Ruling

01517-22 Moran v The Times

    • Date complaint received

      5th January 2023

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 14 Confidential sources, 2 Privacy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 01517-22 Moran v The Times

Summary of Complaint

1. Phillip and Shazia Moran complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Times breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 14 (Confidential sources) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in the articles headlined “Intelligence officer ‘told to doctor reports’”, ”I feel sick about it, says officer who altered data”, and “Muslims 'were scoped out at random to be potential informants'”, published on 16 December 2021. The articles also appeared online in substantially the same format, headlined “Police intelligence officer ‘told to doctor reports’ about terrorism informant”.

2. The front-page article, which continued on page two, reported that “[a] police intelligence officer fabricated reports about a terrorism informant in a highly classified database after allegedly being instructed to by superiors”. It stated that the detective constable had “retrospectively altered intelligence reports for MI5”, and that he had “claimed that he was ordered by his superiors to manipulate information on the National Special Branch Intelligence System [NSBIS]”. The article reported that these claims prompted an internal investigation by the British Transport Police (BTP) and led to a gross misconduct hearing in 2016, following which a senior officer was dismissed. The article went on to state that concerns had been raised about the security of the database and the reliability of information recorded by the police due to “[t]he ease with which Moran changed crucial details”.

3. Another article on page 14-15, headlined “I feel sick about it, says officer who altered data”, reported that the complainant had helped to recruit the BTP’s first counterterrorism informant known as “Large Win”, and that he had been “lauded” for this. It went on to report an “alleged conspiracy to manipulate a secret intelligence database”, stating that “the system had inherent weaknesses that Moran was able to exploit”. The article described how concerns were later raised about the informant and how the complainant had refused to “re-vet his source”. It went on to state that the Detective Superintendent who was BTP’s then director of intelligence “removed Moran as handler for being ‘too close’ to his informant”. The article reported that the complainant had made a complaint that the branch unit was “trawling for counterterrorism informants by looking at all Muslims on BTP’s radar”; it said that the complainant and another handler considered this amounted to unlawful racial profiling.

4. The article went on to describe the events that allegedly occurred leading up to the gross misconduct hearing. It reported that in February 2014, prior to the unit’s first annual inspection by the Office of Surveillance (OSC), the complainant was called to a meeting to ensure that all documents authorising the use of informants complied with the relevant rules and regulations. It said that the complainant alleged that he had been “ordered … to backdate more than 35 daily contact sheets of his meetings with Large Win” and that he claimed he had been told “to create and backdate four reviews and risk assessments that had not been done, to deceive the OSC”. It stated that the complainant had subsequently retired on ill health grounds and that he had said in a statement to the anticorruption squad: “I feel sick about what I did. It’s destroyed my desire to be a policeman . . . I shouldn’t have done it at the time; had I been mentally able to, I should have just walked away. I have lost faith in [BTP’s] ability to manage national security sources and feel it is not fit to do so”. It stated that the complainant had contacted the anti-corruption squad and that a corruption inquiry, known as Operation Muscle, was then launched. The article reported that a Detective Superintendent and a Detective Sergeant were accused of gross misconduct and were suspended pending a hearing before a disciplinary panel. The article went on to report that “On February 26, 2016, it found that reviews and risk assessments were created by Moran retrospectively and signed by [a named Detective Superintendent]”, which the Detective Superintendent denied. Further, the article included a statement from the BTP’s deputy chief constable, who said that the misconduct panel and a subsequent independent tribunal “did find evidence of manipulation of specific documents”. The “Analysis” section of the article commented stated that it was “disturbing… that a detective constable entered a sensitive informant database to create allegedly backdated reports, duping the office into believing strict compliance requirements had been met”. The article was accompanied by a photograph of the complainant, showing his head and shoulders.

5. The article continued under the headline “Muslims ‘were scoped out at random to be potential informants’”, focusing specifically on the allegations which had been made by the complainant of illegal racial profiling. It reported that the complainant said that instructions were given that lists were to be compiled of Muslim men and women who worked for Transport for London and other rail networks; that individuals with “Muslim-sounding names” who had been arrested by the BTP were to be included on the list; and that handlers were to assess the names for suitability to be potential informants. It reported that “Moran, who was married to a Muslim BTP officer, said he was uncomfortable with the instruction”.

