Ruling

01740-19 White v The Jewish Chronicle

    • Date complaint received

      29th November 2019

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of adjudication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 2 Privacy, 3 Harassment

Decision of the Complaints Committee 01740-19 White v The Jewish Chronicle 

Summary of complaint 

1. Audrey White complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Jewish Chronicle breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 3 (Harassment) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in the following articles: 

  • “Ex-Militant Tendency activist accused of bullying Louise Ellman lied about date of birth to rejoin Labour”, published online on 25 February 2019; 
  • “Plot to oust MP Ellman spearheaded by a former member of the Trotskyist Militant Tendency”, published online on 25 February 2019; 
  • “’Bullied’ Louise Ellman nears exit”, published in print on 1 March 2019; 
  • “Labour MP Dame Louise Ellman 'considering her future' in party amid rumours of more resignations”, published online on 1 March 2019. 

2. The series of articles reported that the complainant, an active member of the Labour Party, had “repeatedly denied allegations of antisemitism” in the Party and was part of a “hard-Left plot” to “oust” a Jewish Labour MP from office. Against that background, the articles made various claims about the complainant, her conduct, and her activities within the Party. 

3. The first article reported that the complainant had been “expelled” from the Labour Party in the 1980s, by the then leadership. It said that she had then “lied” about her date of birth on her application to re-join the Party in 2015, having specified her date of birth as a date in 1995, rather than in 1951. The article said that the complainant had used a “false” date of birth to re-join the Party “on the day Jeremy Corbyn became leader.” The first article reported that in response to a request for comment, “about her use of a false date of birth on her Labour application”, the complainant had replied, “Your paper prints lies”; the article also alleged that the complainant had “slammed down the phone when asked to clarify her date of birth”. 

4. The first article also reported that during the complainant’s local Constituency Labour Party (CLP) meeting, the complainant had been “amongst a group of militants who repeatedly interrupted” the MP named in the article. It said that the complainant had “received a number of formal warnings from the Party over allegations of bullying against Party members ", and said that she had “falsely claimed that a Labour councillor was under investigation by the police for having ‘cruelly taunted’ a ‘disabled pensioner suffering from cancer’.” 

5. The second article said that “since being allowed to rejoin Labour, the complainant had launched a sustained campaign against [the MP]”; it claimed that she was “spearheading” a plot to “oust” the MP from office. The article repeated the first article’s claim that the complainant had been “expelled” from Labour 30 years ago, and reported that the complainant had been a member of Militant, before “subsequently becoming a member of the Socialist Party”. 

6. The third and fourth articles repeated the allegations above, reporting that the complainant had been “amongst a group of militants who repeatedly interrupted” the MP; that she had “received a number of formal warnings from the party over allegations of bullying against members”; and that she had “falsely claimed that a Labour councillor was under investigation by the police for having “cruelly taunted” a “disabled pensioner suffering from cancer”. 

7. The complainant said that the newspaper had, over a series of four articles, reported numerous inaccuracies about her and her conduct, in breach of Clause 1. 

8. The complainant denied that she had been “expelled” from the Labour Party in the 1980s, or that she had “lied” about her age when she had re-joined it in 2015; she said that, in fact, she had entered the correct date on her application. In support of this, she provided a screenshot of her Labour Party Digital Membership Card, which recorded her date of birth as a date in 1951. The complainant also provided a copy of an email from the Governance and Legal Unit of the Labour Party, which stated: 

With regard to your recent enquiries the Labour Party has been unable to trace a surviving record of a previous membership held by you or that you were in the past expelled from membership.  We can confirm that your date of birth was stated as [date] 1951 in the application to join the Party received in 2015, but records show that your date of birth had been given as 1.8.1995 when you applied to renew your membership in August 2016.  No change was made to your membership record, which continues to have your date of birth as [date] 1951. 

9. The complainant also denied that she had been “amongst a group of militants who repeatedly interrupted” the MP named in the articles, during a CLP meeting. She said that after the MP had finished speaking, questions were offered to members; the complainant said that she put her hand up, was invited to speak by the Chair, and was given the microphone. The complainant said that one man did interrupt the MP once, but this related to a point of order, and was done through the Chair, which is the normal procedure at CLP meetings. A partial recording of the meeting was provided to IPSO. 

