Ruling

04366-21 Ali v Lancashire Telegraph

    • Date complaint received

      17th November 2021

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 2 Privacy, 9 Reporting of crime

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 04366-21 Ali v Lancashire Telegraph

Summary of Complaint

1. Imtiaz Ali complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Lancashire Telegraph breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), and Clause 9 (Reporting of Crime) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Businessman owed £14k by disappearing 'doctor' – claim”, published on 2 February 2021.

2. The article reported on claims that a businessman was “owed £14,500” and that “[i]n messages seen by the Lancashire Telegraph the man who took the money, Hannan Ali, promises to pay money back but has been uncontactable since the spring”. It went on to report that money had been “transferred as an investment to Arain Investments Ltd” and that “the now dissolved Arain Investments was according to records registered at 85a Bank Top with ‘Dr Hannan Ali’ as a director”. The article went on to state that Hannan Ali “is now also listed as a director of the newly-created Arain Ltd registered at the same address” and that “[e]vidence shows a final payment of £15,000 to Arain Investments was made on January 30, 2020.”

3. The article also said that two individuals claimed that Hannan Ali had told them that he was a doctor, and that “[t]he General Medical Council (GMC) confirmed it had no record of a ‘Hannan Ali’ and he was not a registered doctor. The title ‘Dr’ is not protected by legislation and it means that anyone can use the title without breaking the law. However, it is an offence to ‘hold oneself out to be’ a registered and licensed doctor when you are not.”

4. The article also reported that the 85a Bank Top address was located “directly above Top Link Travel and Money Exchange which is run by Mr Ali’s father, Imtiaz Ali, the former Conservative councillor”. It then went on to state that: “In a text message received in September 2020 seen by [the publication], Imtiaz Ali states that ‘my younger son was unwell since January 2020. As he was working in a hospital during a pandemic his health deteriorated, so we flew him out of the country for his health and treatment, now he is doing all right.’ When [the publication] contacted Imtiaz Ali later he said he was living at a different address and had no contact with Hannan ‘since before the lockdown’. We asked: ‘Are you able to confirm if your son is a doctor? And when was the last time you saw him?’ to which Imtiaz Ali responded: ‘Yes and prior to initial lockdown’ and ‘I have nothing further to provide unfortunately.’”

5. The article was accompanied by a photograph showing the shuttered exterior of Top Link Travel and Money Exchange, taken from the street.

6. The article also appeared in substantially the same form online, under the headline “Businessman claims disappearing ‘doctor’ owes him £14k”.

7. The complainant was the father of Hannan Ali, Imtiaz Ali, who was referenced and quoted in the article. He said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1, first stating that there was no business called ‘Arain Investments’ registered at 85a Bank Top and, to the best of his knowledge, no business with such a name existed. He accepted that a business called ‘Arain Ltd’ had been registered at the address, but did not accept that this meant it was accurate for the article to report that ‘Arain Investments Ltd’ was based at the address.

8. The complainant further said that it was inaccurate for the article to refer to him at all, where his son was an adult and the article was focussed on allegations against him. He also said that the allegations included in the article regarding the unpaid money had not been put to him prior to publication.

9. The complainant also said that the article breached Clause 2 as it included photographs of his business, and the publication did not have his consent to publish these. He did not believe that the photograph was in the public domain. He further said that it was a breach of his privacy for the article to refer to him at all, where it was based on allegations against his son and he was not relevant to the story.

10. Where the complainant said that the story should not have referred to him as he was not relevant to the story, and he therefore considered that the article was in breach of Clause 9.

11. The publication denied that the Code had been breached. It first said that it was satisfied that the article had not inaccurately reported that “the now dissolved Arain Investments was according to records registered at 85a Bank Top with ‘Dr Hannan Ali’ as a director” and that Hannan Ali “is now also listed as a director of the newly-created Arain Ltd registered at the same address.” The publication said that this was the case as it had statements from sources, who wished to remain anonymous, confirming that Hannan Ali was running a company called ‘Arain Investments’ from the address. It did not provide these statements, as it wanted to protect the identity of its sources, but it did provide redacted WhatsApp messages showing that an individual had deposited £15,000 into an account called ’A I Ltd’ or Arain Investments, and that the individual believed the account to be Hannan Ali’s. It also provided screenshots taken from the Companies House website, which showed two active company listings – Arain Ltd and Arain Motors Limited – listed at the 85a Bank Top address.

