Ruling

03195-18 Purcell v Hackney Gazette

    • Date complaint received

      2nd May 2019

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 03195-18 Purcell v Hackney Gazette

Summary of Complaint

1. Dean Purcell complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Hackney Gazette breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Hackney thug who assaulted girlfriend must tell police every time he has new sexual partner”, published on 13 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 reported that in November 2017 the complainant and his victim had recently got back together after breaking up in July 2017. It said that after they had moved in together the complainant had been attending domestic violence meetings, but soon after he began to “assault her – by name calling and slapping her”; it reported that “he then became extremely controlling”. The article said that on one occasion, the complainant and the victim had an argument which resulted in him “pulling her hair and biting her right ear”. It said that later that day the complainant started “accusing her of having sex with other men and pounced on her, covering her mouth and nose with his hands”.

4. The article reported that the following day, the complainant again accused the victim of being unfaithful, and threatened to take an overdose; it said, “when she reassured him he then picked up a kitchen knife and said he would kill them both unless she told the truth”. The article said that the victim felt unable to leave, because when she had asked to do so previously the complainant had threatened to stab her and himself. The article said that “the victim felt unable to leave because of his behaviour and past experiences”; “when she had asked to leave before, Purcell had threatened to stab her and then himself and had made the same threat whenever she wanted to call the police”.

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 to IPSO. 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 newspaper did not accept that it had breached the Code. It said that it had accurately reported the details of the complainant’s conviction, as set out in the police’s original press release; it said that it had no reason to doubt the accuracy of an official release from such a trusted source.

11. In light of the outcome of the police’s investigation into the press release, and upon receipt of the information provided by the complainant during the course of IPSO’s investigation, the newspaper offered to remove the article as it appeared online, and replace it with a new version:

A man who was jailed for assaulting a woman must now tell police whenever he has a new sexual partner in a bid to protect potential victims.

Dean Purcell, 36, was sentenced to 12 months jail for ABH and two counts of battery and on April 12, 2018, he was handed a Criminal Behaviour Order (CBO) applied for by the police.

During the hearing at Wood Green Crown Court, Judge Noel Lucas ordered that, for seven years Purcell must, within three days of the third time he has any sexual activity with a woman, provide sufficient details to permit police to make immediate contact with the woman.

The order was only the fourth CBO issued in England and Wales in a domestic violence case, the first and second of which were also applied for by Hackney police.

A previous version of this article reported that Purcell had called the victim names, slapped her, became "extremely controlling" of her, and had bitten her right ear. We would like to make clear that these were allegations made by the victim which were heard in court; these allegations were not accepted by Purcell as part of his guilty plea. Purcell further denied threatening to take an overdose and threatening to stab the woman. We are sorry for the error and hope this clarifies the situation.

In fact, Purcell admitted ABH and two counts of common assault on the basis that he used excessive self defence. The conduct relating to those charges involved restraining the woman while holding her on a bed with his body weight and holding his hand over her mouth in an apparent attempt to prevent her making noise, hair pulling and punching her leg while in his car.

12. The newspaper also offered to publish the following wording in print:

On April 13, 2018, the Hackney Gazette published an article based on a police press release about a court order relating to Dean Purcell, who was jailed for 12 months for actual bodily harm and assault. Unfortunately, the article suggested some of the evidence provided by the victim in the case had been established by the court as fact. The claim that Purcell, 36, had called the woman names, slapped her, become "extremely controlling" of her, and bit her right ear, were allegations heard in court and they did not form part of the basis for his guilty plea. Purcell further denied threatening to take an overdose and threatening to stab the woman. We are sorry for the error and hope this clarifies the situation.

In fact, Purcell admitted ABH and two counts of common assault on the basis that he used excessive self-defence. The conduct relating to those charges involved restraining the woman while holding her on a bed with his body weight and holding his hand over her mouth in an apparent attempt to prevent her making noise, hair pulling and punching her leg while in his car.

Relevant Code Provisions

13. 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

14. 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).

15. 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 for his conviction. The newspaper had offered to amend the article substantially and append a statement at the end which made clear the correct position. It was offered sufficiently promptly, upon receipt of the outcome of the complainant’s complaint against the police press release and the court transcript provided by the complainant. There was no breach of Clause 1 (ii). In order to avoid a breach of Clause 1 (ii), the publication should take the remedial action it has offered in respect of the online article. As the article was published online only, the Committee did not require the newspaper to publish a correction in print.

Conclusions

16. The complaint was not upheld.

Independent Complaints Reviewer

The complainant 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 the request for review.