6. The article also appeared online in substantially the same format as the initial front page print article, as did the longer article which had appeared on pages 14-15. However, the sub-article, which accompanied the print article and focused specifically on the allegations of illegal racial profiling, was not included in the online version.

7. The complainants said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. They said that it inaccurately stated that Mr Moran had been removed from his role as a handler for being “too close” to an informant. Mr Moran said that he was removed from the role because the Detective Sergeant in the unit was refusing to work with him as a handler any longer.

8. The complainants further said that the article inaccurately alleged that Mr Moran “retrospectively altered intelligence reports intended for MI5”. Mr Moran said that an intelligence report was a specific document which is the final product of the source process; he said that at no time were intelligence reports altered by him, and this was not suggested during the tribunal proceedings. The complainants said, further, that it was inaccurate to state that Mr Moran had manipulated information on the National Special Branch Intelligence System (NSBIS); that he had exploited intelligence; and that he had “changed crucial details” on the database, all of which Mr Moran denied. He said that whilst he was asked to do so, there was no evidence that he backdated or signed any documents to deceive the OSC. He said that he had begun to write the contact sheets at the request of his superiors but that he had added the date the document was completed and the date he signed them; accordingly, he said, there was no deception. Mr Moran said that he had written a review and risk assessment for August 2013 two months later in October 2013, and not in February 2014 as had been alleged. He said that he could not recall writing a review and risk assessment for November 2013 in February 2014, as alleged, noting that he had been removed as handler in November 2013. In relation to the intelligence system NSBIS, Mr Moran said that he did not exploit this, as reported, and that contrary to the article, source documents were not inputted onto this system. He said that the only information that would be put onto this system were intelligence reports that did not identify sources, and that BTP source records were input onto the BTPSB (British Transport Police Special Branch) server. He added that reviews and risk assessments would stay within the BTPSB Source Unit for examination by Surveillance Commissioners when required, and therefore there was no compromise of the NSBIS system.

9. The complainants further said that one of the headlines “I feel sick about it, says officer who altered data” was inaccurate. Mr Moran’s recollection was that he made the comment about how he felt when he started backdating contact sheets – which he claimed was at the request of his superiors – in preparation for the OSC visit. He reiterated his position that he had written the date the document was completed and the date he signed it. Therefore, he said that he had not “altered data”, as reported.

10. The complainants also said that the article contained several other inaccuracies. It stated that Mr Moran was “lauded” for recruiting the informant, when in fact he had received no recognition for having done so. It was also inaccurate to report that he had refused to re-vet his source, when in fact he had been asked to carry out surveillance without a Surveillance Authority having first been obtained, and in circumstances where the request was later dropped. He said the article was also inaccurate for reporting that he had retired because of ill health; before retiring he had returned to work after being ill with stress and received no enhanced ill-health pension.

11. The complainants identified further alleged breaches of Clause 1; they said the “Analysis” section of the article was inaccurate because the tribunal had found that Mr Moran had been ordered to create records; they believed that the article lacked balance; and that the omission of certain additional details made the article inaccurate.

12. The complainants also said that the article had breached Clause 2 by including details of their marriage, Mrs Moran’s religion, and her occupation; they considered that Mrs Moran was not relevant to the article. The complainants also considered that identifying Mr Moran in the article and the inclusion of his photograph was a breach of his privacy. They believed that the picture had come from a social media account belonging to Mrs Moran and highlighted that the image of Mrs Moran was pixelated in the picture.

13. The complainants further said that there had been a breach of Clause 14. Mr Moran said that he chose to speak with the journalist, but that this had been on the understanding that the conversation was off-the-record. He said that when the reporter approached him, he offered him the opportunity to meet in either an on- or off-the-record capacity, and Mr Moran agreed to meet firstly in an off-the-record capacity. Mr Moran provided email correspondence between him and the reporter, which showed that the journalist had agreed to meet first in an off-the-record capacity. Mr Moran said that at no time during his meeting or subsequent conversations with the reporter was he asked for on-the-record comments until the last five minutes of their final telephone call and that during their first meeting the reporter had told Mr Moran he had been passed his details by someone with his best interests at heart, which he said led him to believe he was being treated as a confidential source. Mr Moran added that as he had been asked for an on-the-record comment towards the end of his final call with the reporter, this implied to him that all previous conversations had been off-the-record.

14. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that the article reported on the case presented by the BTP’s anti-corruption squad to the February 2016 discipline panel. It said that this tribunal was based on Mr Moran’s written and taped allegations to the anti-corruption squad, and evidence presented at the hearing, which formed the basis of the BTP’s case. The publication added that it had had sight of the discipline tribunal findings before the article was published, which confirmed that it had accurately reported the allegations made, Mr Moran’s role in making those allegations, and the outcome of the tribunal. It said that while it had sight of such documents, these were confidential, but it said that the sources of the documents were a serving police officer’s written and taped interviews with the anti-corruption squad of BTP and the record of oral evidence to the tribunal. It said that there was no reason to doubt the reliability of such information. The publication said that it was willing to share one section from the disciplinary tribunal’s findings, which it considered covered the main points in issue. The document contained the following statement: “[Mr Moran] is the only witness who gives direct evidence of the creation of the documents in question having taken place in February 2014 and indeed he is the only witness who directly implicated [named third party] … in the falsification of these documents”.

15. The publication said that the claim that the then Detective Superintendent “removed Moran as handler for being ‘too close’ to his informant” was based on the tribunal documents and details were also checked with individuals, where appropriate, prior to publication. It said that the Detective Superintendent had told the publication that he decided to remove Mr Moran from being the handler because he had become “too close”, and that this decision was communicated to Mr Moran by the Detective Inspector.

16. The publication said that by the complainant’s own account to the BTP investigators, he acted over a three-day period in February 2014 and accessed the NSBIS system to fabricate four reviews and risk assessments. It said that Mr Moran later contradicted himself at the tribunal and stated that the August review and risk assessment had been done in October 2013, rather than in February 2014, but that his original account to BTP investigators was also before the tribunal. The publication said that the phrase “intelligence report” was used in the article as a shorthand for the various types of sensitive information involved and that, while special branch officers and the security service may use the term “intelligence report” in the specific way the complainant described, readers would not be aware of this.

17. The publication further said that the action of going into the NSBIS and creating documents that did not previously exist, in order to suggest that they had been completed earlier, could accurately be described as altering “crucial details” where the intention was that these files would be printed, backdated and signed by superior officers. The publication further added that the documents in its possession showed that Mr Moran was asked during the tribunal: "The August and November review documents .... In February you are asked to do them. Do you do them?", and the answer he gave was “Yes”. In addition to this, it said that the panel in its findings referred to Mr Moran’s “creation” of the four reviews and risk assessments.

18. The publication said that in interviews with BTP investigators between April 2014 and January 2015, Mr Moran had said that he felt “sick” about what he had done. It added that the article made clear that he had claimed he was acting on orders from his superiors, and that this had been denied. The publication provided the excerpt from the interview containing Mr Moran’s quote where he stated “I feel sick about what I did… I knew I shouldn't be doing this. I didn't even know why I did it. I was totally confused and feeling sick about what was going on. I submitted them to [the named superior officer’s] folder and I know that there was a lot of errors in the form because I just couldn't get my head round what I was typing”.

19. In relation to whether or not Mr Moran was “lauded” for helping to recruit the informant, the publication said that it was not in dispute that he helped to recruit this individual, and that whether or not he felt sufficiently appreciated was not significant. The publication said that in relation to the complainants’ concerns about the claim that Mr Moran had refused to re-vet his source, to the ordinary reader “re-vet” would mean completing the checks required, and an analyst had been asked to complete these checks after Mr Moran declined to carry out surveillance. In regard to the complainant’s retirement, the publication said that the complainant had an extended period of sick leave, from which he returned only briefly. It said that stress-related illness impacted his decision to resign and noted that there was no suggestion in the article that Mr Moran had received an enhanced pension due to ill health.

20. In relation to Clause 2, the publication said that the article did not name Mrs Moran or include a photograph from which she could be identified, and it did not consider there had been a breach of Clause 2. It said that the reference to Mrs Moran’s religion and her position in the BTP were relevant to the article given that one of the allegations it reported was the use of unlawful racial profiling, and that Mr Moran had explained that he had personal as well as professional reasons for expressing concern because of his family background. The publication said that it did not consider Mrs Moran had a reasonable expectation of privacy in respect of information about her religion and profession in these circumstances. The publication added that Mrs Moran was a serving BTP officer who had become involved in the inquiry, as Operation Muscle documents recorded that she had discussed the case with another officer at a train station. Reference was therefore made to her religion and professional role only insofar as those matters were of relevance to the article.