12. Turning to the complainant’s concerns that the article had breached Clause 1 by referring to him and that he had not been approached for comment, the publication said that it was not inaccurate or misleading for the article to refer to him. It said it had contacted the complainant as it had not been able to get in touch with Hannan Ali; in these circumstances it considered that the responsible course of action was to seek comment from his father. It provided WhatsApp messages, sent in November 2020, between a journalist working for the newspaper and the complainant, demonstrating that the allegations about the complainant’s son had been put to the complainant, and explicitly stating that they were seeking to give the complainant’s son “a right to reply to these accusations”. The messages also showed that the complainant had responded stating that he had had no contact with his son, had confirmed that his son was a doctor, that he had not seen him since prior to the Covid-19 UK lockdown, and that he had nothing further to provide apart from these comments. The publication said that it had also posted a letter to the complainant’s home address, which it said he shared with his son, and provided a copy of the letter. Finally, the publication said that a journalist contacted the complainant on what it believed to be his Facebook page in late November 2020 – after the WhatsApp messages – but had not received a response. In the Facebook message, the journalist also provided his phone number for the complainant to call. It said that the Facebook account was still being updated, and it therefore considered that this was an active Facebook account that the complainant could access and respond to the messages.

13. Turning to the alleged breach of Clause 2 arising from the photograph of the complainant’s office, the publication said that this was taken from a public street; it therefore did not accept that the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy over the photograph of his business. It noted that the address of the business was also listed on its publicly available Facebook page, and provided a screenshot demonstrating this.

14. The publication further said that no breach of Clause 2 arose from the inclusion of details about the complainant – his name, his relation to his son, the ownership of his business, and comments he had made to the journalist via WhatsApp – in the article. It said that it had approached the complainant only in relation to the allegations against his son, and this was the sole reason why he had been quoted. It further noted that at no point in the article did it suggest that the complainant had any involvement in his son’s activities.

15. Regarding the alleged breach of Clause 9, the newspaper said that it did not consider that the complainant was an individual convicted or accused of a crime, and the article did not state that this was the case. Regardless, it said that the references to the complainant were relevant to the article; he was a former Conservative Councillor and had been approached for comment – which he had given – in relation to the whereabouts of his son.

16. While the publication did not accept that the article breached the Code, it offered to amend the online article as a gesture of goodwill. It said that it was happy to amend the article to make clear that it was investors who alleged that Hannan Ali was running the business from the 85a Bank Top address, that Hannan Ali was not linked to Top Link Money and Travel Exchange, and that the complainant had no links to the allegations made in the article, and was approached only to comment on his son’s whereabouts.

17. While the complainant accepted that he had spoken to a journalist working for the newspaper over WhatsApp, he said that at no point during the conversation had the journalist said that his name, relationships, business details, and “political life” would be included in the article. He also noted that the article referred to him being a councillor, and had been published 3 months prior to the local elections. He therefore questioned the motives of the newspaper, and said that it had, prior to publication, approached his “political organisation” for comment and made clear that the situation did not relate to him. He questioned why, therefore, the article mentioned him at all, where he said his “political organisation” had previously been told that the matter did not relate to him. He also said that he had received no letter, and was unaware that the newspaper had posted one to his address.

18. The complainant also said that according to the WhatsApp messages, showing an exchange between an investor and an individual alleged to be Hannan Ali, the contact name was listed as ‘Hanana’ rather than ‘Hannan’. He also said that he did not accept that the transfer shown in these messages was the one referred to in the article, as he did not see a reference to a £15,000 payment in the article itself.

19. The complainant then said that, contrary to what the publication said, his business was the only one registered at the 85a Bank Top address. He further said that he was not content with the amendments proposed by the newspaper, and wanted the article to be removed and for the newspaper to publish an apology.

20. The publication said that it had not approached a political organisation for comment, and reiterated that it would be content to amend the article in the manner previously suggested.

Relevant Code Provisions

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 their private and family life, home, physical and mental health, and correspondence, including digital communications.

ii) Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual's private life without consent. In considering an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy, account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information and the extent to which the material complained about is already in the public domain or will become so.

