the man had, after the publication of the article, denied that he had wanted the complainant to have the examination and it was not inaccurate to include the man’s denial in the article. Whether the denial had been issued during the court proceedings, or subsequently, was not significant. There was no breach of Clause 1 on either of these points.

15. The article had stated that there was “no finding of fact” made by the court as to whether claims had been made in court that the man had suggested the complainant should undergo a hymen examination. Whilst the Committee acknowledged the complainant’s position that such a finding fell outside of the remit of the hearing, it was nevertheless neither inaccurate nor misleading to report that no finding of fact had been made in relation to the accusation; the statement indicated that no judicial determination in respect of the issue had been made, which was not in dispute. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

16. The complainant also said it was inaccurate to report that the man had been “accused” of “suggesting” his wife should get her hymen tested. The Committee noted its decision in paragraph 12; describing the man as having been “accused” of “suggesting” the complainant undergo the examination was not an inaccurate characterisation of what had been said in court. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

Conclusion(s)

17. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

18. N/A


Date complaint received: 09/05/2022

Date decision issued: 25/10/2022

Independent Complaints Reviewer

The complainant complained to the Independent Complaints Reviewer about the process followed by IPSO in handling this complaint. The Independent Complaints Reviewer decided that the process was not flawed and did not uphold the request for review.