Ruling

01319-14 Hawk v mirror.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      24th March 2015

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of correction

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

    Decision of the Complaints Committee 01319-14 Hawk v mirror.co.uk

Summary of complaint 

1. Maddison Hawk complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that mirror.co.uk had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Accountant funded her 25k plastic surgery bill by selling fake GHD hair straighteners”, published on 15 October 2014.

2. The article reported that the complainant had been convicted of fraud and had recently been fined over £8,000 after Trading Standards inspectors found that she had offered fake electrical hair appliances for sale. It also noted that she had previously spent £25,000 on cosmetic surgery, and said that she had funded the cosmetic procedures by selling faulty goods. It stated that “Oxford Magistrates’ Court heard she helped to pay for her revamp by selling counterfeit GHD-branded products on Amazon through her company Perfect Strand.”

3. The complainant said that she had paid for and undergone all of her cosmetic surgery prior to the incident with the faulty electrical products. She said that she had never made any money from the sale of faulty goods, as the products had been discovered by Trading Standards on an online marketplace and withdrawn from sale before any purchases had been completed. She also said that the she had not been personally convicted of any charges; she had pleaded guilty on behalf of her company.

4. The newspaper had relied on agency copy for the story. It said that the complainant was the sole director of her hair extension company, which made her morally responsible for the charges for which the company had been convicted. It said that it was satisfied that the complainant’s hair extension business, through which she had attempted to sell the faulty products, had helped to pay for her cosmetic surgery. The fact that money from the sale of the specific hair straighteners which had been seized by Trading Standards had not contributed to her surgery costs did not mean that a significant inaccuracy had been published. Selling hair straighteners was part of the complainant’s business, and that business was being used to fund the complainant’s cosmetic surgery. Nonetheless, the newspaper amended the article to remove references to the complainant having funded her cosmetic surgery through the sale of faulty goods, and to having been convicted of fraud. It also offered to append the following footnote:

“The article has been updated to make clear that Ms Hawk was neither personally charged nor convicted of fraud. It has also been amended to make clear that her cosmetic surgery was funded separately from the fake GHD straighteners which she had offered for sale.”

5. The complainant said that she wanted the article to be removed from the newspaper’s website.

Relevant Code Provisions

6. Clause 1 (Accuracy)

i) The press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures.

ii) A significant inaccuracy or misleading distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and – where appropriate – an apology published.

Findings of the Committee

7. The article under complaint was presented as a court report of the complainant’s convictions, but it had not been stated in court that the complainant had funded her cosmetic procedures “by selling fake GHD hair straighteners”. The absence of an adequate explanation for this inaccuracy in material presented as a court report demonstrated a failure to take care over the accuracy of the material on the part of the agency which provided the copy; this was a failure for which the newspaper was responsible under the terms of the Code.

8. In the Committee’s view, the inaccuracy identified by the complainant was significant; the article had said that she had spent a substantial sum of fraudulently-obtained money on cosmetic surgery, when in fact the connection drawn between the crimes and the spending on cosmetic surgery had been erroneous. The article required correction under the terms of Clause 1 (ii).

9. The article had made clear that “Hawk…admitted four trademark offence charges on behalf of her company and a single offence of selling a product which breached safety regulations”. The complainant is the sole director of her company. In this context, the interchangeable references to the complainant and her company elsewhere in the article were not significantly misleading; a correction was not required under the terms of Clause 1 (ii).

Conclusions

10. The complaint was upheld.

Remedial Action Required

11. Having upheld the complaint under Clause 1 (i), the Committee considered what remedial action should be required. The Committee has the power to require the publication of a correction and/or adjudication, the nature, extent and placement of which is to be determined by IPSO. It may also inform the publication that further remedial action is required to ensure that the requirements of the Editors’ Code are met.

12. The Committee considered that, given the nature of the breach of the Code and of the publication, the appropriate remedy was the publication of a correction, the nature, extent and prominence of which would be determined by IPSO.

13. In this case, in light of the fact that the article had already been suitably amended, the Committee decided that the appropriate remedy would be the publication of a correction, in the form of a footnote to the article. The Committee acknowledged that the footnote offered by the newspaper had been based on a wording suggested by IPSO’s Executive. However, since that time the Committee has made clear, via its published rulings, that in order to be sufficient a correction must identify the original inaccuracy, and clarify the correct position. While the footnote offered by the newspaper had clarified the correct position, it had not clearly stated the original inaccuracy. It was not sufficient to remedy the established breach of the Code. The wording of the new correction should be agreed with IPSO in advance, and must make clear that the newspaper had not been able to substantiate its claims that the complainant had paid for her cosmetic surgery by selling faulty electrical hair appliances. In addition, the correction should acknowledge that it had been published following a ruling by the Independent Press Standards Organisation.

Date complaint received: 15/10/2014

Date decision issued: 24/03/2015