Ruling

01951-22 Keegan v The Sunday Times

    • Date complaint received

      10th November 2022

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of correction

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 01951-22 Keegan v The Sunday Times

Summary of Complaint

1. Michael Keegan complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sunday Times breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in two articles headlined:

· “Japanese giant still stamping on Post Office victims”, published on 16 May 2021.

· “Will justice finally be DELIVERED?”, published on 27 February 2022.

2. The first article, which appeared online only, reported that the former Chief Executive (CEO) of the Post Office told a Parliamentary Select Committee that she had “repeatedly” asked whether the Post Office or Fujitsu – the company that built and maintained the Horizon IT system which was responsible for the wrongful prosecution of numerous sup-postmasters – had the ability to access and alter information remotely: “I remember being told by Fujitsu’s then [UK] CEO when I raised it with him that the system was "like Fort Knox”. The article then explained that this CEO was the complainant.

3. The headline of the second article was followed by the sub-heading: “Those responsible for the Post Office scandal went on to lucrative jobs. Some even got bonuses. But they may yet be held to account”. This appeared beneath photographs of 12 individuals, each accompanied by a summary of their respective connections to the ‘Post Office scandal’. One of the photographs was of the complainant and the accompanying summary stated, “Keegan was UK [CEO] and chairman at Fujitsu between 2015 and 2018, playing a central role in its dealings with the Post Office as it fought the sub-postmasters”. It then stated that he was “now a crown representative at the Cabinet Office dealing with defence suppliers on behalf of taxpayers.” The text of the article stated that the complainant had been “a board member” of Fujitsu before serving as CEO and Chairman, and was “central to the firm’s dealings with the Post Office during a critical period, as the experiences of sub-postmasters came to light and the organisation decided to fight them in court”.

4. The second article also appeared online under the headline “Post Office scandal: will justice ever be delivered?”. The text of this article was substantially the same as the print version.

5. The complainant said both articles were inaccurate, in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy). In relation to the first article, he denied that he was the individual who had told the former CEO of the Post Office that the Horizon system was like “Fort Knox” and could not be accessed remotely by Fujitsu, nor was he identified as such during her evidence to a Parliamentary Select Committee. He had only met her once in 2014 and had no ongoing relationship with her; he did not discuss or give her any assurances regarding Horizon’s capabilities. The complainant said this false attribution had resulted in him being named as the person who had given misleading statements about Horizon within the Houses of Parliament and on social media.

6. The complainant, through a representative, had contacted the newspaper the day after the first article’s publication to express his concern that it was inaccurate in this regard. He added that, since the article’s publication, the newspaper had been made aware that it was a different individual who had made this particular remark, yet the record had not been corrected at that time.

7. The complainant said the second article also breached Clause 1. He denied that he was the “UK [CEO] and chairman at Fujitsu between 2015 and 2018”, or that he had played a “central role” in the organisation’s dealing with the Post Office as it “fought the sub-postmasters” and “decided to fight them in the court”. He served as Fujitsu’s UK CEO from May 2014 to June 2015. His responsibilities for the Post Office account had ended when he became the Head of Fujitsu EMEIA’s Technology Product Business in June 2015; a position he held until he left the organisation in 2018. He noted that the sub-postmasters did not commence their litigation against the Post Office until 2016. While he accepted that he had been given the title of UK “Chairman” for Fujitsu, he said that he did not have “line management responsibility” for the Post Office account during this period, which he said was held by his successor as CEO for Fujitsu UK. He added that he had only learnt of the sub-postmaster’s litigation from press coverage in 2019.

8. The complainant also expressed concern that he had not been contacted for comment prior to the publication of either article.

