Ruling

02093-22 Boreland v Sunday Life

    • Date complaint received

      27th October 2022

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 02093-22 Boreland v Sunday Life

Summary of Complaint

1. Marcus Boreland complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Sunday Life breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in two articles headlined “UDA boss Boreland accuses rivals of dirty tricks over son’s ‘cocaine’ vid” and “Tensions rising on north coast as hotel raided and guns stolen”, both of which were published on 6 February 2022.

2. The articles both appeared on page 8 of the newspaper. The article headlined “UDA boss Boreland accuses rivals of dirty tricks over son’s ‘cocaine’ vid” reported on a video which allegedly showed the complainant’s son “pretending to cut cocaine”. It referred to the complainant as a “UDA chief” and a “leading loyalist”, going on to report that “[f]or his part the leading loyalist denies any links to criminality, telling this newspaper: ‘I’m not involved in anything. I never was and never will be.’”

3. Following the complainant’s quoted denial, the article went on to state that: “[T]his is at odds with Boreland’s conviction for phoning a Catholic work colleague to tell him he ‘would be shot by the Red Hand Defenders’ — a move that earned him nine months in prison. The 46-year-old served his sentence on the loyalist wing of Maghaberry Prison, admission to which is by invite only from the UDA or UVF. In 2006 the high court seized half-a-million pounds worth of assets from Boreland which prosecutors said were obtained via VAT fraud.”

4. The article also reported that the complainant “was also arrested in connection with the 2015 UDA murder of small-time drug dealer Brian McIlhagga […] before being freed without charge.”

5. The article headlined “Tensions rising on north coast as hotel raided and guns stolen“ reported on a police raid of a hotel. It reported that the “UDA in Coleraine and Ballymoney is led by close friends [named individual…] and Marcus Borland, who sometimes works as a doorman at [the hotel which was raided]”.

6. The first article appeared online in substantially the same form under the headline “Antrim UDA boss Marcus Boreland accuses rivals of dirty tricks over son’s ‘cocaine’ video”. The second article also appeared online in substantially the same form, under the headline “Northern Ireland hotel raided by police probing UDA criminality”.

7. The complainant said that both articles were inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. With regards to the first article, he said that the headline’s use of the phrase “UDA boss” was extremely inaccurate. He said that the body of both articles were also inaccurate, as the “unfounded allegation” that he was a UDA boss was repeated, and the articles’ narrative placed him at the centre of criminal activity. He said that this narrative had no foundation in reality.

8. The complainant also said that, contrary to the first article’s statement that he had been “arrested in connection with the 2015 UDA murder of small-time drug dealer Brian McIlhagga […] before being freed without charge”, he had never been arrested in relation to this alleged offence. To support his position, the complainant supplied an email from a solicitor, which said as follows:

I confirm that I have checked through my files and have no record of you having been questioned by police about the murder of Brian McElhagga [sic] on 5th January 2015. You are adamant that you were never spoken to about this matter.

9. The publication said it did not accept that either article was inaccurate. It said that the information regarding the complainant’s alleged role as a “UDA leader” had been gleaned from a number of reliable sources over the years, and it provided several articles it had published over the previous decade which referred to the complainant in this manner. The publication also noted that the complainant had not previously complained to the publication about the reporting of this allegation and – while it did not consider this to be proof of the truth of the allegation – said that the consideration of the history of uncontested reporting was part of the care taken over the accuracy of the article.

10. The publication further noted that the complainant had been jailed in 2016 for “making sectarian death threats on behalf of the Red Hand Defenders group”, and said that this group was a cover name for the UDA. To support its position on this point, the newspaper provided an article from a different publication, which referred to the group as “a cover name used by elements in the UDA and Loyalist Volunteer Force”. The publication also said that the complainant had served his sentence on “the segregated loyalist wing of Maghaberry Prison which is open only to UVF and UDA members”. It therefore did not consider that it was a breach of Clause 1 to refer to the complainant as a “UDA leader”.

11. The previous articles provided by the publication to support its position on this point referred to the complainant as: a “UDA gangster” who “heads up a small UDA unit”; the “UDA[‘s…] commander in the town”; a “paramilitary boss”; a “UDA boss”; and one of two “UDA leaders”. The articles were published between 31 July 2011 and 6 December 2020.

12. The publication said that it had put the allegation regarding the complainant’s alleged role within the UDA to him previously, for an article published in December 2020. The complainant had denied the allegation, and his denial was included in the first article under complaint.

13. With regards to the first article’s claim that the complainant “was also arrested in connection with the 2015 UDA murder of small-time drug dealer Brian McIlhagga […] before being freed without charge”, it said that this information had also been provided by several sources and had been reported “extensively in the past without contradiction or complaint”; it provided its own article which it said  supported its position on this point. It said that it had no way to check this allegation against court records or similar where – as acknowledged by the article – the complainant had never been charged in relation to the crime.

14. The article provided by the publication to support its position that there was a history of uncontested reporting regarding the complainant’s alleged arrest said as follows: “UDA members in the area murdered small-time drug dealer Brian McIlhagga in 2015” and “Marcus Boreland […] was questioned by police following the murder of Brian McIlhagga in Ballymoney last year. He was later freed without charge.”

15. The newspaper said that it had first reported the claim regarding the complainant’s alleged arrest in 2016 and – given the length of time that had passed since the original report and the subsequent complaint – the journalist had not retained their notes, and could not recollect if the complainant was contacted for comment in relation to this allegation. It said that it had not considered it necessary to put the allegation to the complainant on this occasion, given the fact that the information had been provided by trusted sources and where the complainant had not contested previous reporting of the alleged arrest.

