Ruling

02785-18 Lauder-Frost v Daily Mirror

    • Date complaint received

      6th September 2018

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 10 Clandestine devices and subterfuge, 2 Privacy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 02785-18 Lauder-Frost v Daily Mirror 

Summary of Complaint 

1.    Gregory Lauder-Frost complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Mirror breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 10 (Clandestine devices and subterfuge) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an headlined “Rise of the UK Fascists”, published on 30 January 2018, and an article headlined "I heard the group had unpleasant views but I still went to dinner”, published on 31 January 2018. 

2.    The articles reported on the outcome of an investigation by the “anti-racism” group, HOPE Not Hate into the “rise of the UK fascists”. 

3.    The article reported comments which the complainant was alleged to have made while he had been covertly recorded by a representative from HOPE Not Hate in 2017. The article reported that the complainant, who is the vice-president of the organisation Traditional Britain Group, had been “recorded in a hate-filled, racist rant” in which he had described a well-known political campaigner as a “n*****” and another woman, who is well known within the entertainment industry, as a “fat Jewish slag”. 

4.    The first article explained that the undercover recording of the complainant by HOPE Not Hate had formed part of a wider investigation by the organisation into the views of “some of Britain’s most odious extremists”. It also reported that a prominent Conservative MP had been photographed next to the complainant five years ago at a dinner of the Traditional Britain Group. The article was illustrated with photographs which had been taken during the dinner, including photographs of the complainant sitting next to the MP. It reported that at the time, the MP had “regretted his decision to deliver the keynote speech to a group that wants ‘voluntary repatriation’ of black Britons” and quoted him as saying, “it was unquestionably a mistake to go to this dinner”. 

5.    The second article was a follow up piece to the previous day’s coverage. It reported the MP’s reaction to the claims made about the complainant and reported that he had repeated his “regret” at attending the event. The article also reported that the politician had admitted he had been told about the “unpleasant views” of the Traditional Britain Group before the dinner but had “[gone] along anyway”. The article reported criticism of the MP for his decision to attend the event, in light of the previous day’s coverage, including from Labour politicians who had said that it was a decision which raised a “huge question mark” about the MP’s judgement. 

6.    The first article was also published in substantially the same form online on 29 January 2018, and was headlined “Vile racist rant by far-right dinner host of top Tory”. The second article was published in substantially the same form on 30 January 2018, and was headlined “Squirming Tory [Name] says he ‘deeply regrets’ dining with far-right activist who was recorded in racist rant”. 

7.    The complainant said that the newspaper had published an inaccurate article about him, with inappropriate sensational language. . He denied that he was “racist” or a “fascist” as alleged, or that he had made “anti-Semitic” remarks and engaged in a “rant” when he had spoken to the individual working on behalf of HOPE Not Hate. He said he had consistently supported the 1970 Conservative Party Manifesto pledge to halt “alien immigration” into the UK and encourage voluntary repatriation; his comments on immigration were made in that context. He denied ever using the term “nigger” to describe the first woman in the article. He explained that he had previously referred to this woman as a “negro”, and said this was the correct racial designation for her according to all dictionaries: he said that the use of the term “negro” was not racist. 

8.    The complainant said that the comments which he had made regarding the second woman had been reported accurately, but said that these words should have been placed in their proper context. He explained that the woman had previously interviewed him for a radio programme and had referred to the fact that she was Jewish a number of times. The complainant said that he had been subsequently told that “her partner was a negro”, and he said that he did not believe in “miscegenation”. The complainant said that the reported comments about this woman had been made in that context. He denied that his comments were "ant-Semitic" or "racist"; he said that they were just factual. 

9.    The complainant said that he had been filmed through use of a hidden camera, without his knowledge or consent, by someone working on behalf of HOPE Not Hate in 2017. The complainant said that the newspaper had published material acquired by using these methods, without any justification. 

10. The complainant said that he had a reasonable expectation of privacy over the comments which he had made during this exchange, because he had understood it to be a private meeting, for the purposes of academic research. He explained that he had been told that by the representative of HOPE Not Hate that he was a University student, preparing a dissertation on The Right in Britain. 

11. The complainant said that the newspaper had published private photographs taken during the Traditional Britain Group dinner, as well as published comments which he had made during a private exchange, without his consent. He said that his views had nothing to do with any organisation which he belongs to, and in particular, nothing to do with the dinner held by the Traditional Britain Group in early 2013. He said that he did not have a public profile and there was no public interest justification for reporting on comments which he had made during a private meeting, between two individuals, which was supposedly to do with academic research. 

12. The newspaper did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that the meeting between the complainant and the representative from HOPE Not Hate had taken place in a London pub of Mr Lauder-Frost’s choice, in which they were both seated in a booth. In response to the complaint, the newspaper provided the undercover recording which it had obtained from HOPE Not Hate; it said that it was clear from the recording that the pub was busy and that the pair were surrounded by people walking past. The newspaper said that in those circumstances, the complainant did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to his comments. 

