Ruling

03432-18 Benedict v dailyrecord.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      8th November 2018

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 16 Payment to criminals, 2 Privacy, 9 Reporting of crime

Decision of the Complaints Committee 03432-18 Benedict v dailyrecord.co.uk

Summary of complaint

1. Sylvanus Benedict complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation on behalf of himself and his mother and brother, that dailyrecord.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 9 (Reporting of crime) and Clause 16 (Payments to Criminals) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Brother of former Scotland striker [Name] accused of attacking seven police officers”, published on 2 July 2017.

2. The article reported that the complainant had been arrested after “allegedly battling seven police officers”, following a “bust-up” outside a church. It reported that it had been alleged that during the altercation, the complainant had “assaulted two constables and threatened to shoot their colleagues”.

3. The article explained that following his arrest, the complainant had been released on bail, but, within 24 hours, was arrested again following a separate incident, in which he was alleged to have “threatened to murder a parishioner and acted in a threatening and abusive manner towards his family”.

4. The article named the complainant’s brother, and reported that he was a well-known football player; a photograph of the complainant with his brother accompanied the article. The article published quotes from an anonymous source, who had speculated on the reason why the complainant had approached the victim during the second incident: “Benedict claimed that the family involved in the second incident had been texting [his brother] and his mother or contacting them on social media”. 

5. The article published a quote from the complainant’s lawyer: “My client is pleading not guilty to all the charges. When he was told he was being remanded in custody, there was no reaction other than one of extreme sadness. He said this would badly affect his life”.

6. The complainant said that the publication had published inaccurate claims from an unreliable source. The complainant denied that he had threatened to shoot police officers, or anyone, during the first incident; that he had threatened to murder a “parishioner”; or that he had been threatening or abusive towards their family during the second incident.

7. The complainant said that the article contained a number of further inaccuracies: he was not “around 6ft 5in”; he did not weigh “20st”; he was not a “former rugby player” and was not unemployed at the time of his arrest. In fact, he was 6ft 3in, weighted 16-and-a-half stone and had never played rugby in his life. He also said that the use of the words “battled” and “bust up” were conjecture; he said that the person involved in the second incident was not a “parishioner”, as reported.

8. The complainant also raised concern about a photograph which accompanied the article, and which was captioned: “Plymouth Brethren church”. The complainant said that the use of this image was misleading because he had not been inside a church when the two incidents had taken place, and further, the “Exclusive Brethren” did not meet in a church.

9. The complainant also said that the article breached Clause 9 as it identified his brother and his mother, both of whom were not genuinely relevant to the events reported in the article. The complainant further said that the article had also published a private family photo of him and his brother, without consent.

10. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that it had relied upon information provided to it by a confidential source, who had witnessed the court proceedings. It said that it had published this information in good faith. It explained that the source had originally telephoned the news desk, and had informed the publication that the complainant had been arrested twice within approximately 24 hours following two disturbances; one outside a church involving its parishioners and one involving a family who lived nearby.

11. The publication said that because the source had telephoned the news desk after the proceedings had taken place, the journalist was unable to attend court, however, the journalist had visited the source in person and had also checked their claims against court documents which were available within the court house. It said that these documents accurately described the nine charges which the complainant was facing following his two arrests, including threatening to shoot police officers, making threats to kill and acting in a threatening manner towards a family.

12. During the course of IPSO’s investigation, The publication provided an email from the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service, which set out the complainant’s charges; charge 6 was: “Behaving in a threatening manner by threatening to shoot police officers”. The publication provided a further email from the SCTS, which clarified that the complainant had ultimately pleaded not guilty to Charge 6. However, the publication said that, as the article had made clear that the complainant was accused of this conduct only, it was an accurate account of the charges which he had faced in July 2017.

