Ruling

03194-18 Purcell v The Daily Mirror

    • Date complaint received

      2nd May 2019

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 

03194-18 Purcell v The Daily Mirror

 

Summary of complaint

 

1.    Dean Purcell complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Daily Mirror breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Cops to thug: Tell us if you get new lover”, published on 16 April 2018.

 

2.    The article reported that the complainant had been issued with a Criminal Behaviour Order, which ordered that for the next seven years he must, within three days of the third time he has any sexual activity with a woman, give police her details so they can speak to her. It said that in March 2018 the complainant had received a custodial sentence after he had pleaded guilty to ABH and two counts of assault by beating against his former girlfriend. It also reported that “charges of false imprisonment, threats to kill, and a count of battery were left to lie on file”.

 

3.    The article reported a series of events apparently leading up to the complainant’s conviction. The article said that the complainant and his victim had moved into a flat and the complainant was attending domestic violence meetings; “but he started to assault her, initially by name-calling and slapping, before becoming ‘extremely controlling’ of her”. The article reported that “in November last year, an argument ended with Purcell pulling her hair and biting her right ear”. It continued; “Later, in bed, he accused [the victim] of having sex with other men, before covering her mouth and nose with both his hands. The next morning, he said he would kill her and then himself unless she told him the truth”. The article reported that the complainant “grabbed a knife and only put it down when [the victim] again reassured him”; it said that “the victim felt unable to leave because of Purcell’s behaviour”.

 

4.    The article was reported in substantially the same form online on the same day, under the headline “Thug who beat up ex-girlfriend must tell police if he starts having regular sex with new lover”.

 

5.    The complainant said that the article had created an inaccurate and misleading impression of the conduct to which he had pleaded guilty. He said that the article had presented the allegations about his conduct which the victim had made against him, as though they had been accepted by him as the basis for his guilty plea.

 

6.    The complainant said that the article had been based on an inaccurate police press release, which was subject to complaint. He said that this press release had presented the allegations made about his conduct as having been established by the court as fact; he said that only the facts which he had accepted as part of his basis of plea, and which had been referred to in his plea hearing, should have been reported on.

 

7.    The complainant provided a copy of his Basis of Plea. It recorded that the complainant had pleaded guilty to an ABH charge on the basis of excessive self defence: “The defendant felt it necessary to restrain the complainant. This involved holding her on the bed with his body weight and holding his hand over her mouth in an apparent attempt to prevent her making noise”.

 

8.    During the course of IPSO’s investigation, the complainant received the outcome of his complaint with the police’s press release. The police confirmed that its press release “contained information that had been alleged by the victim, but not accepted by the defendant as a basis for his plea of guilty. His plea was on the basis of excessive self-defence which was accepted by the prosecution”. The police invited publications to remove reference to incidents not included in the Basis of Plea.

 

9.    The complainant also provided a transcript of his plea hearing. This recorded that the two counts of assault related to an incident where the victim’s hair was pulled, and one incident where victim had received “a punch to the leg while they were in [the complainant’s] car”.

 

10. The publication denied any breach of the Code. It said that the article accurately reported the contents of a statement from the police; it was reasonable to have relied on the veracity of that statement and it was not a failure to take care to do so.

 

11. The publication said that the complainant had subjected his female victim to unacceptable violence to which he had pleaded guilty. It said that the mere fact that there was an agreement not to include some matters as part of the charge and sentencing did not mean that they were not alleged by the victim, only that the prosecution decided not to proceed with them. The publication said there was no doubt that these allegations formed part of the initial case and that they were allegations that were proceeded with no charge. The publication said that when it is clear that there has been an assault, the method of assaulting a victim should not be a matter of significant inaccuracy.

 

12. Without prejudice to this position, the newspaper offered, as a gesture of goodwill, the publish the following correction on p.2 in its established Corrections & Clarifications column, in order to clarify the complainant’s basis of plea:

 

Our article 'Cops to thug: Tell us if you get new lover'; 16 April 2018, accurately reported a Police press release. Although it was previously heard in court that Dean Purcell slapped, name-called, bit the victim's right ear and covered the victim's mouth and nose with his hands, we have been asked to clarify that his convictions of Actual Bodily Harm and two counts of Battery related to restraining the victim by holding her on the bed with his body weight, hair pulling and punching her leg. 

 

13. It also offered to publish the following wording online as a footnote:

 

Although it was previously heard in court that Dean Purcell slapped, name-called, bit the victim's right ear and covered the victim's mouth and nose with his hands, we have been asked to clarify that his conviction of Actual Bodily Harm and two counts of Battery related to restraining the victim by holding her on the bed with his body weight, hair pulling and punching her leg. 

 

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. 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

 

15. It was not a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article, to rely on the contents of a police press release which had been issued following the complainant’s conviction. The publication was entitled to rely on the accuracy of information from this official source. There was no breach of Clause 1(i).

 

16. The article had accurately recorded what had been heard during court proceedings; however it had failed to distinguish between the allegations which were accepted by the complainant as part of his guilty plea, and the allegations which were not. It reported, as fact, that the complainant had name-called the victim; slapped her; bit her right ear, and threatened her with a knife. These were not incidents which had been accepted by the complainant in his basis of plea. Accordingly, the article had given a significantly misleading impression of the nature and extent of the conduct which had formed the basis of the complainant’s conviction. The publication had offered to publish a print correction, in addition to an online footnote; both of the wordings offered made clear the correct position. The newspaper had taken this step promptly, upon receipt of the outcome of the complainant’s complaint against the police press release and the court transcript provided by the complainant. The publication of a correction on p.2 – further forward than where the original article appeared – in addition to an online footnote represented due prominence. There was no breach of Clause 1(ii). In order to avoid a breach of Clause 1(ii), the newspaper should now publish the corrections as offered.

 

Conclusions

17. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

18.  N/A

Independent Complaints Reviewer

 

The complainant and the publication complained to the Independent Complaints Reviewer about the process followed by IPSO in handling this complaint. The Independent Complaints Reviewer decided that the process was not flawed and did not uphold either of the requests for review.