16. However, shortly after IPSO commenced its investigation and as a gesture of good faith, the publication said that it would be prepared to publish a clarification setting out the complainant’s position with regards to the allegation:

In an article published on 6 February, 2022 we stated that Marcus Boreland had been arrested in connection with the 2015 UDA murder of small-time drug dealer Brian McIlhagga in Ballymoney, before being freed without charge. Marcus Boreland has subsequently contacted the Sunday Life, via the IPSO complaints process, to state that he was never arrested in connection with the matter.

It proposed to publish the clarification on page 8 of its print edition and as a footnote to the online article headlined “Antrim UDA boss Marcus Boreland accuses rivals of dirty tricks over son’s ‘cocaine’ video”.

17. The complainant said that he had not previously complained to IPSO about the allegations which he considered to be inaccurate – the links between him and the UDA, as well as the information about him having been arrested in relation to Mr McIlhagga’s death – because he was not aware of IPSO and the fact that it could offer a way for complainant to raise alleged factual inaccuracies within published articles. He said that he had previously contacted a journalist working for the newspaper, via his solicitor, to make it aware that he contested the accuracy of the claim that he had been arrested in relation to the murder of Mr McIlhagga. However, he said that his legal representative had no record of this contact with the publication, as his acting solicitor had since moved practice.

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

18. The Committee considered first the complaint about the allegation that the complainant was a “UDA boss”. There was a history of reporting, dating back over a decade prior to the publication of the articles under complaint, referring to the complainant as having some form of leadership role within the UDA. While any allegation of criminality was denied by the complainant – and this position was set out in the first article under complaint – the publication had set out its basis for linking the complainant with the UDA: he had been held in a prison-wing which was only accessible to UVF and UDA members and had been convicted for making death threats under a cover name for the organisation. The publication had also said that a number of anonymous sources had linked the complainant with a leadership role in the UDA, though it had not provided the sources submissions to IPSO. These points had not been disputed by the complainant.

19. Taking all these factors into account – the history of reporting which referred to the complainant as having some sort of leadership role in the UDA;  the links between the complainant’s conviction and subsequent incarceration on a prison wing which was only accessible to UVF and UDA members; and the inclusion of the complainant’s denial within one of the articles (where, in print, both articles appeared on the same page and side-by-side) – the Committee considered, on balance, that the publication had taken care in line with the terms of Clause 1 in reporting that the complainant was a “UDA boss” (in the first article) and that he was one of two individuals who “led” the “UDA in Coleraine and Ballymoney” (in the second article). There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

20. Turning to the claim that the complainant “was also arrested in connection with the 2015 UDA murder of small-time drug dealer Brian McIlhagga […] before being freed without charge”, the Committee noted that the complainant’s comment had been sought on this specific allegation prior to publication. It further noted that while the newspaper was entitled to rely on anonymous sources, extra steps did need to be taken to ensure that care was taken with regards to the accuracy of the  claim, especially given the seriousness of the allegation. There was no record of the publication having taken these extra steps – for instance, contacting the PSNI for an on-the-record comment, or seeking comment from the complainant’s legal representative. The publication had sought to rely on its own previous reporting to support its position on this point, but the article it had cited only said that the complainant had been “questioned” in connection with the incident, rather than arrested.

21. The Committee recognised that, where the claim related to an arrest that allegedly took place over 8 years ago, it may be difficult to corroborate the claim or access its notes from its contemporaneous reporting. However, one step clearly available to the newspaper was to contact the complainant and put the allegation to him. The publication had no record of having sought comment in relation to the specific allegation regarding Mr McIlhagga’s death, and the complainant’s denial of this allegation was not included in the article under complaint.

22. The Committee did not consider, therefore, that the publication had taken care in reporting that the complainant “was also arrested in connection with the 2015 UDA murder of small-time drug dealer Brian McIlhagga”, and there was a breach of Clause 1 (i) on this point, where it presented an allegation against the complainant as fact in a misleading manner, in circumstances where the newspaper could not demonstrate that the complainant had been arrested and had not published the complainant’s position on the matter.

23. The Committee noted that the email provided by the complainant from his solicitor did not state, as fact, that the complainant had never been arrested in relation to the matter; rather, it said that the writer had no record of the arrest, and that the complainant strongly disputed that he had been arrested. Therefore, the Committee considered that it was not in a position to resolve the discrepancy between the two accounts given by the publication and the complainant. However, it considered that – given the serious nature of the allegation – clarification was required under the terms of Clause 1 (ii), putting the complainant’s position on record.

24. The publication had offered to publish the following wording, setting out the complainant’s position with regards to the allegation against him, on page 8 of the print edition – the same page as the original article – and as a footnote to the online article:

In an article published on 6 February, 2022 we stated that Marcus Boreland had been arrested in connection with the 2015 UDA murder of small-time drug dealer Brian McIlhagga in Ballymoney, before being freed without charge. Marcus Boreland has subsequently contacted the Sunday Life, via the IPSO complaints process, to state that he was never arrested in connection with the matter.

25. The proposed wording clearly set out the complainant’s position that he had not been arrested in relation to the charges. The Committee also considered that the locations proposed for the wording to be published were duly prominent, where they appeared in the same approximate location as the original misleading information. The publication had proposed to publish the wording shortly after IPSO’s investigation had begun, and had therefore proposed the remedy with sufficient promptness. Therefore, where the wording set out the complainant’s position and was offered promptly and the proposed location was duly prominent, there was no breach of Clause 1 (ii).

Conclusion(s)

26. The complaint was partly upheld under Clause 1 (i).

Remedial Action Required

27. The clarification which was offered clearly put the correct position on record, and was offered promptly and with due prominence, and should now be published.


Date complaint received: 17/03/2022

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 30/09/2022