9. The newspaper did not accept a breach of the Editors’ Code. The former CEO of the Post Office had told the Parliamentary Select Committee in 2021 that her previous submissions had been based upon what she had been assured “by Fujitsu’s then CEO” who “had been a trusted outsource partner and had the reputation of a highly competent technology sector CEO”. While the newspaper accepted that this individual had not specifically named the complainant during her evidence, it maintained that she could only have been referring to him: the complainant served as Fujitsu’s UK CEO from May 2014 to June 2015, which was the timeframe in which she had previously given evidence to the committee; he had held senior positions at the organisation since 2006; and was well-known for his long experience in the technology sector. It added this was protected by Parliamentary reporting privilege; the newspaper was under no obligation to seek responses from those quoted from or referred to.

10. Notwithstanding this, upon receipt of the complaint from IPSO in May 2022 the newspaper contacted the former CEO of the Post Office, who confirmed that the complainant was not the individual who had described the Horizon system as “Fort Knox” to her. While the newspaper did not accept that this rendered the article inaccurate or misleading, it amended the online article to reflect this, noting that “the identity of [the] executive remains unclear” and added an update at the foot of the article, in a gesture of goodwill:

“Following publication of this article [the former CEO of the Post Office] has confirmed that the Fujitsu CEO to whom she referred in her evidence to the Commons committee in 2020 was not Michael Keegan. We are happy to make this clear.”

11. In addition, the newspaper maintained that the second article’s characterisation of the complainant as "playing a central role in [Fujitsu's] dealings with the Post Office as it fought the sub-postmasters" was fair and accurate. The newspaper said that the complainant had served as CEO and Chairman of Fujitsu UK and had ultimately held responsibility for the Post Office contract and for the operation of the Horizon software during this period; concerns about defects in the software were well-documented before the complainant’s tenure as CEO and the organisation’s own knowledge of the defects significantly preceded public awareness of them – a point noted during a High Court ruling on the subject. Furthermore, it argued that the complainant had taken no steps during his time as CEO to correct the inaccurate position of the Post Office that Fujitsu was unable to access and alter Horizon software remotely. It also noted that the Post Office had launched a mediation scheme for sub-postmasters to raise grievances in 2014, with this scheme ongoing during the complainant’s tenure as CEO; the Post Office had commissioned a review to investigate allegations of defects in the Horizon software which reported that it was “not fit for purpose” in 2015 – four months after the complainant’s appointment as CEO; and the Criminal Cases Review Commission began reviewing the prosecution of sub-postmasters in 2015. It also noted that the Post Office had submitted evidence to Parliament regarding the Horizon system in 2015, eight months after the complainant’s appointment as CEO, which made suggestions that he must have known were false: namely, that there was no technical facility within Horizon for Fujitsu to alter branch data remotely. In the context, the publication said it was reasonable to conclude that the complainant, as the individual ultimately responsible for Fujitsu’s UK operations at this time, was aware of these issues.

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.

Findings of the Committee

12. The first article stated, as fact, that the complainant had been the CEO of Fujitsu UK who had likened the Horizon System to "Fort Knox" in a conversation with the former CEO of the Post Office. While the newspaper was entitled to report on the comments made in evidence by the former CEO of the Post Office to a Parliamentary Select Committee, she had at no point identified the complainant by name as the source of the comment. The conclusion that he was the source rested, in some part, on assumptions made by the publication. Taken in this context, and where the publication had not sought to verify the identity of this individual prior to publication – either by contacting the complainant or the former CEO of the Post Office – this represented a failure to take care under Clause 1 (i).

13. The complainant denied being responsible for the remark attributed to him and, in response to an enquiry from the newspaper following publication, the former CEO of the Post Office – in whose evidence the comment featured – had confirmed to the publication that the complainant was not the person to whom she had referred. In the context of an article about the significant ramifications of Fujitsu’s “flawed IT system”, incorrectly claiming that the CEO of the Post Office had identified the complainant as being the source of the claim about the security of that system while in post as CEO was significant and as such required correction under Clause 1 (ii).