13. The publication said that the complainant had pleaded guilty to the charge of being threatening and abusive towards a family, and had been admonished by the court. The publication provided information from a court document, relating to this incident, which stated:

27/06/2017 at Crosshouse Road, Kilmaurs, you SB did behave in a threatening or abusive manner likely to cause a reasonable person to suffer fear or alarm in that you      did shout swear utter threats of violence including threats to murder [Name], c/o Police Scotland, act in an aggressive manner and place said [Name] and [family members’], aged nine years, and [family member], aged six years, all c/o Police Scotland, in a state of fear and alarm. You SB did this while on bail having been granted bail on 26/06/2017 at Kilmarnock Sheriff Court.

14. The publication said that the source had also provided background information, including details of the complainant’s physical appearance. The source had also told the publication that the complainant had been described in court as “unemployed” on more than one occasion. Further, it said that the source, who had local knowledge, had also described the complainant as being well known within the local area, who had been a former amateur rugby player who had turned to the sport after failing to make an impact on football. The source had also claimed that the victim in the second incident had been a parishioner.

15. The publication noted that the figures provided by the complainant relating to his weight and height revealed an alleged discrepancy of 2 inches and 3-and -a -half stone. It also noted the complainant’s denial that he had ever played rugby, and that he was unemployed. However, the publication did not accept that the article had contained any significant inaccuracies, in circumstances where the complainant had pleaded guilty to various charges of assault on body aggravated by religious prejudice. However, as a gesture of goodwill, it offered to remove this information in an attempt to resolve the complaint.

16. The publication said that the use of the terms “battled” and “bust-up” were not misleading, and it was entitled to use this terminology, given that at the time of publication, the complainant faced charges for several violent offences.

17. The publication said that the photograph of the complainant and his brother had been publicly available on the complainant’s brother’s Instagram account, and provided a screenshot of this post. The publication noted that this image had since been removed.

18. In relation to the photograph of the church, it said that the image had been removed from the online article, and it had published the following correction on p.2. The publication did not accept that the publication of an image of the Maxwell Church, represented a significant inaccuracy.

A previous version of the article used a picture of a church that was captioned as Plymouth Brethren Church in Kilmaurs. We are happy to clarify that the image was in fact the Maxwell Church in Kilmaurs and apologise for the error.

19. The publication did not accept that the reference to the complainant’s brother and mother represented a breach of Clause 9. It said that the source had advised that the complainant’s alleged threats towards the “parishioner”, related to the complainant’s accusation that he had been conducting secret meetings with the complainant’s brother. In relation to the complainant’s mother, the newspaper said that it was heard in court that the complainant was her carer.

20. The complainant denied that he had approached the “parishioner” on the basis that they had contacted his brother and mother via social media, as reported, or on the basis that he had been conducting “secret meetings” with his brother. The complainant explained that the discussion had related to the fact that his brother had not returned to Scotland to care for his elderly mother along with him, but had, instead, decided to meet up with the “parishioner”. The complainant said that he had spoken to this man about a number of things, but had referred to his mother and brother during the course of that conversation.

21. The complainant disputed the veracity of the email which the publication had received from the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service during the course of IPSO’s investigation. The complainant provided a document entitled: “Community Payback Order”, and noted that Charge 6, did not appear on this document; he said that this document accurately reflected the official charges which he had faced.

Relevant Code provisions

22. 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.

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. Account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information.

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

Clause 9 (Reporting of Crime)*

i) Relatives or friends of persons convicted or accused of crime should not generally be identified without their consent, unless they are genuinely relevant to the story. 

ii) Particular regard should be paid to the potentially vulnerable position of children who witness, or are victims of, crime. This should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings.

Clause 16 (Payment to criminals)*

i) Payment or offers of payment for stories, pictures or information, which seek to exploit a particular crime or to glorify or glamorise crime in general, must not be made directly or via agents to convicted or confessed criminals or to their associates – who may include family, friends and colleagues.