13. The newspaper said that there was a public interest in reporting on the complainant’s comments, given his position as the Vice President of the Traditional Britain Group. It explained that the reporter contacted the organisation in an attempt to obtain a response from the complainant. The newspaper said that after detailing the comments which the complainant was alleged to have made, a representative from the organisation had replied: “it is nothing to do with the Traditional Britain Group”. The newspaper said that the fact that the organisation felt it necessary to make clear that the complainant’s comments were nothing to do with the organisation, demonstrated that the views expressed by the complainant during the meeting were contradictory to those expressed publicly by the Traditional Britain Group, of which the complainant was a senior member. 

14. The newspaper further said that there was a public interest in reporting on the complainant’s comments, given that the MP had publicly expressed regret at his decision to attend the event, given the views expressed by the complainant. 

15. The newspaper explained that the photographs which had been published in the article had been sourced from the public Facebook page of the Traditional Britain Group. It provided screenshots of these posts; a globe icon accompanied the photographs. The newspaper noted that the images had been removed since the publication of the article. 

16. The newspaper said that even though it had not taken part in any subterfuge, the reporter had questioned Hope Not Hate on the circumstances surrounding their decision to covertly record the complainant. The newspaper said that it considered that it was important to check what information had been expected to be gained as a result of the subterfuge, whether it was in the public interest, why it would be in the public interest, what recording methods had been used, why no other more overt method would work, and the reason why it was believed the complainant might behave in the way he eventually did. The newspaper said that after satisfying themselves that the investigation had been in the public interest after receiving satisfactory answers, the reporter’s line manager had approved publication.  

17. The newspaper said that the term “rant” was used at editorial discretion. It said that the claim that the views expressed by the complainant during the course of his exchange with HOPE Not Hate were “racist” or “anti-semitic” were an accurate characterisation given the nature of his comments. 

18. The newspaper explained that the article had used “n*****” to refer to the word “nigger”. During the course of IPSO’s investigation, the newspaper received confirmation from HOPE Not Hate that the complainant had not, in fact, used the term “nigger” to describe the first woman. The newspaper explained that this information had been published in good faith, after it had received an email from HOPE Not Hate –prior to publication- which stated that the complainant had referred to the woman in that way. It noted that the organisation had also published an account of the exchange with the complainant on its website, and had claimed that he had used this term. On receipt of the further clarification, the newspaper said that the complainant had, in fact, stated that the woman was a “big black woman” with “no credibility whatsoever for a life peerage, none, just because she's black”.  

19. In light of this, the newspaper offered to amend the article and publish the following wording as a footnote to the online article: 

A previous version of this article stated that the undercover Hope Not Hate investigation showed Gregory Lauder-Frost calling [woman’s name] a n*****. Although Mr Lauder-Frost called [the woman] a 'big black woman' with 'no credibility whatsoever for a life peerage, none, just because she is black' we have since been advised that Mr Lauder-Frost did not use the term 'n*****'. 

20. It also offered to publish the following wording in print, on p. 2 of its established Corrections & Clarifications column: 

The articles 'Rise of the UK fascists' - 30 January 2018 and 'I heard the group had unpleasant views but I still went to dinner' - 31 January 2018 stated that the undercover Hope Not Hate investigation showed Gregory Lauder-Frost calling [woman’s name] a n*****. Although Mr Lauder-Frost called [the woman] a 'big black woman' with 'no credibility whatsoever for a life peerage, none, just because she is black' we have since been advised that Mr Lauder-Frost did not use the term 'n*****'.

Relevant Code Provisions 

21. 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 2. *(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. 

iii.        It is unacceptable to photograph individuals, without their consent, in public or private places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy. 

Clause 10. *(Clandestine devices and subterfuge) 

i.        The press must not seek to obtain or publish material acquired by using hidden cameras or clandestine listening devices; or by intercepting private or mobile telephone calls, messages or emails; or by the unauthorised removal of documents or photographs; or by accessing digitally-held information without consent. 

ii.        Engaging in misrepresentation or subterfuge, including by agents or intermediaries, can generally be justified only in the public interest and then only when the material cannot be obtained by other means. 

The Public Interest 

There may be exceptions to the clauses marked * where they can be demonstrated to be in the public interest. 

1.    The public interest includes, but is not confined to: 

·         Detecting or exposing crime, or the threat of crime, or serious impropriety. 

·         Protecting public health or safety. 

·         Protecting the public from being misled by an action or statement of an individual or organisation. 

·         Disclosing a person or organisation’s failure or likely failure to comply with any obligation to which they are subject. 

