Ruling

02200-22 Taffurelli v The Sun

    • Date complaint received

      20th October 2022

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of correction

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 14 Confidential sources, 4 Intrusion into grief or shock, 9 Reporting of crime

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 02200-22 Taffurelli v The Sun

Summary of Complaint

1. Darren Taffurelli complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sun breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock), Clause 9 (Reporting of crime), and Clause 14 (Confidential sources) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Virus test wait rage”, published on 17th March 2022.

2. The article reported that the complainant “tried to break into a Covid test centre after waiting three days at Heathrow for his PCR result”. It stated that the “delay” meant he “miss[ed] a connecting flight”. The article said that he had been “drinking” and went to the testing centre’s offices to “demand compensation but caused £1,264 damage to a padlock”. It continued by stating that the complainant “was found guilty of attempted burglary” and that his lawyer said “’This was not a revenge attack, this was a cry for help’”.

3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 because he was not convicted of attempted burglary. He said that, whilst he had been charged with this initially, the prosecution offered no evidence in respect of this charge and it was dropped. He said that, instead, he was convicted of criminal damage. The complainant provided a letter from his legal representative which confirmed this. He said the article was also inaccurate because he had not attended the test centre in order to demand compensation at the time; but acknowledged that he did subsequently seek and receive compensation. He said he had visited late in the evening so as to avoid confrontation with any staff. He said his intention was to cause disruption so as to be noticed by those higher up in the company.

4. The complainant also said the article was inaccurate because it used the term “rage”. He said that, whilst he had been upset, he was not angry. He stated that “rage” connoted “uncontrollable, violent, [and] aggressive”, whereas he had superglued the locks, phoned the police and then waited casually for them to arrive. The complainant said the article was also inaccurate because he had not been waiting in Heathrow for three days. He said that if he was at Heathrow, he would have been able to order a new Covid-19 test. He stated he had first travelled to Zurich to catch a connecting flight to Thailand, and then travelled to Frankfurt to try and get a connecting flight to Thailand, during the waiting period. The complainant also said the article was inaccurate because it portrayed him as an “angry drunk” or a “drunken thug”. He said he had consumed a couple of drinks but was not drunk.

5. The complainant said the article also breached Clause 4 because he was experiencing difficult personal circumstances at the time of the incident and his mother’s sister had just passed away and the article had adversely affected him. He said the article also breached Clause 9 and Clause 14 because it inaccurately reported his crime and there was a misunderstanding between the court reporter and the publication.

6. The publication said it did not accept a breach of Clause 1. It said that the only charge before the court was attempted burglary with intent to cause criminal damage, and that this appeared on the published list at the magistrates’ court. It accepted that this charge had later been dropped but asserted that it was not significantly inaccurate to report that the complainant had been convicted of attempted burglary, where the focus of the article was on reporting that he appeared to want revenge on the testing company and was not about the legal nuances of his position. Nevertheless, it offered to publish a correction in its established Corrections and Clarifications column in the newspaper:

“After trying to break into a Covid testing centre at Heathrow, Darren Taffurelli was convicted of criminal damage, not attempted burglary as our 17 March article stated”.

7. Regarding whether the complainant had been in a “rage”, “drunk”, and had demanded compensation, the publication did not accept a breach of Clause 1. It provided an extract from the court reporter’s notes and an earlier un-subedited version of the article, which stated the defence had said “[the complainant] contacted the company and asked for compensation […] he kept checking the website and saw that numerous people had been saying they had not received compensation. What's really bizarre about this is that [the complainant] did not intend to do anything on the day in question […] He found himself in this bizarre predicament outside the company, clearly it was locked and he then called the police saying, I'm outside the premises, I'm very upset, can anyone do something to help me?”, and “[h]e had had a bit to drink, found himself there, not knowing what he was doing” The publication asserted that this showed complainant’s defence lawyer had linked the complainant’s actions to his desire for compensation. It also said “very upset” indicated that the complainant was angry, and in addition, it asserted that he was sufficiently motivated by the strength of his feelings to travel to the Covid-19 test centre and commit criminal damage.

8. The publication said it also did not accept a breach of Clause 1 in relation to whether the complainant was at Heathrow for three days. It said the court reporter’s notes stated that “[w]hen [the complainant] tried to return to Thailand in December, a delayed PCR test meant that couldn't get his connecting flight from Frankfurt and he spent three days stuck in the airport trying to get his results”. It said that it was not significant which airport the complainant was at as it did not alter the central point of the story (what had caused his irritation with the Covid-19 test centre and the complainant’s subsequent actions). It added that the article was very short and so the specific details of where exactly the complainant had been waiting was not the focus of the article.

9. The publication also said Clause 4 and Clause 14 were not engaged, and that, as the article made no reference to the complainant’s friends or relatives, Clause 9 was similarly not engaged.

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 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock)

In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively. These provisions should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings.

