Ruling

03273-16 Swift v mirror.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      6th October 2016

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 03273-16 Swift v mirror.co.uk

Summary of complaint

1. Jason Swift complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that mirror.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “’Predatory’ ex-army officer who groomed hundreds of young girls online is jailed for 10 years”, published on 13 June 2015.

2. The article reported that the complainant, an ex-army officer, had been jailed for 10 years after being convicted of possessing indecent images and inciting children to engage in sexual activity. It said that the police had found 3,000 indecent images stored on his computer, and that he had contact with thousands of children between September 2012 and October 2013. It also said that the complainant had “threatened” the children and used “blackmail” to make them carry out sexual acts on themselves. The article quoted Detective Constable Nicola Perry who said that Swift was “a dangerous, predatory man who preyed on the vulnerable for his own sexual gratification”.

3. The complainant said that it was inaccurate to report that he had contact with “thousands of children”. He said that while he had thousands of photographs of children on his computer, this did not mean that he had contacted thousands of children. He said that as he was a Staff Sergeant, and had not undergone officer training at Sandhurst, it was inaccurate to describe him as an “ex-army officer”. He also said that he had not threatened and blackmailed children, as the article reported, and said that a statement in a police press release should not be taken as fact.

4. The publication said that because the article had been syndicated from a local newspaper, and had been published almost 12 months prior to the complaint being received, it was not in a position to trace the identity of the person who wrote the story, and could not assist with the underlying facts supporting the story. It said that the information concerning the complainant contacting “thousands of children” could have been obtained in addition to the police press release upon which the article was based, or it could have been a typographical error. However, it said that it made little difference whether the complainant had contacted hundreds or thousands of children online given that he was found in possession of 3,000 indecent images of children; it said that each image was an abuse of that particular child, and the effect of any inaccuracy paled into insignificance when compared to the distress suffered by the children filmed and abused. It also said that the difference between a commissioned and non-commissioned officer – a Staff Sergeant – was not significant in the context of the article.

Relevant Code Provisions 

5. Clause 1 (Accuracy)

i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures.

ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and - where appropriate - an apology published. In cases involving the Regulator, prominence should be agreed with the Regulator in advance.

Findings of the Committee

6. While the Committee acknowledged the difficulties in dealing with a complaint made almost 12 months after publication, it did not consider it likely that the reference to the complainant having had contact with “thousands” of children had been obtained by the publication in addition to the police press release. However, while the Committee noted the complainant’s position that he did not have contact with “thousands” of children, the article had made clear that he had been convicted of 26 charges of possessing indecent images, and eight counts of inciting children to engage in sexual activity. In circumstances where the precise details of the complainant’s convictions were reported in the article, and having considered the nature of the crimes the complainant was convicted of, the Committee did not consider that the reference to the complainant having contact with “thousands” of children was significantly inaccurate. There was no breach of Clause 1.

7. In circumstances where the complainant was convicted of inciting children to engage in sexual activity, and the police press release quoted an officer saying that the complainant had used “threats and blackmail” against the children he had contacted, it was not misleading for the article to make reference to him threatening and blackmailing children. In addition, given that the complainant was a non-commissioned officer in the army, it was not significantly misleading to refer to him as an “ex-army officer” in the context of an article that focused on his convictions. There was no breach of Clause 1 on either point.

Conclusions

8. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

9. N/A

Date complaint received: 2/6/2016
Date decision issued: 6/9/2016