Findings of the Committee

23. The article had accurately reported the nature of the charges which the complainant had faced in July 2017; this was apparent from the email correspondence which the publication had provided from the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service during the course of IPSO’s investigation. Care had been taken by the publication to present these charges as allegations, and the article had been clear that no judicial findings had been made against the complainant at the date of publication. The complainant had challenged the authenticity of this document; the Committee noted that, following publication, the complainant had not been convicted of the charge of behaving in a threatening manner by threatening to shoot police officers. However, the email from the SCTS had confirmed the nature of the charges which the complainant had faced in July 2017; these were accurately reported in the article. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

24. The publication had been approached by a source who had been present at court when the complainant’s hearing had taken place. The publication had not simply relied on this testimony, it had taken steps to corroborate the source’s claims: care had been taken to visit the source in person and the publication had also spoken to the court house in order to confirm the charges which the complainant faced. It was not a failure to take care to report claims made by a source who had direct knowledge of the complainant, and the court proceedings. Reporting these claims did not represent a failure to take care, such as would breach Clause 1(i).

25. The source had also provided biographical details about the complainant. They had said that the complainant was 6ft 5inches in height; 20 stones in weight; that he was unemployed; and a former rugby player. The source had also claimed that the victim in the second incident was a parishioner. The complainant’s height and weight had been reported inaccurately; however, in any event, the figures provided by the complainant indicated that he was of a larger build, and as such, the reported claims did not represent significant inaccuracies. The Committee noted the complainant’s position that he had never been a rugby player, or unemployed. However, In the full context, and where the article had reported that the complainant had been charged with several violent offences, aggravated by religious prejudice, these inaccuracies, in addition to the claim that the victim was “parishioner” were not significant. There was no breach of Clause 1 on these points.

26. The source had claimed that the complainant had been charged with threatening to murder a parishioner, and that he had been threatening or abusive towards their family. It was accepted that he had pleaded guilty to a breach of the peace in relation to this incident. The court document provided by the publication, demonstrated that the article had accurately reported the allegations which had formed the basis for that charge. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

27. The publication was entitled to describe the first incident, which had resulted in the complainant facing several charges for violent and aggressive behaviour, as a “battle” and a “bust up”. It was not a failure to take care to describe the incident in those terms, nor was it misleading.

28. The Committee then turned to consider the publication of the image of a church, which had been identified as the Plymouth Brethren Church, in error. The Committee considered that the captioning of the wrong church was not a significant inaccuracy in the context of the article, and noted that, in any event, the error had been corrected by the publication. Further, it was not misleading for the article to contain a photograph of a church, in circumstances where complainant had been accused of offences which were motivated by religious prejudice. There was no breach of Clause 1.

29. The terms of Clause 9 were engaged. The complainant’s brother had been identified by name, in an article which had reported on the complainant’s arrest following two incidents. The Committee considered that the complainant’s brother was genuinely relevant to the report.

30. The Committee noted the complainant’s denial that “secret meetings” had taken place between his brother, and the victim in the second incident. However, the complainant had explained that in his conversation with the victim he had referred to his brother. It was not in dispute that following this conversation, an altercation had taken place which had resulted in the complainant being charged with a breach of the peace. The complainant’s brother was, therefore, genuinely relevant to the events which had led to second incident, and which had resulted in his subsequent arrest; identifying the complainant’s brother in that context was not a breach of Clause 9 of the Code.

31. The complainant’s mother had not been identified in the article by name. The Committee did not establish that the protection from being identified, afforded to individuals who are relatives of those accused of crime and who are not genuinely relevant to the story, was engaged in the complainant’s mother’s case. The reference to her in the article under complaint, did not represent a breach of Clause 9.

32. The photograph of the complainant and his brother was obtained from a publicly available Instagram account. The photograph had disclosed the complainant’s relationship with his brother: the complainant’s likeness, or his relationship with his sibling, did not disclose private information about him. Further, the identification of the complainant’s brother, and the disclosure of his relationship with the complainant, was not intrusive for the reasons set out above. There was no breach of Clause 2.

33. The article was a report on the charges which the complainant faced in July 2017. It did not glamorise or glorify the crimes which the complainant was accused of. Further, while noting the complainant’s position that the publication’s source was a criminal, he had provided no basis for this claim, nor had he provided any basis to show that any payment had been made to them. The terms of Clause 16 were not engaged. 

Conclusion

34. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

35. N/A

Date complaint received: 10/05/2018

Date decision issued: 18/10/2018