Ruling

02593-15 Pain v Sunday Mirror

    • Date complaint received

      6th October 2015

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 2 Privacy

·    Decision of the Complaints Committee 02593-15 Pain v Sunday Mirror

Summary of complaint 

1. Chris Pain complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Sunday Mirror breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “The UKIP candidate, her saucy photos and the racism row that’s sent her part into meltdown”, published on 22 March 2015. 

2. The article reported on a tape recording of a UKIP meeting in Grimsby. It reported a number of comments that a party official had made about a local UKIP candidate. It also reported that the same party official “launched into an astonishing tirade against [the complainant]”, and had described him as “one of the most poisonous people to have been involved with this party”. The article reported that the complainant’s Facebook page “once carried a rant about illegal immigrants”, and that he had been expelled from UKIP “in a dispute over expenses”. 

3. The complainant denied that he had posted a rant about illegal immigrants on his Facebook page. He said that in May 2013, the same newspaper alleged that he had posted “hate-fuelled postings”, and quoted one such alleged post. The newspaper contacted him prior to publication, and he denied making a post about illegal immigrants. In July 2014, he made a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission about the 2013 article, but did not pursue this complaint. The complainant said that his Facebook account had been ‘cloned’, and that he had not in fact made the posts which he appeared to have made. He provided a number of comments that had been made by other Facebook users and letters from colleagues to support his position that he had not posted such material. He also provided a letter from an IT consultant explaining how Facebook accounts can be cloned in this manner. He said that the police investigated the allegation that he had posted comments of a racist nature on his Facebook account, and that it had been discontinued due to insufficient evidence.  He accepted that an image of a blonde toddler next to a union jack accompanied by the caption “my race is dying out in my own country!! Stop immigration now!!” had appeared on his Facebook profile. He said that he had not posted or written this material. He said that it had been shared from elsewhere, and that he had deleted it when he was made aware that it was on his profile. 

4. The complainant said he was not expelled in a dispute over expenses. He was expelled from UKIP for passing on to a third party a confidential email regarding the UKIP MEP selection process. The complainant did not dispute that he had stated in an interview that he was “hounded out of UKIP for raising red flags as a member of the party’s National Executive Committee about the misuse of EU expenses by party MEPs”. The complainant was concerned that he was not contacted before the article was published to provide him the opportunity to respond. After publication of the article, he said that he had tried to contact the journalist via the email address at the end of the article, but faced technical difficulties doing so. He said that he received email messages notifying him that the delivery of the email had been delayed, and that he then received an email notifying him that the delivery had failed permanently. 

5. The newspaper said that in preparing the article under complaint, it had relied on the 2013 article from the newspaper’s archives, which did not carry any kind of notice or warning. The newspaper said that it had tried to contact the complainant before publication of the 2015 article, but that the journalist confused his telephone number with another telephone number, such that she left a voicemail on the wrong phone. However, it provided screenshots of a number of Facebook posts purportedly made by the complainant, some of which commented on immigrants, and illegal immigration.  The newspaper provided a press release from Lincolnshire Police which explained that at the conclusion of the investigation against the complainant, there would be no further action taken. The press release went on to discuss the difficulties of investigating allegations about internet activity, and noted that it is possible for false profiles to be created and information posted without the knowledge of the individual they purport to be from.

6. The newspaper offered to publish the following clarification in the print edition of the newspaper: 

On 22 March 2015 under the headline "The UKIP candidate, her saucy photos and the racism row that's sent her party into a meltdown" we printed that Cllr Chris Pain's Facebook page "once carried a rant about illegal immigrants" and that he had been expelled from the Party "in a dispute over expenses". A police investigation into the Facebook matter determined that no further action would be taken as there was not sufficient evidence to determine that Cllr Pain published the Facebook posts. We would also like to make clear that Cllr Pain was actually expelled for disseminating confidential Party material. 

It offered to publish a similar clarification on the online article, making clear that it had been amended to remove the reference to the complainant’s Facebook page, and to explain that he had been expelled for disseminating confidential Party material. 

Relevant Code Provisions

7. 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. 

iii) The Press, whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact. 

Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply) 

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

Findings of the Committee

8. The article was a report on the comments that had been made by a UKIP party official, including comments he had made about the complainant. In that context, the article contained some biographical details about the complainant.  The newspaper had relied on its own previous press coverage, against which no complaint appeared to have been pursued, and evidence which appeared to show the complainant commenting about illegal immigration on Facebook. The article did not repeat the allegation made in 2013; it reported simply that the complainant’s page had “once carried a rant about illegal immigrants”. In such circumstances, while expressing some concern about the inconsistency in the reporter’s account of the attempts to contact the complainant in advance of publication, the Committee did not consider that there had been a failure to take care not to publish inaccurate information. There was no breach of Clause 1 (i). 

9. Nonetheless, given the complainant’s denial, which had previously been published, and his full explanation of the circumstances of his expulsion from the party, it was appropriate for the newspaper to have offered to publish a clarification in line with its obligations under the Code. This should now be published to avoid a breach of Clause 1 (ii). 

10. The Committee noted that the complainant received a ‘failed delivery’ message after trying to email the journalist after the article had been published; he had therefore been made aware of the fact that his request for an opportunity to reply had not been communicated to the newspaper. There was accordingly no breach of Clause 2. 

Conclusions

11. The complaint was not upheld. 

Remedial Action Required

N/A 

Date complaint received: 08/04/2015

Date decision issued: 06/10/2015