·         Disclosing a miscarriage of justice. 

·         Raising or contributing to a matter of public debate, including serious cases of impropriety, unethical conduct or incompetence concerning the public. 

·         Disclosing concealment, or likely concealment, of any of the above. 

2.    There is a public interest in freedom of expression itself. 

3.    The regulator will consider the extent to which material is already in the public domain or will become so. 

4.    Editors invoking the public interest will need to demonstrate that they reasonably believed publication - or journalistic activity taken with a view to publication – would both serve, and be proportionate to, the public interest and explain how they reached that decision at the time. 

5.    An exceptional public interest would need to be demonstrated to over-ride the normally paramount interests of children under 16.

Findings of the Committee 

22. The newspaper had not sought to obtain material for publication by use of subterfuge or a clandestine device; the representative of HOPE Not Hate had not been working in a journalistic capacity on behalf of the newspaper, at the time he had engaged in subterfuge and filmed the complainant by use of a hidden camera. The newspaper had been made aware of the undercover recording only after having been approached by the organisation in relation to the story. In those circumstances, the newspaper had neither engaged in subterfuge itself, nor done so via an agent. The Committee noted that, following the approach by HOPE Not Hate, the newspaper had given careful consideration to the public interest served by publishing the information which had been obtained by subterfuge, prior to publication. For these reasons, the Committee did not establish that the newspaper’s reporting of the information obtained at the meeting between HOPE Not Hate and the complainant represented a breach of Clause 10. 

23. The meeting between the complainant and the representative from HOPE Not Hate had taken place in a busy central London pub. The complainant had not sought to limit the extent to which his comments could be heard by other patrons, by, for example, sitting in a more secluded part of the pub. Further, the focus of the conversation had been on the complainant’s political views, given his membership of the Traditional Britain Group, and he was expressing those views on the understanding that they would be included in a thesis; the comments he made did not represent private or personal information in the circumstances and reporting on his comments did not represent a breach of Clause 2. 

24. The photographs published in the article had been taken from a publicly available Facebook page; this was apparent from the globe icon accompanying the images on social media. The photographs had been taken during a dinner party for the Traditional Britain Group’s annual dinner, in which a Member of Parliament had been in attendance. They had not been taken in circumstances where the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy. Further, the photographs had simply revealed the complainant’s likeness; this was not private information about him. For these reasons there was no breach of Clause 2. 

25. The Committee then turned to consider the complainant under Clause 1. In assessing whether the newspaper had complied with its obligations, the Committee was concerned with whether the newspaper had taken care not to report the comments made by the complainant in an inaccurate, misleading or distorted way and to consider whether the description of the complainant, and his comments, was the characterisation employed by the newspaper,  in which case it was not the Committee’s role to make a finding as to whether the complainant was a “racist” or a “fascist” or whether the comments which he had made were a “vile rant”. In reaching its decision, the Committee carefully considered the undercover recording. 

26. Care had been taken by the newspaper to contact Traditional Britain Group prior to publication, in an attempt to obtain the complainant’s response, specifically, his response to the claims that he had called the first woman a “nigger” and the second, a “fat Jewish slag”.  In relation to the former, the newspaper had also been told, prior to publication, that the complainant had made the alleged comments at a time when the meeting was not being recorded. The Committee considered that the newspaper had not failed to take care by relying upon information provided to it directly by HOPE Not Hate, particularly where the claims made about the comments made by the complainant had been attributed to the organisation throughout the article. 

27. During the course of IPSO’s investigation, it was accepted by the newspaper that the complainant had not, in fact, referred to the first woman named in the article as a “nigger”. The Committee considered that it was a significant inaccuracy to state that the complainant had referred to the woman in that way, which required correction. The correction offered by the newspaper addressed this inaccuracy and had been offered promptly, upon receipt of confirmation provided by HOPE Not Hate that the complainant had not described the woman in this way; further, the offer to publish the correction in print, and as a footnote to the online article, represented due prominence. In order to avoid a breach of Clause 1(ii), the newspaper should now amend the article and publish the correction in print and online, as offered. It was clear from the undercover recording that the complainant’s views on the second woman were reported accurately; this aspect of the complaint did not represent a breach of Clause 1. 

28. The Committee then considered the descriptions of the complainant, and his comments, which had been included in the article. The Committee was satisfied that the descriptions would be understood to be the newspaper’s characterisation in light of the comments which had been made by the complainant at the meeting, a number of which had been reported in the article. These included the views he had expressed about the first and second woman and his comments, more generally, about repatriation and the need for deportation of "non-whites to their "natural homelands””.  In characterising the complainant, and his comments, in the terms adopted in the article, there was no breach of Clause 1. 

Conclusion 

29. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

30. N/A

Date complaint received: 31/03/2018

Date decision issued: 16/08/2018