02093-16 Smith v The Scottish Sun

    • Date complaint received

      30th June 2016

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 12 Discrimination

Summary of complaint

1. John Smith complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Scottish Sun breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Mind your banners”, published in print on 10 March 2016, and “Mind your banners: Old Firm cops brush up on hate flags and songs”, published online on 10 March 2016.

2. The article reported that police officers in Scotland were being trained to “spot offensive banners and identify hate songs at the Old Firm showdown”, and quoted a “force insider” explaining the guidance that officers would receive. It said that officers would be issued with “dossiers of names, phrases and lyrics” linked to terrorists, as well as banned sectarian terms; however it said the word “hun” had not been classified as offensive, but the police would look at the context. 

3. The online version was substantively similar to the print version, although it did contain a list of songs that the article said it “understood” police officers had been briefed on.

4. The complainant said it was inaccurate to report that police officers were being trained to spot offensive banners and identify hate songs at the Rangers v Celtic match. He provided a response to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request from Police Scotland, which said that no briefing had taken place in respect of the match, and that no list of ‘banned’ banners or songs had been compiled. He also provided previous responses to similar FOI requests which said that there was no list of banners or songs compiled by the Crown Office, Procurator Fiscal Service or any other organisation. He did, however, accept that briefings were routinely held for police officers before football matches.

5. The complainant also said that it was inaccurate to report that the word “hun” was not classified as offensive under Scottish law, and that the reporting of such a falsehood encouraged religious discrimination in breach of Clause 12. He provided an article reporting a conviction in 2008 of a man wearing a t-shirt with the words “dirty horrible huns” as evidence that the use of the word was a criminal offence in Scotland.

6. The newspaper denied that the article was inaccurate. It said that it had been briefed about the “training” by a senior police officer with extensive experience of policing football matches. It said that it understood that several layers of police briefings took place, and believed the FOI responses provided by the complainant referred to major official briefings, not “normal day to day briefings”. It provided an official response from Police Scotland, sought after the complaint had been made: this said that it was standard practice for officers to be briefed before football matches on matters including flags, banners and pyrotechnic devices. This response also said that the word “hun”, with no aggravating behaviour associated with it, is not deemed criminal.

Relevant Code Provisions

7. 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.

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

8. The newspaper said it had been briefed by a confidential police source with experience of policing football matches; the complainant had provided a number of documents which he believed contradicted this information. While these documents stated that no briefing had taken place for the Rangers v Celtic match, and that there was no official list of banned songs or flags provided by the Scottish authorities, this did not preclude the possibility of informal briefings – such as pre-match briefings, which the complainant accepted took place – and lists of songs and banners being provided to officers in advance of the match. The Committee noted that the response received by the newspaper from Police Scotland following receipt of the complaint supported this. There was no breach of Clause 1.

9. The court report provided by the complainant referred to a case where the word “hun” was accompanied by aggravating behaviour; it was not inaccurate for the newspaper to include a quote from its police source saying that the use of the word on its own was not deemed to be offensive. There was no breach of Clause 1.

10. The use of the word “hun” in the article did not relate to an individual, and did not therefore engage the terms of Clause 12.


11. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required


Date complaint received: 1/4/16
Date complaint concluded 10/6/16