Ruling

02991-16 Craig v The Mail on Sunday

    • Date complaint received

      25th August 2016

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 2 Privacy, 3 Harassment

Decision of the Complaints Committee 02991-16 Craig v The Mail on Sunday

Summary of complaint

1. Anne Craig complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Mail on Sunday breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 3 (Harassment) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in the following articles: “Beautiful society girl ‘stolen’ from a loving family…by her mysterious dream therapist”, published on 24 April 2016; “Cruel agony of losing our gorgeous girl to the spell of her ‘spiritual healer’ guru”, published on 1 May 2016; “Torn apart on guru’s couch”, published on 8 May 2016; and “Now 3 more families say this ‘healer’ cast a spell on their girls”, published on 22 May 2016.

2. The articles were published online in substantially the same forms, but with the headlines “Beautiful society girl 'stolen' from a loving family by her mysterious dream therapist: Terminally ill grandma, 78, claims beloved granddaughter vanished after 'healer' wrongly convinced her she'd been abused"; "The cruel agony of losing our gorgeous girl to the spell of her 'spiritual healer' guru: Artist daughter cuts family out of her life after getting close to 'therapist'"; "She's the 'healer' accused of turning society beauties against their loving families - now three of Anne Craig's victims expose her dangerous methods as each were torn apart on guru's couch"; and "Now three more families say this 'healer' cast a spell on their girls as she is seen for the first time since The Mail on Sunday's revelations".

3. The articles reported that the complainant was, variously, a “self-described ‘personal development coach”, a “spiritual healer” and a “therapist”, whose methods had encouraged her clients to isolate themselves from their families and, in some cases, had convinced them that they had been sexually abused as children.

4. The complainant said that it was completely inaccurate to say that she had used psychological techniques to implant false memories in her clients, and had isolated people from their families. She said that a number of civil and criminal proceedings had been brought against her, making similar allegations, and they had all failed. She said she had never claimed to be a spiritual healer or therapist, but in fact has significant experience in personal development, and holds the relevant qualifications. She said it was inaccurate to suggest that her dogs play a role in her work. She also complained that the articles had given the impression that David Cameron MP, who was Prime Minister at the time the articles were published, had raised concerns about the complainant specifically, when in fact he had spoken more broadly about psychological abuse.

5. She said that the two families whose stories the newspaper had reported had targeted her for two years, and there was no evidence to substantiate their claims. They were the only people to have ever made these allegations against her, and the allegations were refuted by their daughters. She said that, rather than coming to terms with the fact that their daughter does not wish to see them, one of the families had sought to blame the complainant for her not being in contact. In the case of the other client, she had confirmed that she had not been convinced to have certain memories as a result of her discussions with the complainant.

6. The complainant said that she had never been given a fair opportunity to respond to the allegations prior to publication. She said that on three occasions the newspaper had sent questions to her solicitors’ office after the office had closed for the weekend.

7. The complainant raised concerns that the newspaper had published two photographs of her near her home, which had been taken without her knowledge and published without her consent. She also said that the journalists had travelled to Ireland, where she is from, and taken pictures of her family home, her former school, and her parents’ graves. While the photographs were never published, she said that the actions were an intrusion into her privacy.

8. Lastly, the complainant said that the newspaper had contacted her relatives on multiple occasions seeking information about her. While she was not representing those relatives in bringing the complaint, she said that the persistent contacting of her relatives represented harassment of her, in breach of Clause 3. The complainant’s husband said that a journalist had called his former employer and asked whether he had lied on his CV; he was similarly concerned that he had been harassed.

9. The newspaper denied any breach of the Editors’ Code. It stood by the accuracy of the articles and said that some of their sources had experienced the complainant’s practice first hand. It said the claims that the complainant had isolated impressionable young women and damaged their family lives had been reported as allegations made by the complainant’s former clients or their families. It said that the descriptions of the complainant’s job role were generic and did not imply any specific qualifications or experience; they were representative of the work which she alleges to undertake.

10. With regard to the newspaper’s attempts to seek comment in advance of publication of the articles, it said that it had been decided to contact the complainant through her solicitor only as a journalist had contacted her at her home 18 months ago about a different article, and she had become distressed. It said that it had given several days’ notice before publishing the article of 24 April, posing a number of questions to the complainant. It received a response saying that the allegations were denied, but no statement was offered for publication; the complainant’s denial was included in the article. Prior to publication of the article of 1 May, an email had been sent to the complainant’s solicitor at 5.20pm on a Friday; it was not unreasonable to expect a London law firm to receive a message at that time, and the newspaper was not surprised that no response was received, given the response it had received on the previous occasion. It similarly defended contacting the complainant’s solicitor after work hours prior to the latter two articles.

11. The newspaper said that the articles concerned the complainant’s professional life, which was not private, and the photographs of her had been taken in public places, with no identifying features as to her location. In any case, while denying any breach of Clause 2, it said that the articles were clearly in the public interest. It noted that the second article had included the following comment from a QC: “Congratulations on last week’s investigation in the Mail on Sunday…Thankfully, the Mail on Sunday has brought this issue to public attention and that is critical, because it puts pressure on Members of Parliament and the Government, which must set aside time in order to draft a Bill and vote it on to the statue book.”