21. The publication further said that there was a public interest in naming Mr Moran and including his photograph as this identified the source of serious allegations of corruption and criminality and could encourage others to come forward with concerns or alternative versions of events. It also noted that Mr Moran made no request for anonymity at the 2016 disciplinary hearing.

22. The publication said that the reporter had given the complainant no assurance that his name would not be used in the article, and that he had made clear at the beginning that he was willing to speak to Mr Moran on both an on and off the record basis, but that he would at some point need an on-the-record comment from him. It said that Mr Moran cooperated with the reporter on this basis and that he provided information to the reporter up to the date of publication. The publication noted that neither the front-page story nor the main article contained any off-the-record comments from the complainant, as the article relied on the evidence given by Mr Moran during the BTP investigation and tribunal. It said that the only section of the article to quote him was in relation to the allegation of racial profiling, which the complainant had offered in his first conversation with the reporter. The publication added that there was no agreement that this comment would be off-the-record, and that Mr Moran neither requested nor was given an assurance that he would be treated as a confidential source.

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.

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.

Clause 14 (Confidential sources)

Journalists have a moral obligation to protect confidential sources of information.

Findings of the Committee

23. In considering the complaints about the inaccuracy of the articles’ central premise, the Committee carefully considered the information provided by the complainant during the course of IPSO’s investigation; the position of the publication in response; the extracts from the tribunal documents which had been provided by the publication; and the official position of the BTP in response to the allegations. The complainant accepted that, in advance of an inspection by OSC, he had begun to backdate contact sheets for earlier periods, but which he said he dated with the date they were completed and the date he had signed them. He also accepted that he had created a review and risk assessment for the month of August 2013 in October 2013. The publication had provided an extract from the tribunal’s findings, which had not been challenged by the complainants, which referred to Mr Moran giving “direct evidence of the creation of the documents in question having taken place in February 2014”. In addition, the publication said that the tribunal documents showed that Mr Moran was asked during the tribunal proceedings: "The August and November review documents ... In February you are asked to do them. Do you do them?", to which Mr Moran had replied “Yes”. That Mr Moran gave this evidence to the tribunal was not challenged by the complainants. The Committee also noted the statement given by the deputy chief constable of the BTP included in the article that the misconduct panel and a subsequent independent tribunal “did find evidence of manipulation of specific documents”.

24. The Committee considered the complainants’ concerns that it was inaccurate to report that Mr Moran had retrospectively altered intelligence reports; that he had manipulated and exploited information and had changed crucial details on the NSBIS database; and that he had altered data. The Committee agreed with the publication’s position that the phrase “intelligence report” could be used as shorthand to describe documents relating to the intelligence gathering process generally and did not necessarily suggest a specific type of document; it was not inaccurate to use this phrase, particularly given that the article made clear the nature of the documents concerned. The Committee noted that the complainant accepted that he had begun to backdate contact sheets and that he had created the August review documents in October. Regarding the description that what had been changed were “crucial details”, it did not appear to be in dispute that the steps taken were designed to give the impression that certain documents had been completed earlier than they had been in compliance with intelligence requirements; the Committee considered that the publication was entitled to characterise these steps as “crucial details” being changed. In relation to the NSBIS, the Committee noted that the article did not claim that Mr Moran manipulated source documents, but rather that he had manipulated information on the NSBIS database. The Committee considered that manipulation was a term that could be used to accurately describe the activities which Mr Moran accepted he had undertaken, namely that he had backdated contact sheets for earlier periods and had created a risk assessment and review for the month of August in October. The Committee found, further, that it was not inaccurate to describe these actions as Mr Moran having “altered data”. There was no breach of Clause 1 on these points.

