Ruling

02921-21 Thompson v liverpoolecho.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      9th December 2021

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 02921-21 Thompson v liverpoolecho.co.uk

Summary of Complaint

1. Kevin Thompson complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that liverpoolecho.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Selfie taking cocaine dealers who loved posing for the camera”, published on 14 March 2021.

2. The article, which appeared online only, included short summaries describing the offences of individuals who had been convicted of drugs-related offences, and any further developments in the circumstances of those individuals. A summary relating to the complainant reported that a woman had claimed that he had sent an explicit ‘Snapchat’ to her, which showed his genitalia, “while serving a jail sentence”. It also reported that he “boasted about his drug-dealing exploits in messages to the woman, saying he had ‘big connections in Liverpool’”.

3. The article then reported that the woman “phoned and emailed” the prison facility where the complainant was incarcerated “to report the matter, which led to [the complainant] being moved from the open prison to a Category B facility”. Photograph captions also stated that the complainant “was placed on report after sending an explicit photograph to a mum while behind bars”. The summary also included a quotation from a “Prison service spokesperson, [who] said: ‘Anyone found with a mobile phone in prison is subject to additional punishments - including spending longer behind bars.’” The article was based in part on a 2019 article which detailed the complainant’s offences.

4. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. He said that he had not told a woman that he had “big connections in Liverpool”, and he had not been moved “from an open prison to a Category B facility”; he had in fact been moved to a Category C facility. He also said that he had not been moved for sending Snapchat messages, as he considered the article implied; instead, he had been moved for having a phone in his possession.

5. The complainant also said that the publication could not possibly know that he was placed on report, as the Prison Service would not release such information to the press. He therefore considered the article inaccurate in its reporting of him having been placed “on report” following the Snapchat messages.

6. The complainant also said that the article was one-sided, did not include his side of the story, and the Prison Service and courts had not commented on the specifics of the story and allegations. He said that the article was based on hearsay, and that he did not consider that the publication had taken any steps to verify the allegations against him

7. The publication said it did not accept that the article breached the Code. It said that while the original Snapchat message stating that the complainant had “big connections in Liverpool” had been deleted – as was the norm with Snapchat messages – the woman had said in an interview with a reporter that she had received a message which said this. The publication provided the reporter’s notes to demonstrate that this was the case. The woman had also provided the reporter with photographs of the complainant, which it said had been sent via Snapchat to the woman, as well as a voice note sent via the app, which the publication also provided to IPSO. It said it was satisfied, therefore, that it had taken care over the accuracy of the claim that the complainant had said that he had “big connections in Liverpool”, where it had reporter’s notes of the original interview from the woman, and she had provided additional information which supported her claims.

8. The publication provided an email from the Prison Service, which stated that the complainant had been placed on report. It did not, therefore, accept that it was inaccurate for the article to state that the complainant had been placed on report.

9. The publication accepted that it was inaccurate to report that the complainant had been moved to a “Category B” facility. However, it said it had received this information from a trusted source and that it did not consider the inaccuracy to be so significant such as to require correction under the terms of Clause 1 (ii). Notwithstanding this, it said that it would be happy to amend the online article to make clear that the complainant had in fact been moved to a Category C facility.

10. The publication also said that the article did not claim that the complainant had been placed on report for sending the Snapchat messages, and noted that the statement from the prison spokesperson referred to “additional punishments” arising from prisoners being found to be in possession of a phone.

11. It also said that, directly before the initial 2019 article had been published, a reporter working for the publication had contacted the Prison Service for comment on the complainant’s case, and the email requesting comment referenced the complainant by name. The response received from the Prison Service was included in the 2021 article under complaint.

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.

Findings of the Committee

12. The Committee understood that there was a dispute between the two parties over exactly what messages had been sent, and the content of those messages. The Committee noted that it was not in a position to resolve this dispute and to make a finding on exactly what the content of the messages were. Rather, its role was to find whether the publication had taken care over the accuracy of the information included in the article, and whether the article included any significant inaccuracies in need of correction.

13. A woman had told the newspaper in 2019 that she had received several messages from the complainant, including one in which he said that he had “big connections in Liverpool”. This was supported by contemporaneous reporter’s notes provided by the newspaper, as well as supporting information provided by the woman: ‘selfies’ showing the complainant and voicemail recordings. In addition, the newspaper had approached the Prison Service for comment on the allegations, as it could not contact the complainant directly at the time. Where the publication had put the allegations to the prison service, and had provided both reporter’s notes and supplementary information to support the woman’s account, the Committee found that it had taken care over the accuracy of the claim that the complainant had told the woman that he had “big connections in Liverpool” and that no significant inaccuracy in need of correction arose from reporting this. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

14. The publication had accepted that it was inaccurate to report that the complainant had been moved to a Category B prison – he had in fact been moved to a Category C prison –  and the question for the Committee was whether the article had been significantly inaccurate on this point.  It was not in dispute that the complainant had been moved from an open to a closed prison environment and that this had occurred after the woman had contacted the prison authorities, as reported.  The Committee did not consider that the difference between a Category B prison and a Category C prison was significant in circumstances where both categories were closed prison environments and the reference in the article served to illustrate that the complainant’s circumstances had changed as a result of the matter having been raised with the prison authorities.   There was no breach of Clause 1. Whilst there was no obligation under the Code to correct the point, the Committee nevertheless welcomed the publication’s offer to amend this detail.

15. The article did not report that the complainant had been moved for sending Snapchat messages, and said only that it was the woman’s reporting of the matter “which led to [the complainant] being moved”. Read in conjunction with the Prison Service’s statement that “[a]nyone found with a mobile phone in prison is subject to additional punishments”, the Committee did not consider that the article inaccurately reported that the complainant had been moved for sending Snapchats, rather than being in possession of a phone. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

16. In the Prison Service’s response to the newspaper in 2019, it had confirmed that the complainant had been placed on report. It was not, therefore, inaccurate, misleading, or distorted for the newspaper to report this, and there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

17.  Finally, the Committee noted that concerns that a story is biased, one-sided, or based on hearsay generally don’t raise a possible breach of the Code – provided a newspaper takes care not to publish inaccurate, misleading, or distorted information, and any information which is significantly inaccurate, misleading, or distorted is corrected. In certain cases, there may also be the need to offer individuals the right to reply to significant inaccuracies. In this case, the publication was able to demonstrate that it had taken care over the information included in the article, and none of the points raised by the complainants amounted to significant inaccuracies. In addition, while the complainant had not been approached directly for comment in relation to the allegations, the Committee noted that he had been incarcerated at the time, which restricted the newspaper’s ability to seek his comment. It had, instead, sought comment from the Prison Service in relation to the allegations, and the Prison Service’s comment was included in the article. As such, the complainant’s concerns that the article was biased, one-sided, and based on hearsay did not raise a breach of Clause 1.

Conclusions

18. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

19. N/A


Date complaint received: 22/03/2021

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 19/11/2021