10. The complainant further said that it was inaccurate to report in the first, third and fourth articles, that she had “falsely claimed” that a Labour councillor was under investigation by the police for having “‘cruelly taunted’ a ‘disabled pensioner suffering from cancer”. She said that it was not “false” to claim that this was the action taken by the police. In support of this, the complainant provided a copy of a letter addressed to the alleged victim from a representative of the Hate Crime Coordinator for the Central Sigma team in Merseyside Police. It stated: “You reported an incident to the police on 19/11/17 … The incident has been investigated by myself, and I will speak to the person involved in order for them to send a written apology”. The complainant also provided a copy of an email which the alleged victim had received from a representative of the Hate Crime Support Service. It stated: “We have received your details from Merseyside Police informing us you have been a victim of a hate incident and are contacting you to offer support”. 

11. The complainant said that the articles contained further inaccuracies. Firstly, she denied that she had “received a number of formal warnings from the Party over allegations of bullying against party members ". The complainant also said that she had not “denied allegations of antisemitism in the Labour Party”; she said that she had not witnessed antisemitism herself within her constituency branch or the wider Labour Party, but did not doubt that it must exist, as it exists in the wider society. However, she disputed that antisemitism existed within the Labour party to a greater extent than in wider society. During its investigation, IPSO also noted to the complainant’s comments which she had made during an interview published on YouTube: 

The whole thing about Riverside, about there being anti-Semitic comments was started by [name], and he says “thought I’d never hear the anti-Semitism views I heard from two members at a labour party meeting on Friday”. Now that started a whole barrage by the press, it was whipped up by [name] as well. I’ve been to those meetings, there was no anti-Semitism, I’ve never heard any anti-Semitism in all my years in the Labour and Trade Union movement. Never in my life, and you know what if I had, I wouldn’t care about procedure, I would absolutely attack those people…” 

12. The complainant also denied that she had “launched a sustained campaign” against the MP, although she acknowledged that she disagreed with the MP’s views, and would prefer an MP with views more similar to her own. She also accepted that she had called for the MP to be investigated regarding her support of an anonymously authored document which had contained a number of allegations about her and her family, which the complainant said were false, however, she said that this was not part of a “campaign” and was based on legitimate concerns about the MP’s conduct. The complainant further denied that she had ever been a member of the Socialist Party, although she acknowledged that she was a supporter of the values of socialism. 

13. Under Clause 2, the complainant said that the first article had disclosed private information about her, namely, the fact of her application to re-join the Labour Party, and the disclosure of her date of birth. The complainant said that the suggestion that she was a “liar” was intrusive and upsetting. The complainant expressed further concern that prior to publication, the journalist had contacted her via her ex-directory landline and had questioned her in an aggressive manner about the date of birth which she had given on her application. She said she had found this intimidating, in breach of Clause 3. 

14. The newspaper said that the journalist had been contacted by trusted, and highly credible sources within the Labour Party, and had relied upon them to report that the complainant had been “expelled” from the Labour Party in the 1980s, and that she had entered an incorrect date of birth on her application to re-join it in 2015. The newspaper said it was unable to provide the information which it had received from these confidential sources, or provide further details regarding why it considered the sources to be reliable, because to do so would reveal their identities. The newspaper provided an article published in a different publication in 2016. This article reported that “hard-left figures on Merseyside” had been “banished” by the Labour leadership 30 years ago, and noted the complainant amongst a list of individuals who had re-emerged on the political scene.  

15. The newspaper said that it was accurate to report that the complainant had been “amongst a group of militants who repeatedly interrupted” the MP named in the articles. It said that prior to publication, the reporter had spoken to three members of Liverpool Wavertree CLP who had attended meetings at the Riverside CLP branch. One was a former Mayor who, as reported in the articles, had said: “[The MP] stood up at the front to give her report and because they have only got one microphone the chair asked if members wanted to come up and ask her a question. Audrey White comes up, doesn’t ask a question – and then just begins to address the audience herself. I objected to that. But Louise just stands there with such amazing dignity.”  The newspaper said that a further source, who had asked not to be named, said they had heard the complainant describe the MP as a "warmonger"; it said that another local party member told the journalist, "Audrey White always interrupts Louise." The newspaper said that the same group of activists had repeatedly interrupted the MP over many years, and the MP had confirmed to the reporter that she had found the latest CLP meeting “intimidating”. 