Clause 9 (Reporting of crime)

i) Relatives or friends of persons convicted or accused of crime should not generally be identified without their consent, unless they are genuinely relevant to the story.

ii) Particular regard should be paid to the potentially vulnerable position of children under the age of 18 who witness, or are victims of, crime. This should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings.

iii) Editors should generally avoid naming children under the age of 18 after arrest for a criminal offence but before they appear in a youth court unless they can show that the individual’s name is already in the public domain, or that the individual (or, if they are under 16, a custodial parent or similarly responsible adult) has given their consent. This does not restrict the right to name juveniles who appear in a crown court, or whose anonymity is lifted.

Clause 14 (Confidential sources)

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

Findings of the Committee

10. The Committee first considered the reporting of the offence for which the complainant was convicted. The article reported the complainant “was found guilty of attempted burglary”. Whilst the complainant had originally been charged with attempted burglary, this was later dropped, and he was convicted of criminal damage. As such, the article was inaccurate, and the publication had not taken sufficient care not to publish inaccurate or misleading information. There was a breach of Clause 1(i). As this inaccuracy related to the offence for which the complainant had been convicted, it was significant and required correction under the terms of Clause 1(ii). The parties had been in correspondence before a complaint was made to IPSO. During this correspondence, the publication offered a correction, to be published in the established Corrections and Clarifications column, that stated the complainant had not been found guilty of attempted burglary but had instead been convicted of criminal damage. However, the proposed correction had also claimed the complainant had “tr[ied] to break into a Covid testing centre”. Where he had not been found guilty of attempted burglary, the Committee considered that there was no basis for this claim and so whilst the offer was prompt and duly prominent, it did not sufficiently correct the inaccuracy. There was a breach of Clause 1(ii).

11. The Committee then turned to whether it was accurate for the headline to use the term “rage”. The Committee noted that the complainant had said he was “upset” but had not been angry, and that the court reporter’s notes and an earlier un-subedited version of the article referred to him as such. However, where the complainant had caused criminal damage, the Committee considered that it was not significantly inaccurate or misleading to characterise these actions as “[v]irus test wait rage”. There was no breach of Clause 1. Regarding whether the complainant had visited the centre in order to “demand compensation”; where it was not in dispute that the complainant had visited the centre and caused criminal damage in order to draw the company’s attention to the impact of his delayed test result, and given that the complainant also appeared to accept that compensation was ultimately what he wanted and his defence barrister had said the complainant “contacted the company and asked for compensation” – and which he did subsequently receive – the Committee considered it was not inaccurate to say the complainant had “visited the centre to demand compensation”. There was no breach of Clause 1.

12. In regard to the point of complaint about whether it inaccurately portrayed the complainant as a “drunken thug”, the Committee noted the complainant accepted he had had a couple of drinks. The article had not described the complainant as “drunk” or specified how much he had imbibed, but simply said that he attended the Dam Health facility “after drinking”. Where it was not in dispute that the complainant had consumed some alcohol, the article was, therefore, not inaccurate or misleading. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point. The Committee then considered whether reporting the complainant had been “waiting three days at Heathrow for his PCR result” was inaccurate, when he was in transit through Germany and Switzerland at the time, trying to catch connecting flights. The court reporter’s notes indicated that the complainant had been waiting at an airport for three days and that he was unable to catch a connecting flight due to the delay. Where it was not in dispute that the complainant could not return to Thailand due to the delay in receiving his PCR test result, where he was waiting was not a significant detail within the context of the article. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

13. Regarding the complaint under Clause 4, the Committee extended its sincere condolences for the complainant’s loss. However, Clause 4 regards content and approaches by journalists in relation to cases involving personal grief or shock. The article related to the complainant’s conviction, rather than his personal grief or shock and so this clause was not engaged. Similarly, Clause 9 pertains to the identification of friends and family of those accused or convicted of crime and so this Clause was also not engaged. Finally, as Clause 14 relates to the moral obligation for journalists to protect confidential sources of information it was also not engaged.

Conclusion(s)

14. The complaint was partially upheld under Clause 1.

Remedial Action Required

15. Having upheld a breach of Clause 1, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required. In circumstances where the Committee establishes a breach of the Editors’ Code, it can require the publication of a correction and/or an adjudication, the terms and placement of which is determined by IPSO.

16. The article was inaccurate with regards to the complainant’s conviction. The Committee considered a correction to be the appropriate remedy to this breach, where the misleading information was limited to the text of the article, and the publication had offered a correction that was both prompt and duly prominent, even if the content was not quite sufficient. Therefore, on balance, the Committee considered that a correction, putting the complainant’s position on record, to be an appropriate remedy.

17. The Committee then considered the placement of this correction. The article only appeared in print and so the correction should be published in the established Clarifications and Corrections column. The wording should address the original inaccuracy and make clear the correct position: the complainant had been found guilty of criminal damage, not attempted burglary. The wording should be agreed with IPSO in advance and should make clear that it has been published following an upheld ruling by the Independent Press Standards Organisation.


Date complaint received: 25/03/2022

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 27/09/2022