Ruling

01512-16 Dunn-Shaw v Daily Mail

    • Date complaint received

      14th July 2016

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 12 Discrimination, 2 Privacy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 01512-16 Dunn-Shaw v Daily Mail 

Summary of complaint 

1.    Jason Dunn-Shaw complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation on behalf of his partner Martin Boyd and on his own behalf that the Daily Mail breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “The judge, his gay lover and a mysterious online tirade at his critics“, published on 27 February 2016, and in an article headlined “Judge in gay lover row and a lewd quip about Chuka on Facebook”, published on 29 February. The articles were also published online with the headlines “Judge’s gay lover used his name to launch online tirade against critics who were angry at ‘lenient’ sentence for drink-driver”  and “Judge in row over online antics of his gay lover who left crude comments on his Facebook page including lewd quip about Chuka Umunna”, respectively. 

2.    The 27 February article reported that the complainant’s user account on a newspaper website was used to comment on an article reporting proceedings at Canterbury Crown Court in which he had presided in his capacity as a part-time judge. It reported that the complainant’s account had been used to “attack” others who had posted comments criticising his decision to suspend a jail sentence for a dangerous driver. It reported that barristers working at Canterbury Crown Court had said that the comments in question had been subject to an “’explosion of rumours and speculation’ for many weeks”. The article reported that the complainant had said that he did have an account on the newspaper’s website, but that he did not comment on his own cases as doing so would be improper, and that the comments were likely to have been left by his partner, with whom he shared the account. The article reported that the complainant and his partner were “regulars at pubs, bars and restaurants in the Margate area”. 

3.    The 29 February article reported that the complainant had left a “series of lewd, politically-charged and foul-mouthed comments on his personal Facebook account”. It also reported that the account had supported a petition to “force the BBC to refer to David Cameron as the ‘Right-wing Prime Minister’”. It referred to the 27 February article, and reported that the complainant had explained that his “long-term partner” was responsible for the comments on the local news website. 

4.    Both articles were accompanied by a photograph of the complainant in a suit, captioned: “The Judge: Jason Dunn-Shaw”, and by a photograph of his partner dressed as a woman. In the 27 February article, this photograph was captioned: “The Lover: Martin Boyd, pictured in 1993, was an active member of the Soho social scene”. In the 29 February article, the photo was captioned “Lover: Martin Boyd, pictured left, in 1993”. In addition, both articles reported that photographs on social media showed that his partner was an “active member of the Soho social scene” around a “legendary drag queen”, who was named in the articles. 

5.    The online version of the 29 February article stated that “a judge has been embarrassed by the online antics of his gay lover who left a series of lewd, politically-charged and foul-mouthed comments on his Facebook account”. The captions to the photographs in the online articles were longer, but substantively similar. The remainder of the online versions of the articles also were substantively similar to the print version of the articles. 

6.    The complainant said that he had been in a relationship with his partner for 25 years, and they had entered into a civil partnership in 2007. In the context of articles which juxtaposed his image with a photograph of his partner dressed as a woman with the respective captions “The Judge” and “The lover”, the complainant said that the reference to his partner as his “gay lover” implied that their relationship was impermanent, dissolute and that they were promiscuous. He said that it was a pejorative reference to their sexuality, and inaccurate. The complainant said that they are described as married on his partner’s Facebook page, which also contained a post from 21 January 2016 marking 25 years since their first date. The complainant said that the newspaper had accessed his partner’s Facebook prior to publication, and would therefore have been aware of the true nature of their relationship. 

7.    In relation to the 27 February article, the complainant said that the reference to he and his partner being “regulars at pubs, bars and restaurants in the Margate area” gave the inaccurate impression that they were visiting these establishments in search of sexual encounters, and that it contributed to the context in which the phrase “gay lover” was a pejorative reference to their sexual orientation. The complainant said that his partner had posted about four establishments on his Facebook page, and that each post referred to the dining and the quality of the food. 

8.    The complainant said that the reference to his and his partner’s sexuality was not genuinely relevant to the story in either article. 