16. The newspaper had said that the complainant had made a complaint to the police concerning the disabled pensioner and the Labour councillor, but that this complaint had been found to be false. 

17. The newspaper provided a letter from the Acting Head of Disputes at The Labour Party, in which the complainant was issued with a formal NEC warning. The letter stated, “It has been brought to the attention of national officers of the Party that you have allegedly made a number of comments in person and on social media regarding a separate resolved dispute within which you were not originally involved. Your comments and actions have caused offence and may have damaged the Party’s reputation… Abuse of any kind – whether direct attacks or pejorative language which may cause offence—is not acceptable and will not be tolerated in our Party”. The letter further stated, “the impact of doing so has caused upset and distress for all involved in the original dispute and has not assisted in resolving the matter”. 

18. In support of its position that the complainant had denied allegations of antisemitism within Labour, the newspaper provided a copy of an article published in another publication. This article claimed that a report, which the publication noted referred to claims of antisemitism within the complainant’s local Labour branch, had been described by the complainant as containing “libellous” and “anonymous accusations”. The newspaper provided another article, which reported further comments from the complainant on the report: “There was no bullying and antisemitism. This is a fabrication and we will not let this slur against us and our city go unchallenged.” These articles were published in October 2016 and January 2017 respectively, and remained in the public domain apparently without being amended or corrected.  It also noted that that the complainant was a signatory to her constituency’s submission to the Chakrabarti Report, which the publication said repeatedly sought to downplay that the extent of antisemitism within the Labour party and concluded by claiming that “…the charge of antisemitism is being used to bully and silence.” 

19. The newspaper said it was accurate to report that the complainant had “launched a sustained attack” against the MP named in the article. It noted that it had been widely reported that the complainant had called for the MP to be “investigated” after she had shown support to an anonymous report detailing claims of antisemitism within the Riverside branch of Labour. 

20. The newspaper did not accept that publishing details of the complainant’s application to re-join the Labour Party was intrusive, or that the manner in which the journalist had engaged with the complainant represented a breach of Clause 2 or Clause 3. It said that the journalist had not recorded the telephone call, or taken a contemporaneous note, but his call had been overheard by the newspaper’s Assistant Editor. The editor provided the following statement to IPSO: 

I did overhear [journalist] talking to White on the phone. He was respectful at all times, while directly putting to her the concerns about her application to rejoin Labour, and rebutting her allegation that his call to her was abusive, as she appeared to be claiming. 

21. The newspaper noted that it had published procedural, rather than personal, information about the complainant. It said that, in any event, the complainant was a highly active, well-known member of the Party who had been involved in public controversy. It said that the Labour Party is currently embroiled in a bitter internal battle regarding allegations of antisemitism and as a result, its internal issues are a matter of significant public interest, particularly amongst the Jewish community. 

22. In response to the letter provided by the newspaper, from the Acting Head of Disputes at The Labour Party, the complainant said that it did not substantiate the articles’ claim that she had received a “number” of formal warnings from the Party, and noted that it did not refer to bullying. The complainant also said that the comments which the newspaper had received from members of Wavertree, regarding what took place at the Riverside CLP meeting, could only be hearsay or fabrication, as Wavertree members cannot attend Riverside CLP meetings unless they are invited as a speaker. 

Relevant Code Provisions 

23. 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. 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 3 (Harassment)*  

i) Journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit.

ii) They must not persist in questioning, telephoning, pursuing or photographing individuals once asked to desist; nor remain on property when asked to leave and must not follow them. If requested, they must identify themselves and whom they represent.

iii) Editors must ensure these principles are observed by those working for them and take care not to use non-compliant material from other sources.

The Public Interest 

There may be exceptions to the clauses marked * where they can be demonstrated to be in the public interest. 

