Ruling

01407-24 Reeve v Kent Messenger

  • Complaint Summary

    Ellis Reeve complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Kent Messenger breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “T-shirt thug jailed after attack”, published on 4 April 2024.

    • Date complaint received

      3rd July 2024

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 2 Privacy

Decision of the Complaints Committee Reeve v Kent Messenger

Summary of Complaint

1. Ellis Reeve complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Kent Messenger breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “T-shirt thug jailed after attack”, published on 4 April 2024.

2. The article – which appeared on page 9 – reported that the complainant, “who strangled his girlfriend with a torn-up T-shirt and told her she was going to die has been jailed.” It also said he had been “charged with strangulation and common assault for two separate incidents last year” and that the “court heard how in January last year he was under the influence of drink and drugs when he tore up a T-shirt and used it as a ligature around his girlfriend’s neck”. It also reported the complainant, who “worked for [named company], was also sentenced for common assault after he pushed his partner to the ground and pinned her down outside her mother’s home”. The article also included one closely cropped photograph of the complainant’s face.

3. The article also appeared online in substantially the same format, under the headline “Gillingham man who strangled girlfriend with ripped-up t-shirt and told her he would kill her is jailed”. The online version of the article contained two photographs which showed the complainant’s face.

4. The complainant said the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 because the charges against him did not relate to an intent to kill anyone. Therefore, he considered it was inaccurate to refer to him having told his partner that “she was going to die”.

5. The complainant also said the article was inaccurate to describe him as a “thug” and “strangler”.

6. The complainant said the article breached Clause 2 because it included photographs of him which were taken from his social media page without his permission. He said the photographs were protected by privacy settings, which meant they were only able to be viewed by his social media friends. The complainant also said the article breached Clause 2 because it mentioned his employer by name.

7. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that, in the judge’s closing remarks, he had stated the complainant made a threat to kill his victim. It provided the reporter’s notes from the sentencing; these notes included the phrase “told her he would kill her”.

8. The publication did not accept that it was inaccurate to refer to the complainant as a “thug” or a “strangler”. It said the definition of a thug was a “violent, aggressive person, especially one who is a criminal”, and, given the complainant had pleaded guilty to strangulation, it was satisfied “thug” and “strangler” were accurate descriptors.

9. The publication did not accept the photographs of the complainant intruded into his privacy. It said the photographs had been taken from the complainant’s open social media which could be accessed by anyone. It provided a link to, and screenshots of, the complainant’s social media profile, which included the photographs which appeared in the articles and were open to the public. It also said the name of the complainant’s employer had been heard in open court and it was therefore entitled to report on it due to the principle of open justice. It again referred to the reporter’s notes to support its position on this point, which referred to the employer by name.

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.

Clause 2 (Privacy)*

i) Everyone is entitled to respect for their private and family life, home, physical and mental health, and correspondence, including digital communications.

ii) Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual's private life without consent. In considering an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy, account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information and the extent to which the material complained about is already in the public domain or will become so. iii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals, without their consent, in public or private places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Findings of the Committee

10.The publication was able to supply the reporter’s notes to support its position that it had been heard in court that the complainant had “threatened to kill” the woman involved in the case. As such, the Committee was satisfied the publication had taken care not to report inaccurate information on this point, and that the article did not report on the court case in a significantly inaccurate, misleading, or distorted way. There was therefore no breach of Clause 1.

11. While whether someone can be described as a “thug” is, to a degree, subjective, in order to satisfy the publication’s obligations under Clause 1 of the Code, it was important it demonstrated it there was a factual basis for this claim. However, given that the complainant did not dispute that he had been “charged with strangulation and common assault” against a woman, the Committee did not consider it significantly inaccurate or misleading to refer to him as a “thug” or as a “strangler”. There was no breach of the Code on this point.

12. When establishing whether there has been a breach of Clause 2, the Committee will consider a complainant’s own disclosures of the information under complaint. As the complainant had put the images of himself into the public domain, via his open social media page, publishing them did not represent an intrusion into his privacy. In any event, the photographs did not contain any private information about the complainant or show him engaged in an activity which could be said to be private; they simply showed his likeness.

13. The publication had been able to demonstrate that the complainant’s employer had been named at court. As such, the information was a matter of public record, and the complainant had no reasonable expectation of privacy over it. There was no breach of Clause 2 on this point.

Conclusions

14. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

N/A


Date complaint received: 02/04/2024

Date decision issued: 20/06/2024