9.    The complainant said that the photograph of his partner showed him at a Christmas fancy dress party for work colleagues. The complainant said it had been taken from his partner’s Facebook page, and that this represented an intrusion into his privacy. He said that the newspaper could have used an innocuous, contemporary photograph of his partner, rather than a photograph which, in the context of articles which referred to his partner being an active member of the social scene around a well-known drag artist, suggested that he was a transvestite. 

10.  The complainant said that the Facebook comments which were the subject of the 29 February article were not made on his own profile, and that his Facebook account was privacy protected. It followed that the newspaper had searched for Facebook comments he had made to his partner. The complainant said that this was an intrusion into his and his partner’s privacy. The complainant noted that in response to the complaint, the newspaper made clear it had re-visited his partner’s Facebook profile after the articles were published, which supported the allegation that the newspaper had intruded into his partner’s private life. 

11.  The comments which were the subject of the 27 February article were left on the Kent Online website. The complainant said that in order for the newspaper to discover that the pseudonymous user account on the Kent Online website was registered to his name, it must have accessed, directly or indirectly, information held by Kent Online.  The complainant said that the accessing of this information represented an intrusion into his privacy. 

12.  The newspaper said that to the best of its knowledge, the complainants were in a happy, romantic relationship, and that the phrase “gay lover” was not inaccurate. It said that in the reporter’s telephone conversation with the complainant prior to publication, the complainant had ended the call when the reporter had tried to ask him about his partner. The newspaper said it was not aware of the length of the relationship or the civil partnership until after publication.  It said that the word “gay” is not pejorative in itself, and that the words “gay lover” are factual, not pejorative. 

13.  The newspaper said that the complainant’s partner’s open Facebook account contained many photographs of him and the complainant enjoying meals and trips in the Margate area. The reference to them being “regulars at pubs, bars and restaurants in the Margate area” did not contain the implication alleged by the complainant. It said that the statement was intended to show that the couple were a gregarious couple, well-known to people in and around Margate; this was relevant to the article because the complainant had said that his partner had posted the comments on Kent Online. 

14.  The newspaper said that the complainant had told the journalist that his partner was the author of the comments under his username, which were the subject of the article. In this context, the nature and closeness of the relationship between the complainant and his partner was an integral part of the story. The newspaper said that the complainant and his partner’s sexual orientation was therefore genuinely relevant to the story, and there was no breach of Clause 12 (ii). 

15.  The newspaper said that the image of the complainant’s partner was taken from his open Facebook account, and provided a “screengrab” of the relevant page. It denied the image implied that his partner was a transvestite or that he wore women’s clothes habitually. The newspaper said it selected the photograph because it was interesting and funny. The newspaper said that there were no privacy setting on the complainant’s Facebook account when the 29 February article was written, and it provided “screengrabs” of some of the complainant’s Facebook comments to demonstrate that they were publicly accessible. 

16.  The newspaper said a source from the Margate area had said he had heard from people he knew, who came into contact with staff at Canterbury Crown Court, that comments critical of the complainant’s judgements on Kent Online were being robustly and often rudely responded to by a user account named “Querelle”. The source said it was rumoured that these comments were being left by the complainant in response to his critics. The newspaper said that the journalist established that “Querelle” was the complainant’s username because the complainant had used the same unusual username on three publicly available social media accounts, where it appeared alongside his real name. 

17.  The newspaper offered to remove the words “gay lover” from the online articles, and offered to publish the following apology on page 2 of the newspaper: 

News articles on February 27 and 29 about allegedly inappropriate social media posting referred to Judge Jason Dunn-Shaw’s partner as his ‘gay lover’. We have since been informed that, in fact, Mr Dunn-Shaw and his partner have been in a relationship for 25 years and in civil partnership since 2007. We apologise to both for any distress caused. 

18.  The complainant said that it was untrue that anyone at Canterbury Crown Court had ever speculated as to the identity of “Querelle”. He provided IPSO with letters from the former Chairman of the Kent Bar Mess and from a local court reporter in support of this position. He said that his identity as “Querelle” could only have been ascertained by searching for his name alongside the word “Querelle”; a search for simply “Querelle” would not have revealed that he had any connection with the name. It followed that the newspaper had already linked his name to “Querelle”. The complainant said that the only way they could have done so is by access to information held on the account by Kent Online. The complainant rejected the newspaper’s offer to publish the apology.