1. The public interest includes, but is not confined to: 

  • Detecting or exposing crime, or the threat of crime, or serious impropriety.
  • Protecting public health or safety.
  • Protecting the public from being misled by an action or statement of an individual or organisation.
  • Disclosing a person or organisation’s failure or likely failure to comply with any obligation to which they are subject.
  • Disclosing a miscarriage of justice.
  • Raising or contributing to a matter of public debate, including serious cases of impropriety, unethical conduct or incompetence concerning the public.
  • Disclosing concealment, or likely concealment, of any of the above. 

2. There is a public interest in freedom of expression itself. 

3. The regulator will consider the extent to which material is already in the public domain or will become so. 

4. Editors invoking the public interest will need to demonstrate that they reasonably believed publication - or journalistic activity taken with a view to publication – would both serve, and be proportionate to, the public interest and explain how they reached that decision at the time. 

5. An exceptional public interest would need to be demonstrated to over-ride the normally paramount interests of children under 16. 

Findings of the Committee 

24. The newspaper had relied upon confidential sources to report that the complainant had been “expelled” from the Labour Party in the 1980s, and had subsequently “lied” on her application to re-join, by use of a “false” date of birth. Publications are entitled to make use of anonymous sources and to protect their identity in line with their obligations under Clause 14 (Confidential sources). However, in this instance, the newspaper had not taken any additional steps to investigate or corroborate the source’s claim that the complainant had been “expelled” from the Labour Party in the 1980s, nor had it produced any evidence to support this claim. Similarly, it had produced no evidence that the complainant had, in fact, entered an incorrect date of birth in her application to re-join the Party in 2015, and had done so intentionally. The newspaper had not been able to demonstrate that it had taken care over the accuracy of the article on these two points; the result was a breach of Clause 1 (i). 

25. The combination of these two claims, and their adoption by the publication as fact, gave rise to the clear impression that the complainant, in her recent dealings with the Labour Party, had acted with an intention to deceive. This impression was furthered in the first article, which claimed that the complainant had used a “false” date of birth to re-join the Party “on the day Jeremy Corbyn became leader”, which suggested that the complainant’s actions had been politically motivated. During the course of IPSO’s investigation, the complainant provided correspondence from the Labour Party, which confirmed that the Party had been unable to trace a surviving record of the complainant having been expelled. This correspondence also confirmed that no change had been made to the complainant’s membership record, which continued to record her correct date of birth. Upon receipt of this correspondence, the newspaper had not offered to correct these significantly misleading claims, in breach of Clause 1 (ii). 

26. The Committee listened to the partial recording of the CLP meeting provided during IPSO’s investigation. It was apparent to the Committee that the MP had spoken in a consistent and conversational tone; the crowd had not been “rowdy”, as alleged. In any event, the statement from the former Mayor of Liverpool, which the newspaper had referenced in support of the claim that the complainant had “repeatedly interrupted” the MP while she had delivered her speech, clearly did not demonstrate that the complainant, or a group which she was a part of, had conducted themselves in this way. The statement provided by the newspaper supported the complainant’s position that she had responded to an open invitation to ask questions. The publication of this claim represented a further failure to take care over the accuracy of the article, in breach of Clause 1 (i) and gave a significantly misleading impression of the complainant’s conduct towards the Labour MP during the meeting, which the newspaper had not offered to correct, in breach of Clause 1 (ii). 

27. The letter from the Labour Party, in which the complainant had been issued with a formal warning regarding her conduct, stated that the complainant’s comments and actions had “caused offence” and “upset and distress” to the individuals concerned. Given the nature of this alleged conduct, it was not a failure to take care not to publish inaccurate information, to report that an allegation of “bullying”, made against the complainant, had resulted in her receiving a formal warning from the Labour Party. Yet, the newspaper had not been able to produce any further evidence to demonstrate that the complainant had received a “number” of warnings following allegations of bullying, as claimed. The single letter produced by the newspaper did not support this claim, and accordingly there was a breach of Clause 1 (i).  To report that the complainant had received multiple warnings from the Party was significant, as it gave credibility to a central thrust of the articles, which was that the complainant’s conduct in relation to her dealings with individuals within the Labour Party had consistently fallen below the standards expected. No correction had been offered to address this significantly misleading claim, in breach of Clause 1 (ii). 

