Ruling

04893-15 Carroll v Belfast Telegraph

    • Date complaint received

      30th September 2015

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of correction

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 3 Harassment

·  Decision of the Complaints Committee 04893-15 Carroll v Belfast Telegraph

Summary of complaint 

1. Andrew Carroll complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Belfast Telegraph had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 3 (Privacy) of the Editors' Code of Practice in an article headlined “’Sam's Yer Man’ director sells home as police probe suspicions his firm was sunk by employee fraud”, published on 5 August 2015. 

2. The article reported that Sam Duff Jnr, a director of S&R Electrics Limited – a Belfast electronic goods retailer popularly known as ‘Sam's Yer Man’ – had put his house up for sale; the business had recently closed down and been placed into administration. The article was accompanied by a photograph of the house in question, as well as a description of the property, its location and the asking price. 

3. The complainant said the newspaper's report was inaccurate because he was, in fact, the owner of the property, and Sam Duff Jnr was his tenant. He said that following publication of the article, he had taken the property off the market on the advice of his estate agent. He had also hired security staff after the property had been visited by creditors of S&R Electrics. 

4. The complainant also said that the publication of a photograph of his house alongside the original article, and the subsequent publication in a correction to the article of his name as the owner of the property, represented an intrusion into his privacy.

5. The newspaper accepted that the complainant was in fact the owner of the property, and that the article had been inaccurate. It said that the journalist, in researching the story, had checked the filing history for S&R Electrics on the Companies House website and found the home address of Sam Duff Jnr. The journalist then did a Google search of the address and discovered that the house was listed for sale. Details of the property from the Google search, as well as the photographs, were then published in the article. No other checks were made in relation to the property. 

6. Having been contacted by the complainant on the day the article was published, the newspaper issued corrections, both in print and online, on the following day. The online version of the article was also amended to remove all mention of the property. The print correction appeared under the heading "Andy Carroll" and said: 

An article stated, incorrectly, that Sam Duff Jnr, a director of S&R Electrics, is selling his Holywood home with an asking price of more than £1m (News, August 5). In fact, Mr Duff is renting the property, at Glen Road, and the house has been put up for sale by its owner, Andy Carroll. We apologise to Mr Carroll for the error, which has since been corrected online. 

The online correction appeared under the heading “Andy Carroll” and said: 

An article stated, incorrectly, that Sam Duff Jnr, a director of S&R Electrics, is selling his Holywood home with an asking price of more than £1m (News, August 5). 

In the newspaper’s view, publication of the correction on page 12 in an edition containing 56 pages constituted due prominence in accordance with Clause 1(ii) of the Code.          

7. The complainant was not satisfied with the correction. He pointed out that the original article appeared as the main story on page 4, having being flagged on the newspaper's front page, while the correction was placed in a 'side-bar' on page 12. In addition, the correction was published under the heading "Andy Carroll", a heading that he said offered no suggestion that a correction was being published underneath, or that the correction referred to the S&R Electrics article. 

Relevant Code Provisions

8. 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. 

Clause 3 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 in private places without their consent. Note - Private places are public or private property where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy. 

Findings of the Committee

9. In the circumstance where the property’s sale featured in the headline, it was not sufficient for the publication to simply locate the address of Sam Duff Jnr and proceed on the basis that he was the legal owner of the property without any further checks to ensure that the assumption was correct. The newspaper had failed to take care over the accuracy of the article, and the Committee found that the established inaccuracy gave a significantly misleading impression of both who was the owner of the property, and the reasons behind the property's sale; the inaccuracy required correction under Clause 1 (ii) of the Code. 

10. The Committee welcomed the newspaper’s prompt recognition that the article had been inaccurate, and the steps it had taken to publish a correction and apology, and amend the online article. However, Clause 1(ii) of the Code states that a significantly inaccuracy must be corrected with "due prominence"; generally this will mean the same page or further forward than the page where the article originally appeared. The article had been published on page 4 of the newspaper, but the correction appeared eight pages further back on page 12. The prominence of the correction was not sufficient, and the requirements of 1(ii) had not been met. 

11. The photograph of the complainant’s house published alongside the original article, and the subsequent publication of his name as the owner of the property in the corrections, did not disclose any private information about the complainant and did not raise a breach of Clause 3. 

Conclusions

12. The complaint was upheld under Clause 1 (Accuracy). 

Remedial Action Required

13. The Committee accepted that the original correction was published promptly and in good faith; the wording of the correction recognised the inaccuracy, and it contained an apology in the print edition. As such, it was satisfied that re-publication of the correction in an appropriate location would represent a sufficient remedy.  

14. The newspaper was required to re-publish its correction either on page 4, where the article was originally published, or further forward in the newspaper. The correction should additionally state that it had been re-published following a ruling by the Independent Press Standards Organisation, with the word “correction” appearing in the headline. The full wording must be agreed with IPSO in advance. The correction on the online article should make clear that the article had been amended, and should be published at the foot of the online article. 

Date complaint received: 05/08/2015

Date decision issued: 30/09/2015