Relevant Code Provisions 

19.  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 his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence, including digital communications.

ii.     Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual's private life without consent. Account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information. 

Clause 12 (Discrimination) 

i.      The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's, race, colour, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability. 

ii.     Details of an individual's race, colour, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.

Findings of the Committee 

20.  Newspapers and magazines have editorial freedom to publish what they consider to be appropriate, provided that the rights of individuals – enshrined in the terms of the Code, which specifically defines and protects these rights – are not unjustifiably compromised. The Committee acknowledged that the complainant and his partner found the use of the phrase “gay lover” to be offensive. However, any offensiveness of this term did not in itself fall within IPSO’s remit; the issue raised under Clause 12 (Discrimination) was whether the phrase “gay lover” was a pejorative or prejudicial reference to the complainant and his partner’s sexual orientation, and whether details of their sexual orientation were genuinely relevant to the story. 

21.  The phrase “gay lover” did not contain any specific pejorative term, but suggested that the relationship between the complainant and his partner was less substantial and committed than was in fact the case. However, the mere fact that the relationship was homosexual did not mean that the newspaper, by referring to the relationship in casual terms, had disparaged their sexual orientation. The Committee did not establish that the phrase “gay lover” had a pejorative meaning in respect of the complainant’s or Mr Boyd’s sexual orientation, and there was no breach of Clause 12 (i). 

22.  Prior to publication, the complainant had told the newspaper that the comments made by his Kent Online account had probably been left by his partner. In these circumstances the nature of their relationship, reference to which disclosed their sexual orientation, was genuinely relevant to the articles. There was no breach of Clause 12 (ii). 

23.  In addition to the term “gay lover”, the articles under complaint also employed the terms “partner” and “boyfriend”. The 29 February used the term “long-term partner”. The Committee recognised that the phrase “gay lover” misrepresented the relationship between the complainant and his partner, given its duration and the fact that they had entered a civil partnership.  However, the length of their relationship, and whether or not they were civil partners were not significant details in the context of the articles, which made clear that Mr Boyd was the complainant’s partner. The phrase “gay lover” was not significantly misleading such as to raise a breach of Clause 1.   The reference to the complainant and his partner being “regulars at pubs, bars and restaurants in the Margate area” did not suggest that they had visited these establishments in order to find sexual encounters. The article was not misleading in the manner alleged, and there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point. Nevertheless, the Committee welcomed the newspaper’s offer to publish an apology. 

24.  The mere fact that the newspaper had viewed the complainant’s partner’s publicly accessible Facebook account did not represent an intrusion into his private life. The photograph of his partner dressed as a woman at a work party had been posted on this account, such that it was publicly accessible. The photograph had been publicly disclosed by the complainant’s partner and simply showed him attending a party in fancy dress. In this context, the publication of this photograph did not raise a breach of Clause 2. The caption on the photograph made clear that it had been taken in 1993. Beyond showing that the complainant’s partner had once dressed as a woman, the article did not suggest that his partner was a transvestite, and this aspect of the complaint did not raise a breach of Clause 1. 

25.  The Committee noted the complainant’s position that his Facebook account was private. However, the newspaper had provided screengrabs which demonstrated that comments made by the complainant were publicly accessible. Having regard for the content of the comments, and taking into account the complainant’s public disclosure of the information in question, this aspect of the complaint did not raise a breach of Clause 2. 

26.  The word “Querelle” and the complainant’s name were publicly linked on the internet on three separate social media accounts. This could be ascertained simply by searching the word “Querelle” alongside the complainant’s name, which the newspaper said it did after hearing rumours about the complainant’s identity as “Querelle”. The complainant’s denial that there were any such rumours and the two letters he provided in support of this position was not sufficient reason to reject the newspaper’s account, given that these individuals may simply not have been party to the rumours in question. The newspaper had given a credible explanation of how it identified the complainant as “Querelle” without accessing the information Kent Online held on the account. The Committee did not establish that the newspaper had intruded into the complainant’s privacy in the manner alleged.  There was no breach of Clause 2 (Privacy) on this point.

Conclusions 

27.  The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required 

N/A 

Date complaint received: 06/03/2016 

Date decision issued: 28/06/2016