28. The newspaper had said that the complainant had made a complaint to the police concerning the disabled pensioner and the Labour councillor, but that this complaint had been found to be false. The newspaper had produced no evidence to support this allegation, however, in any event, any outcome of the case bore no relevance to the claim made in the articles, which was that the complainant had “falsely claimed that a Labour councillor was under investigation by the police”. It was plainly not “false” to claim this; the complainant had provided correspondence between the alleged victim and the Hate Crime Support Service, which referred to the actions taken by the police in respect of the “hate incident” allegation. The publication had published a claim the accuracy of which it could not defend; the result was a breach of Clause 1 (i). The articles’ claim that the complainant had made “false” allegations concerning the actions of the police, was significant given its seriousness, and furthered the misleading impression of the complainant’s conduct towards Labour politicians. Upon receipt of the correspondence provided by the complainant, the newspaper had not offered to correct this significantly inaccurate claim, in breach of Clause 1 (ii). 

29. The newspaper had produced no evidence to demonstrate that the complainant had been a member of the Socialist Party. The Committee did not accept that a person showing support for the values of a political Party, was the same as showing support by way of membership. This factual assertion, which the newspaper had failed to defend, represented a breach of Clause 1(i), and the failure to correct the error represented a breach of Clause 1(ii). 

30. The complainant did not accept the articles’ claim that she had “repeatedly denied allegations of antisemitism in Jeremy Corbyn’s party”. The Committee noted that the complainant had commented publicly regarding allegations of antisemitism within the Labour Party; she had given an interview in which she denied that she had ever heard any antisemitism within the Labour Party or the trade union movement, and she was quoted in an article as saying that “there was no bullying or antisemitism”. In addition, she was also a signatory to her constituency’s submission to the Chakrabarti report, and this submission rebuffed concerns that antisemitism was as widespread in the Labour Party as some had suggested. Finally, during the course of IPSO’s investigation, the complainant repeated her position that she had not heard anti-Semitic remarks herself, but as antisemitism exists in wider society, it must also exist within the Labour Party; she denied that the issue of antisemitism was any worse than in the wider society. The Committee noted that the complainant was only able to speak for her own experience, however, in circumstances where the complainant had repeatedly taken a stance on this issue, and had, on repeated occasions appeared to deny others’ claims as to the extent of their concerns regarding antisemitism in the Labour party, the Committee considered that the publication had an adequate basis to describe the complainant as having “repeatedly denied” claims of antisemitism, and the characterisation was not inaccurate or misleading. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point. 

31. The complainant had denied that she had “launched a sustained campaign against” her local MP. It appeared to be accepted that the complainant had publicly criticised the MP and openly opposed views and conduct; the complainant’s comments regarding the MP had been widely reported, and the complainant accepted that she would prefer a different MP in line with her views. The Committee also noted that the complainant had called for the MP to be formally investigated. The Committee was satisfied that this provided a reasonable basis for the manner in which the newspaper had characterised the complainant’s activities. There was no failure to take care over the accuracy of the article, and the Committee did not consider that the newspaper’s characterisation had been significantly misleading or inaccurate. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point. 

32. The Committee turned to the complaint made under Clause 2. Membership of a political party is an expression of political affiliation, which is not information which in ordinary circumstances relates to an individual’s private and family life. In this instance, the mere fact that the complainant had chosen to re-join a political party, and the publication of the year of her birth, which was a matter of public record, was not information about which she had a reasonable expectation of privacy. There was no breach of Clause 2 on these points. 

33. The Committee acknowledged the complainant had been concerned when she had received a phone call from the journalist via her ex-directory number. The question for the Committee was whether the journalist’s conduct, in contacting the complainant in this way or during the call, was intrusive under Clause 2, or constituted harassment under the terms of Clause 3. 

34. The journalist had telephoned the complainant and had questioned her about the date of birth which she was said to have recorded on her application to re-join the Labour Party. Contacting a person over the phone, even if that number is ex-directory, will not ordinarily be considered to be intrusive. In any event there was public interest in giving the complainant an opportunity to respond to the journalist’s inquiries. It was accepted between the parties that this conversation had been a robust exchange, which the Committee considered was to be expected, given the nature of the allegation being put to the complainant. It was regrettable that the journalist had not recorded the call, or taken a contemporaneous note, however the newspaper had provided a supporting statement from the Assistant Editor who had heard the journalist’s side of the conversation, and had said that the journalist had put the allegation to the complainant in a respectful manner. In all the circumstances, the Committee did not establish that this single telephone conversation, made for the purposes of pursuing a political news story, represented a breach of Clause 2 or Clause 3. 