14. The complainant’s representative had contacted the newspaper the day after the article’s publication, in May 2021, to notify it that this claim was inaccurate. However, it was only upon receipt of the complaint from IPSO in March 2022 and receiving clarification from the former CEO of the Post Office that the publication amended the online article and published a footnote clarification. While the Committee welcomed the steps taken by the publication, it noted that the information provided by the complainant did not materially add to the information already provided by the complainant’s representative nine months prior. In such circumstances, and given the significance of the claim, the Committee concluded that the steps taken by the publication were not prompt, and there was a breach of Clause 1 (ii).

15. The Committee next considered the complaint that the second article was misleading in describing the complainant as “playing a central role in [Fujitsu’s] dealings with the Post Office as it fought the sub-postmasters.” The complainant accepted that he held the position of Chief Executive between April 2014 to June 2015 over which period he had line responsibility for the Fujitsu business with the Post Office. The complainant also accepted that he had held the role of Chairman from 2015. However, he explained that his responsibilities for the Post Office had ended in June 2015 on becoming Head of the company’s EMEIA Technology Product Business, when line management responsibility for the Post Office passed to his successor. The Committee noted the complainant’s position that the litigation between the sub-postmasters and the Post Office did not commence until later, in 2016. The article reported, accurately, that the complainant had held the roles of UK Chief Executive and Chairman of the company between 2015 and 2018. However, it went further than identifying the roles held by the complainant and made the specific allegation that he had played “a central role” in Futjitsu’s dealing with the Post Office at a key time, namely “as [the Post Office] fought the sub-postmasters”; this suggested direct operational involvement by the complainant. The publication had not been able to evidence this specific allegation. Though in his position as CEO of Fujitsu UK the complainant was ultimately responsible for the accountability and governance of the company, the publication had not provided any evidence or any public record demonstrating that the complainant had a “central role” in the company’s dealings with the Post Office at the material time. The publication of this unsubstantiated claim represented a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article, in breach of Clause 1. In the context of an article which examined the responsibilities of those connected to the ‘Post Office Scandal’, the complainant’s relationship with the events was a matter of significance. As such, a correction was required under Clause 1 (ii). As the publication of a correction had not been offered by the newspaper, there was a further breach of Clause 1 (ii).

Conclusion(s)

16. The complaint was upheld.

Remedial Action Required

17. Having upheld the complaint against both articles, the Committee considered what remedial action was appropriate. In circumstances where the Committee establishes a breach of the Editors’ Code, it can require the publication of a correction and/or adjudication. The nature, extent, and placement of which is determined by IPSO.

18. With regards to the first article, the clarification published by the publication was insufficient to address the requirements of Clause 1(ii), particularly in relation to promptness. As such, the Committee decided that the appropriate remedy was the publication of a standalone correction. This correction should appear in the publication’s online Corrections and Clarifications column, and should acknowledge that the previous version of the article was inaccurate: the complainant had not been the individual who had described the Horizon System as ‘Fort Knox’ to the former CEO of the Post Office. The wording of this correction should state that it was published following an upheld ruling by the Independent Press Standards Organisation. The full wording should be agreed with IPSO in advance.

19. The Committee next considered the remedial action required for the second article. Though the Committee recognised that the complainant held various senior positions at Fujitsu UK, the publication had been unable to substantiate the specific allegation regarding the complainant’s direct involvement with the Post Office during this time. The Committee considered that the appropriate remedy was the publication of a correction to put the correct position on record. The Committee then considered the placement of this correction. This correction should appear as a standalone correction in the publication’s Corrections and Clarification’s column both in print and online. It should also appear beneath the headline of the online article should it remain unamended. If, however, the text of the article is amended this correction may appear as a footnote, recording the alternations made. The wording of this correction should be agreed with IPSO in advance and should make clear that it had been published following an upheld ruling.


Date complaint received: 07/03/2022

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 17/10/2022


Independent Complaints Reviewer

The publication complained to the Independent Complaints Reviewer about the process followed by IPSO in handling this complaint. The Independent Complaints Reviewer decided that the process was not flawed and did not uphold the request for review.