12. The newspaper denied that its actions had amounted to harassment. It said that while one of its journalists had contacted the complainant’s husband’s former employer, the journalist had not asked whether her husband had lied on his CV.

13. In response to the complaint, the newspaper added an extensive denial from the complainant as a footnote to each of the online articles. It also said that it would consider publishing a letter from her. The wording of the denial was as follows:

We would like to add that Mrs Craig’s lawyers have said: "Anne Craig is not responsible for the fact that Laura Hue Williams has not been in contact with her family, nor is she responsible for 'mentally abusing' or 'psychologically manipulating' Ms Hue Williams. These allegations are vehemently denied by our client. They are based on the wholly incorrect supposition by the family of Ms Hue Williams who, rather than coming to terms with the fact that their daughter does not wish to be in contact with them any longer have chosen to blame our client. Ms Hue Williams has confirmed that our client never tried to influence her, has not somehow encouraged her to believe things that did not happen or talked to her in a suggestive way which has resulted in her believing things that are not true.

“Victoria Cayzer has also confirmed that everything she discussed with our client was based on her own memories and that she has not been convinced to have certain memories as a result of discussions with our client. Both Victoria and Laura were adults when they met our client and well able to make their own decisions.”

Relevant Code provisions

14. 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.

(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.

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

Clause 3 (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 property when asked to leave and must not follow them.

Findings of the Committee

15. The article of 24 April had been presented as the claims of one of the families who alleged they had been affected by actions of the complainant. It was accepted that the family believed their daughter had been affected in the manner reported. The article included the complainant’s denial that she was responsible for the woman ceasing contact with her family: “a spokesman for Mrs Craig said she had not made up any allegations about any family. She rejects any claims she instilled false memories in anyone, or that she questioned her clients in such a way as to suggest they were abused as children.” It was also clear from the article that the family was seeking to take legal action against the complainant, and it would be understood that the complainant would be defending such an action. There was no failure to take care over the accuracy of the article, and the Committee did not identify any significant inaccuracies which would require correction under the terms of Clause 1 (ii).

16. The article of 1 May reported the story of a second family who said they had been affected, and it was clear that it was a follow-up to the article of 24 April. Again, the complainant’s involvement was presented as the family’s claim. The Committee expressed concern that the article had not included the complainant’s denial. However, in circumstances where the newspaper was entitled to report the family’s story, and given that the complainant’s involvement had been presented as an unproven allegation in the newspaper’s account, the omission of the complainant’s denial did not, on this occasion, raise a breach of Clause 1. The Committee also noted that the complainant’s denial had now been added as a footnote to this article, along with the three others.

17. The third article, of 8 May, reiterated the claims of the families featured in the earlier articles, as well as introducing claims by three more people who said they were former clients of the complainant; these individuals were not named. A named therapist and named psychiatrist also gave their opinions of the complainant’s methods, the therapist having attended two dream therapy sessions with the complainant a number of years previously. The accounts in the article were presented as the individuals’ own personal experiences of the complainant’s sessions, and were not presented as fact. The complainant’s denial featured prominently in the article. This article did not breach Clause 1.

18. The article of 22 May mentioned the newspaper’s previous reporting on this matter, and included new, anonymous claims about the complainant’s methods. The newspaper had on-the-record sources which appeared to support the accounts of the anonymised individuals, and the article included the complainant’s denial; the article did not breach Clause 1.

19. While the complainant denied being a “therapist” or “spiritual healer”, and said that she taught “personal development”, the former terms do not have one specific meaning, and were not inaccurate summaries of the type of sessions which the complainant’s former clients or their families described in the articles, nor the type of services the complainant agrees she provides. The terms did not raise a breach of Clause 1.

20. The allegation that the complainant used her dog as part of her sessions was presented as the claim of one of her former clients. In any case, in the wider context of the allegations made against the complainant, it did not breach the Editors’ Code.

21. The articles were a series by the newspaper, and formed part of a campaign which urged legislative change in order to “help the adult abuse victims”. In reporting that Mr Cameron was “backing a campaign for new laws protecting vulnerable adults from control or slavery by predators, including therapists”, the newspaper did not suggest that Mr Cameron was responding specifically to concerns about the complainant. The complaint under Clause 1 was not upheld. Nonetheless, the Committee wished to note its concern that the newspaper had, on a number of occasions, approached the complainant’s solicitors for comment after their office had closed for the weekend.

22. The photographs of the complainant had been taken on public roads, and did not show the complainant engaging in any private activity. The photographs were not an unjustified intrusion into the complainant’s private life. While the Committee understood that the complainant was concerned about the journalists taking photographs of locations which were personal to the complainant in her home country, those photographs were not published and the Committee was satisfied that the taking of the photographs did not intrude into the complainant’s private life. There was no breach of Clause 2.

23. The newspaper’s journalist did not contact the complainant’s husband directly and so, while he may have been distressed by the questions asked of his former employer, it could not be said that there was any intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit, nor was any request to desist ignored. Lastly, the contact made to the complainant’s relatives did not constitute harassment of the complainant herself for the purposes of Clause 3. 

Conclusions

24. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

25. NA

Date complaint received: 16/05/2016
Date decision issued: 11/08/2016