35. The Committee expressed significant concerns about the newspaper’s handling of this complaint. The newspaper had failed, on a number of occasions, to answer questions put to it by IPSO and it was regrettable the newspaper’s responses had been delayed. The Committee considered that the publication’s conduct during IPSO’s investigation was unacceptable. The Committee’s concerns have been drawn to the attention of IPSO’s Standards department. 

Conclusions  

36. The complaint was upheld. 

Remedial action required 

37. Having upheld a breach of Clause 1, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required. 

38. The newspaper had breached Clause 1 (i) on multiple occasions and it had not complied with its obligation to correct under the terms of Clause 1 (ii). In these circumstances, the appropriate remedy was the publication of the Committee’s upheld adjudication. 

39. The Committee considered the placement of its adjudication. The print article had been published on page 8 of the newspaper. The Committee therefore required publication of an adjudication on page 8 of the newspaper, or further forward.  It should be published on the top half of the page, and the headline of the adjudication must make clear that IPSO has upheld the complaint against The Jewish Chronicle, and refer to its subject matter; it must be agreed in advance. 

40. The adjudication should also be published on the newspaper’s website, with a link to the full adjudication (including the headline) appearing on the top half of the newspaper’s homepage, on the first screen, for 24 hours; it should then be archived in the usual way. If the newspaper intends to continue to publish the online articles without amendment to remove the significantly misleading statements identified by the Committee, the full text of the adjudication should also be published on the article, beneath the headline. If amended to remove the misleading statements, a link to the adjudication should be published with the article, explaining that it was the subject of an IPSO adjudication, and explaining the amendments that have been made. 

41. The terms of the adjudication for publication are as follows: 

Following publication of four articles headlined “Ex-Militant Tendency activist accused of bullying Louise Ellman lied about date of birth to rejoin Labour”, published online on 25 February 2019; “Plot to oust MP Ellman spearheaded by a former member of the Trotskyist Militant Tendency”, published online on 25 February 2019; “’Bullied’ Louise Ellman nears exit”, published in print on 1 March 2019; “Labour MP Dame Louise Ellman 'considering her future' in party amid rumours of more resignations”, published online on 1 March 2019, Audrey White complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Jewish Chronicle breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice. The complaint was upheld, and IPSO required The Jewish Chronicle to publish this adjudication. 

The articles reported that the complainant had been “expelled” from the Labour Party in the 1980s, by the then leadership. It said that she had then “lied” about her date of birth on her application to re-join the Party in 2015, “on the day Jeremy Corbyn became leader.” The articles also claimed that during the complainant’s local Constituency Labour Party (CLP) meeting, the complainant had been “amongst a group of militants who repeatedly interrupted” their MP while she delivered a speech. The articles also said that the complainant had “received a number of formal warnings from the Party over allegations of bullying against Party members ", and said that she had “falsely claimed that a Labour councillor was under investigation by the police for having ‘cruelly taunted’ a ‘disabled pensioner suffering from cancer’”. One article reported that the complainant had been a member of the Socialist Party. 

The complainant denied all the allegations made against her, as set out above. She provided a copy of an email from the Governance and Legal Unit of the Labour Party, which stated that the Party had been “unable to trace a surviving record of a previous membership” or that the complainant was in the past “expelled from membership”. This correspondence also confirmed that “no change” had been made to her membership record”, which continued to record the complainant’s correct date of birth.  The complainant said that she had received one formal warning from the Labour Party, but this did not refer to allegations of bullying. 

The newspaper said that it had relied upon confidential sources to report that the complainant had been “expelled” from the Labour Party in the 1980s, and had subsequently “lied” on her application to re-join, by use of a “false” date of birth. 