25. The publication said that the ex-Detective Superintendent had told it that he had decided to remove Mr Moran as handler for being “too close” with the informant. The complainant had said that this was inaccurate as he had been removed because the Detective Sergeant was refusing to work with him as a handler. The Committee noted that the complainant disagreed with this account of events, however given that the article was reporting on the reasons given by the Detective Superintendent for removing the complainant as a handler, the publication was entitled to rely on his account of events. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

26. Next, the Committee turned to the complainants’ concerns that the article had claimed Mr Moran was “lauded” for recruiting the informant; that he had refused to re-vet his source; and that he had retired on ill-health grounds. The Committee did not consider that whether Mr Moran had been “lauded” for recruiting the complainant was significant, given that it was not in dispute that he had helped recruit the informant. The publication said that “re-vet” was shorthand for the checks required and that this was not inaccurate as Mr Moran had declined to carry out surveillance after concerns about the informant had arisen. The Committee noted that Mr Moran’s recollection of events differed slightly, however it was the Committee’s view that where Mr Moran had declined to carry out surveillance that had been requested, regardless of the reasons for doing so, it was not significantly inaccurate or misleading to state that he had refused to “re-vet his source”. The complainant had said that he had not retired on ill health grounds and, while he had been off work unwell with stress, he had returned to work before retiring and, in fact, his reason for retirement had been that he had lost faith in the BTP. He added that he received no enhanced ill health pension. The Committee noted that the article did not claim that the complainant had received an enhanced ill health pension upon retiring and where the complainant had been off work sick due to stress prior to retiring, the Committee did not consider that this constituted a significant inaccuracy. There was no breach of Clause 1.

27. The complainants also said that the article was further inaccurate in breach of Clause 1; they said that the “Analysis” section only referred to the involvement of a Detective Constable (Mr Moran) in the matters reported, without also referring to the claim that he had been given orders by a superior officer. The Committee noted that the articles, of which the “Analysis” section was a part, contained additional details including that it had been alleged that other individuals had been involved. Taking this into account, and in circumstances where Mr Moran accepted that he had created a review and assessment for August several months later in October, the Committee did not find that the information contained in the “Analysis” section was inaccurate or misleading in breach of Clause 1. Further, the complainants had said that the article lacked balance and omitted to mention a number of additional events to those which were reported in the articles. The Committee noted that under the Editors’ Code, articles do not need to be balanced, so long as publications take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, and newspapers have the right to choose which pieces of information they publish. In this case, omitting the additional details given by the complainant to the reporter about events that occurred did not make the article inaccurate or misleading, where it focused on concerns about the integrity of the intelligence database and the hearings and investigations which had taken place as a result. There was no breach of Clause 1 on these points.

28. The Committee next turned to the complainant’s concerns that there had been a breach of Clause 2 by including details of their marriage, Mrs Moran’s religion, her occupation, and a photograph of Mr Moran. The Committee noted that an individual’s occupation is not information in respect of which an individual would ordinarily have a reasonable expectation of privacy. The Committee noted that Mrs Moran had not been named or pictured in the article; she had been referenced only in the context of the concerns expressed by the complainant concerning alleged racial profiling. On balance, the Committee concluded that the brief reference to Mrs Moran’s religion, given the nature of the concerns expressed by the complainant and in circumstances where she was not named, did not constitute an unjustified intrusion into her privacy. In relation to the published photograph, the Committee noted that it had been pixilated so that Mrs Moran was not identifiable and that it showed only Mr Moran’s likeness. The complainants said that they believed the image had come from one of their publicly available social media accounts. Where the image was publicly available, the complainants did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in respect of the information contained in the image and its publication did not constitute an intrusion into their private lives. There was no breach of Clause 2.

29. The complainants had further said that there had been a breach of Clause 14. Clause 14 imposes a moral obligation on journalists to protect the identity of sources who have provided information on a confidential basis. The Committee noted that the majority of the article seemingly contained no comments from Mr Moran and did not otherwise suggest that it was based on information provided directly by him; it had been based on Mr Moran’s written and taped allegations to the anti-corruption squad, and his evidence at the tribunal. The Code does not impose an obligation on the publication to protect his identity in relation to the information obtained from such sources. The Committee noted that the allegation regarding racial profiling reported in the article was taken from the complainant’s conversations with the reporter. Where there did not appear to be any record of an agreement between the publication and the complainant that he would be treated as a confidential source in relation to this information, the Committee did not find a breach of Clause 14.

Conclusion(s)

30. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

31. N/A


Date complaint received: 07/02/2022

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 30/11/2022