Ruling

02716-15 West v Sunday Mirror and 03071-15 Draper v Sunday Mirror

    • Date complaint received

      5th October 2015

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 3 Harassment, 4 Intrusion into grief or shock, 5 Reporting suicide

·  Decision of the Complaints Committee 02716-15 West v Sunday Mirror and 03071-15 Draper v Sunday Mirror

Summary of complaint 

1. Aimée West complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Sunday Mirror had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 3 (Privacy), Clause 4 (Harassment) and Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Murdered soldier Lee Rigby’s fiancée ‘finds happiness’ with his army pal”, published on 12 April 2015. 

2. IPSO also received a separate complaint from Major Paul Draper. As the two complaints raised substantially similar concerns, the Committee elected to consider them together. 

3. The article claimed that Ms West, the fiancée of murdered soldier Drummer Lee Rigby, had “found happiness” with Major Draper, a friend of Drummer Rigby who had attended his funeral. 

4. The complainants said the publication of information regarding their private relationship was intrusive. Ms West said her friends and family had not known about the relationship at the time the article was published. While she acknowledged that she had become the subject of public attention following Drummer Rigby’s death, she was not a “celebrity”; any interviews she had given had centred on Drummer Rigby and the charity she had set up in his memory. The story was gossip and a by-product of the bereavement she had suffered. Its publication demonstrated a lack of sympathy and discretion. 

5. Ms West said a reporter representing the newspaper had approached her at home, by email and on social media on the Friday before the article was published. She was away all weekend, with very limited telephone reception and no internet connection, but her mother had texted her late on the Saturday evening to tell her that a reporter had visited her address. Her mother had told the reporter that she was away for the weekend. Ms West then arranged to meet Major Draper in order to discuss the matter. 

6. Major Draper said the journalist had sent him five messages, and called and left voice mails. In addition, a journalist had waited for him at his Army Cadet Force detachment.  He said he had met with Ms West in order to call the journalist back. She had sat next to him during the conversation, and had discreetly made a limited contribution to his answers. Major Draper had told the journalist that he had been unable to speak to Ms West as she was away for the weekend. 

7. The complainants said that the reporter’s approaches constituted harassment, in breach of Clause 4 of the Code. 

8. The complainants said the article’s claim that it was “common knowledge” that they were dating was inaccurate. They had not been on “several dates”, and they had not, as claimed, attended cadet functions or a memorial service to soldiers killed in Afghanistan at St Paul’s Cathedral together. 

9. In addition, the article included the following inaccuracies: Ms West had not lost friends during the conflict in Afghanistan; she had not tried to contact Drummer Rigby in Manchester; she was not a Staff Sergeant, but a Colour Sergeant Instructor; Major Draper was 50, not 51; Drummer Rigby had not been attached to a cadet unit led by Major Draper’s ex-partner; and Major Draper and his partner had separated in August, not November. 

10. Major Draper said that during his conversation with the reporter, none of the details that would later be published were put to him for his comment. The reporter had only said that the story would be “sensitively” handled. As such, Major Draper said he had not been given the opportunity to correct him or to reply, and he considered this to be a breach of Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply). 

11. The newspaper said that the article was based on information provided by a confidential source. The reporter had also contacted Major Draper and informed him that the intended article would report that he was in a relationship with Ms West, and that Ms West had “found happiness”. 

12. The newspaper considered that Major Draper had led the reporter to believe that the pair were “seeing each other”. The newspaper provided a transcript of the conversation, which stated that the reporter had asked if they were “in a relationship”, and Major Draper had replied “I wouldn’t call it [a] relationship, I would say that we are very good friends and we enjoy each other and we enjoy each other’s company”. It noted that the story had not alleged that the complainants had a “relationship”. 

13. Given that Ms West was sitting next to Major Draper during the conversation with the reporter, the newspaper did not consider that either individual had a reasonable expectation of privacy regarding the information that had been disclosed by Major Draper during the conversation. Although the newspaper had not been aware of Ms West’s presence at the time, it considered that there must have been a degree to which Major Draper had been speaking on behalf of them both. 

14. The newspaper said that its source and Major Draper had given the impression that their socialising was public knowledge within their work community. It noted that when asked whether the pair were “openly attending functions together at the cadets”, Major Draper had said “oh yeah we did, yeah, we went out with all our colleagues. We went to a 30th birthday party last Saturday evening”. 

15. The newspaper said that, while Ms West might have been unhappy for certain details to be made public, she had openly discussed her private life with the media in the past. It further noted that, in conversation with the reporter, Major Draper had said “well you’re not the person I’m going to ring when I finally do get to speak to Aimée and I say let’s go out and get an interview done and some pictures done”. As Major Draper had referred to their intention to give an interview in future, the newspaper did not consider that there could be an issue with regard to the protection of Ms West’s private romantic choices. 

16. The newspaper said that it was satisfied that its source could be relied upon to provide accurate information. Its reporter had also tried to contact Ms West before publication; messages provided by the newspaper showed that the reporter had requested her comments on the story that she had “found happiness” with Major Draper. It did not consider that the contacts with either complainant amounted to harassment. 