The Committee wished to explain that publications are entitled to make use of anonymous sources and to protect their identity in line with their obligations under Clause 14 (Confidential sources). However, in this instance, the newspaper had not taken any additional steps to investigate or corroborate the source’s claim that the complainant had been “expelled” from the Labour Party in the 1980s, nor had it produced any evidence to support this easily verifiable claim. Similarly, it had produced no evidence that the complainant had, in fact, entered an incorrect date of birth in her application to re-join the Party in 2015, and had done so intentionally. The newspaper had not been able to demonstrate that it had taken care over the accuracy of the article on these two points; the result was a breach of Clause 1 (i). 

The combination of these two claims, and their adoption by the publication as fact, gave rise to the clear impression that the complainant, in her recent dealings with the Labour Party, had acted with an intention to deceive. This impression was furthered in the first article, which claimed that the complainant had used a “false” date of birth to re-join the Party “on the day Jeremy Corbyn became leader”, which suggested that the complainant’s actions had been politically motivated. Upon receipt of the correspondence from the Governance and Legal Unit of the Labour Party, the newspaper had not offered to correct these significantly misleading claims, in breach of Clause 1 (ii). 

The Committee listened to the partial recording of the CLP meeting provided during IPSO’s investigation. It was apparent to the Committee that the MP had spoken in a consistent and conversational tone; the crowd had not been “rowdy”, as alleged. In any event, the statement from the former Mayor of Liverpool, which the newspaper had referenced in support of the claim that the complainant had “repeatedly interrupted” the MP while she had delivered her speech, clearly did not demonstrate that the complainant, or a group which she was a part of, had conducted themselves in this way. The statement provided by the newspaper supported the complainant’s position that she had responded to an open invitation to ask questions. The publication of this claim represented a further failure to take care over the accuracy of the article, in breach of Clause 1 (i) and gave a significantly misleading impression of the complainant’s conduct towards the Labour MP during the meeting, which the newspaper had not offered to correct, in breach of Clause 1 (ii). 

The newspaper had provided a letter from the Labour Party, in which the complainant had been issued with a formal warning regarding her conduct. It stated that the complainant’s comments and actions had “caused offence” and “upset and distress” to the individuals concerned. Given the nature of this alleged conduct, it was not a failure to take care not to publish inaccurate information, to report that an allegation of “bullying”, made against the complainant, had resulted in her receiving a formal warning from the Labour Party. Yet, the newspaper had not been able to produce any further evidence to demonstrate that the complainant had received a “number” of warnings following allegations of bullying, as claimed. The single letter produced by the newspaper did not support this claim, and accordingly there was a breach of Clause 1 (i).  To report that the complainant had received multiple warnings from the Party was significant, as it gave credibility to a central thrust of the articles, which was that the complainant’s conduct in relation to her dealings with individuals within the Labour Party had consistently fallen below the standards expected. No correction had been offered to address this significantly misleading claim, in breach of Clause 1 (ii). 

It was plainly not “false” to claim this; during IPSO’s investigation the complainant had provided correspondence between the alleged victim and the Hate Crime Support Service, which referred to the actions taken by the police in respect of the “hate incident” allegation. The publication had published a claim the accuracy of which it could not defend; the result was a breach of Clause 1 (i). The articles’ claim that the complainant had made “false” allegations concerning the actions of the police, was significant given its seriousness, and furthered the misleading impression of the complainant’s conduct towards Labour politicians. Upon receipt of the correspondence provided by the complainant, the newspaper had not offered to correct this significantly inaccurate claim, in breach of Clause 1 (ii). 

The newspaper had produced no evidence to demonstrate that the complainant had been a member of the Socialist Party. The Committee did not accept that a person showing support for the values of a political Party, was the same as showing support by way of membership. This factual assertion, which the newspaper had failed to defend, represented a breach of Clause 1(i), and the failure to correct the error represented a breach of Clause 1(ii). 

The Committee expressed significant concerns about the newspaper’s handling of this complaint. The newspaper had failed, on a number of occasions, to answer questions put to it by IPSO and it was regrettable the newspaper’s responses had been delayed. The Committee considered that the publication’s conduct during IPSO’s investigation was unacceptable. The Committee’s concerns have been drawn to the attention of IPSO’s Standards department.

Date complaint received: 27/02/2019

Date decision issued: 01/11/2019