Ruling

02585-15 Ozer v Sunday Mail

    • Date complaint received

      18th June 2015

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 2 Privacy, 4 Intrusion into grief or shock

Decision of the Complaints Committee 02585-15 Ozer v Sunday Mail

Summary of complaint 

1. Aksoy Ozer complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Sunday Mail had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply) and Clause 4 (Harassment) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in articles headlined “Target the Turks”, published on 5 April 2015, and “Emma Caldwell murder 10 years on: Forgotten suspect stays silent on relationship with strangled victim”, published on 12 April 2015. 

2. The articles concerned the two-year police investigation into the murder of Emma Caldwell, which involved an extensive surveillance operation that led to the arrest and charge of four Turkish men, all of whom were held on remand but were later released before facing trial. The first piece, which formed part of an eight-page news story published on the tenth anniversary of the murder, reported that police had failed to fully investigate the potential involvement of a key suspect, instead focusing the investigation on the four Turkish suspects. The follow-up piece centred on the “forgotten suspect” and his refusal to comment on his alleged involvement in the case. Both articles reported that the case against the four Turkish suspects had collapsed when recordings of allegedly incriminating conversations between them were questioned by solicitors representing the four suspects. 

3. The complainant, a former policeman who had contributed to the translation of the conversations between the Turkish suspects, said the newspaper had inaccurately reported that the case had failed as a result of questions regarding the accuracy of the translations. He said the case had collapsed because he had made allegations of police misconduct. The complainant provided an article, published by the Sunday Herald on 31 May 2015, that quoted him saying that when he started using new audio equipment to listen to the surveillance tapes, he had “found errors” in his earlier transcripts. It reported his claim that police had told him not to revise his work and had asked him to withhold the fact that he had not used the new equipment throughout. The complainant requested that the newspaper under complaint publish a further article also reporting these allegations. 

4. The complainant expressed concern that the eight-page story had named him as the person who had translated the taped conversations, and had included his photograph, giving the significantly misleading impression that he alone had been responsible. In fact, at least a dozen Turkish-speaking police officers had confirmed the accuracy of his work before the suspects were arrested; the newspaper knew this to be the case before publication. 

5. The complainant said the newspaper had not approached him for comment before publication in breach of Clause 2. He noted that the newspaper had previously stated that the case had collapsed due to his translations, and considered that its continual reporting of this inaccurate claim represented a breach of Clause 4. 

6. The newspaper said it believed that it was beyond dispute that apparently incriminating admissions made during conversations between the Turkish suspects had been crucial evidence in the case, and that concerns surrounding the accuracy and interpretation of the translations had helped to halt the case against the four men. It said that an Oxford University academic had studied 400 hours of audio evidence and had scrutinised the translations. The academic’s report was delivered in November 2007 and the four men were released on bail within weeks; it said this was an exceptional decision given the profile of the case. Charges were dropped the following year. 

7. The newspaper referred to a BBC radio documentary, broadcast a month after the first article was published, in which the academic said “it was not possible to make any conclusive statement about [the suspects’] involvement in the murder based on the material on the tapes”. The newspaper also noted that the lawyer for the defence, who it said also believed that the concerns surrounding the tapes were the principal reason for the case being halted, had told the BBC that on hearing that the recordings had “not been translated properly by the police”, he had been “shocked at the implications”. 

8. The newspaper accepted that more than one officer had been involved in translating and corroborating the contents of the surveillance tapes, and it considered that its original article should have been more explicit in this regard. It said that when the article was published online, it was amended to make clear that the complainant stood by the accuracy of his transcripts, that his work had been checked before arrests had been made, and that he believed he had been made a scapegoat for the failed case. It also offered to publish a statement in print in the newspaper’s For the Record section, and suggested the following wording: 

"On April 5 2015, we reported former police officer Aksay Ozer's involvement in the inquiry into the murder of Emma Caldwell. We would like to make clear that Mr Ozer stands by the accuracy of his translation work during the inquiry, that his work was verified by other officers and that he believes he has been made a scapegoat for the failure of the investigation." 

Further, the newspaper said it would ensure that the complainant would not be singled out as being solely responsible for the translations in future reports, and his photograph would not be published without the approval of the editor or deputy editor. 

9. In addition, the newspaper offered to publish an interview with the complainant in which he could describe his experience of being on the murder inquiry team, and explain why he believed the case had failed. However, without speaking to the complainant or his solicitor and seeing supporting evidence, it said it was unable to report his allegations of police misconduct, as requested. 

10. The complainant said the newspaper’s offer was unacceptable, and he insisted that his allegations about the police should be published in full. He considered that the newspaper’s suggested wording portrayed him as a disgruntled former employee. 

Relevant Code Provisions

11. Clause 1 (Accuracy) 

i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures. 

ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and - where appropriate - an apology published. In cases involving the Regulator, prominence should be agreed with the Regulator in advance. 

Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply) 

A fair opportunity for reply to inaccuracies must be given when reasonably called for. 

Clause 4 (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 their property when asked to leave and must not follow them. If requested, they must identify themselves and whom they represent. 

Findings of the Committee

12. The complainant had acknowledged that when his audio equipment was upgraded, he had become aware of errors in his translations. It was also accepted that the solicitor representing the four suspects had questioned the accuracy of the translations, had requested that the tapes be reviewed, and that subsequently the four suspects had been released. As such, the Committee did not consider that it was significantly misleading for the newspaper to report that the case against the four suspects had collapsed following concerns raised regarding the translation of the surveillance tapes. There had been no failure to take care over the articles’ accuracy on this point; it did not raise a breach of Clause 1. 

13. The Committee noted that the newspaper had implied that responsibility for the translations had rested with the complainant. The article had stated that conversations between the Turkish men needed to be translated and “a Turkish-speaking officer, Askoy Ozer…was enlisted”. It said “at the end of the month, Ozer was hearing some astonishing things”. Nonetheless, it was not in dispute that the complainant had been on the translation team. Furthermore, one of the suspects had identified the complainant as a defendant in legal proceedings, which had led to the suspect winning an out-of-court settlement for wrongful arrest. As such, the complainant’s identification as the translator in the case, and the publication of his photograph, had not created a significantly misleading impression of the role he had played. The Committee, however, welcomed the newspaper’s offer to publish a clarification making the complainant’s position clear on this point. The complaint under Clause 1 was not upheld. 

14. The terms of Clause 2 do not require that newspapers seek comment before publication. Rather, they provide people with a fair opportunity to respond to published inaccuracies. The Committee had not established the existence of inaccuracies that would engage the terms of this Clause. 

15. The terms of Clause 4 generally relate to the conduct of journalists during the newsgathering process. The publication of a number of articles about the complainant’s involvement in the Emma Caldwell murder inquiry did not constitute harassment. There was no breach of Clause 4. 

Conclusions

16. The complaint was not upheld. 

Remedial Action Required

N/A 

Date complaint received: 05/04/2015

Date decision issued: 18/06/2015