17. The newspaper said it had no reason to believe that the article was inaccurate before publication. As a gesture of good will, however, it offered to publish the following correction, a form of which would also be published beneath an amended online article: 

On 12.04.2015 under the headline "Lee Rigby's fiancee finds happiness with his army pal" we published an article about Maj Paul Draper and Ms Aimee West. We would like to clarify the following: Maj Draper is not 51, he is 50. Ms West and Maj Draper did not attend a service to honour fallen soldiers in Afghanistan at St Paul's Cathedral together. Ms West denies that she and Maj Draper have been on several dates. Ms West is not a staff sergeant with 19 Company of the ACF. Mr Rigby was not in Manchester when Ms West tried to call him and was not attached to a cadet unit led by Maj Draper's ex-partner. 

18. The newspaper did not consider that the article had been insensitive, gory or gratuitous in breach of Clause 5. 

Relevant Code Provisions

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 3 (Privacy) 

i) Everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence, including digital communications. 

ii) Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual's private life without consent. Account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information. 

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. 

iii) Editors must ensure these principles are observed by those working for them and take care not to use non-compliant material from other sources. 

Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock) 

i) In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively. This should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings, such as inquests. 

Clause 14 (Confidential sources) 

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

The public interest 

4. The Regulator will consider the extent to which material is already in the public domain, or will become so. 

Note by the Committee 

The Committee originally considered the complaints at its meeting on 15 July 2015, and subsequently issued its decision to the parties. In response, the newspaper submitted that the Committee’s decision had been based on incomplete information. The Committee elected to reconsider the complaints at its meeting on 9 September 2015 and this ruling is the outcome. 

Findings of the Committee

21. The Committee was sympathetic to Ms West’s position. She had been bereaved in high-profile and traumatic circumstances. Although she had previously spoken to the media about Drummer Rigby and the charity she had set up in his memory, she had not spoken publicly about her romantic and personal life. 

22. The article had discussed the private lives of Major Draper and Ms West in that it had claimed that they were in a relationship. However, it had contained little in the way of detail about the nature of that relationship, or other private information. 

23. The newspaper had made several attempts to contact Ms West before it published the story. She had not responded, but she had been made aware of the newspaper’s intention to publish the article. She had also made contact with Major Draper to discuss the matter, and had been a party to his conversation with the reporter. 

24. During his conversation with the reporter, Major Draper had engaged with the reporter’s questions about the nature of his relationship with Ms West, discussed details about the nature of his connection to Ms West that might otherwise be considered private, and indicated that the pair had discussed and intended to give an interview to the press in future. As Ms West had been present during Major Draper’s conversation with the reporter, and had not raised any objections at the time, the Committee was satisfied that Major Draper had spoken on behalf of both of them. In these circumstances, and having specific regard for the relatively minimal level of private information contained in the article, the complaints under Clause 3 were not upheld. 

25. The Committee considered next whether the newspaper had taken care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information. The Committee noted the newspaper’s attempts to contact Ms West before publication and the conversation between the journalist and Major Draper. However, that conversation had focused on whether he and Ms West were in a relationship; the newspaper had not asked him for comment on the claim that the pair had been seen together as a couple at a St Paul’s Cathedral memorial service. This was subsequently demonstrated to be inaccurate, which was significant because it supported the article’s assertion that the relationship was common knowledge. The failure to take the opportunity to seek confirmation from Major Draper of the accuracy of the claim – or otherwise verify its accuracy – was a breach of Clause 1 (i), and a correction was required under the terms of Clause 1 (ii). 

26. The Committee was satisfied that the correction offered by the newspaper made clear that the complainants had not publicly declared their relationship by attending a memorial service together at St Paul’s Cathedral. The prompt publication of the correction on page two – 11 pages further forward than the original article had appeared – and online was sufficient to meet the terms of Clause 1 (ii). The Committee did not consider that the remaining inaccuracies identified by the complainants amounted to significant points that required correction under the terms of Clause 1. 

27. Under the terms of Clause 2, newspapers are not obliged to seek comment before publication. Rather, it provides for a fair opportunity to respond to published inaccuracies. The newspaper had offered to publish a correction; an opportunity to reply had not been requested. There was no breach of Clause 2. 

28. The newspaper had contacted the complainants for their comments before the article was published. There was no suggestion that the reporter had persisted with questioning once asked to desist. The complaint under Clause 4 was not upheld. 

29. The terms of Clause 5 relate to the conduct of journalists in cases involving personal grief or shock. In this instance, while the Committee had considered that the reasons why Ms West had come to public attention were a relevant factor in assessing her complaint under Clause 3, the article had not contained insensitive details in relation to her bereavement, nor had its tone or presentation been inappropriate. The complaints under Clause 5 were not upheld. 

Conclusions

30. The complaints were upheld under Clause 1 (Accuracy). 

Remedial Action Required

31. Having upheld the complaints under Clause 1, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required. 

32. In the Committee’s view, the breach of Clause 1 would be appropriately remedied by the publication of the correction offered by the newspaper during IPSO’s investigation of the complaints. This should be published without delay. 

Date complaint received: 16/04/2015 

Date decision issued: 05/10/2015