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.

Findings of the Committee

21. The Committee noted that it did not appear that there was a business by the name of ‘Arain Investments Ltd’, or ‘Arain Investments’, located at 85a Bank Top. However, there were two companies called ‘Arain Limited’ – one of which was dissolved, and one which was active – and an ‘Arain Motors Ltd’ registered at the address, according to Companies House listings provided by the publication. As such, while the article was inaccurate in reporting that that “the now dissolved Arain Investments was according to records registered at 85a Bank Top with ‘Dr Hannan Ali’ as a director”, the Committee was satisfied the inaccuracy was not significant, where two companies with similar names had been registered to the address and the director of those companies was, according to Companies House, Hannan Ali. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

22. While the Committee did not consider the inaccuracy arising from the company name to be significant, it nevertheless welcomed the publication’s offer to amend the article to clarify this point.

23. The complainant had said that the article was inaccurate as it referred to him, when his son’s actions did not relate to him and his son was an adult. Newspapers have the right to choose which pieces of information they publish, as long as this does not lead to a breach of the Code. In this case, the inclusion of references to the complainant did not render the article inaccurate, where he did not dispute the accuracy of the references themselves and accepted that the publication had contacted him for comment and that he had replied in the manner set out in the article. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

24. The publication had provided WhatsApp messages showing that it had asked the complainant for comment on the allegations outlined in the article prior to publication, and the complainant had not disputed that he had received these messages and replied. While the Committee understood that the messages had not explicitly stated that the newspaper would publish the complainant’s comment and his biographical details, the complainant was aware that he was talking to a representative of the newspaper, and had not told him that he wished to remain anonymous, or that he did not wish for his responses to be published. No breach of Clause 1 from the inclusion of the complainant’s response within the article.

25. While the Committee noted that the complainant disputed the accuracy of the WhatsApp messages provided by the publication to support its claim that “[e]vidence shows a final payment of £15,000 to Arain Investments was made on January 30, 2020”, it considered that it was not in a position to make an finding on the accuracy of this claim. This was because the messages and bank money transfers were allegedly sent to Hannan Ali, and the complainant was not in a position to dispute the accuracy of these messages or say for certain whether his son had received the payment referenced in the messages.

26. The Committee noted that there was a disputed point of fact between the complainant’s account and the publication’s account, where the complainant said that his political organisation had been approached for comment, and the publication said it did not do so. However, where the Committee did not consider that the discrepancy related to a potential breach of the Code, it did not consider that it was necessary to resolve this discrepancy.

27. The Committee next considered the alleged breaches of Clause 2. It noted that the photograph simply showed the business as it would appear to passers-by. It did not consider that the complainant had complainant a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to the view of the exterior of his business premises. There was, therefore, no breach of Clause 2 in relation to the photograph of the complainant’s business.

28. The complainant had also said that the inclusion of details about him within the article raised a breach of Clause 2. The details included in the article were his name, his relation to his son, the ownership of his business, the fact that he had previously been a Conservative Councillor, and comments he had made to the journalist via WhatsApp. The Committee did not consider that the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy over his name, his relationship to his son, the ownership of his business, or the fact that he had previously been a councillor: the fact of someone being a local politician or owning a business is generally widely known, and is often in the public domain. Turning to whether the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy over the WhatsApp messages, the Committee noted that the terms of Clause 2 include an explicit reference to digital communications. However, the Committee also noted that the complainant was aware that he was speaking to a journalist via WhatsApp, and had not indicated to the journalist that he wished for the information included in the messages to remain private, and had chosen to reply to the allegations against his son. For these reasons, there was no breach of Clause 2 on this point.

29. Turning to Clause 9, the Committee noted that the article did not state that the son of the complainant had committed or been accused of a crime; it claimed that he allegedly owed money to a private individual, and that he had told people he was a doctor. It did not state that he had been questioned, arrested, or accused of any crime, and the complainant had denied that this was the case. Therefore, the Committee considered that the terms of Clause 9 were not engaged by the complainant’s concerns, where his son was not an individual convicted or accused of a crime.

Conclusions

30. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

31. N/A


Date complaint received: 24/04/2021

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 28/10/2021