Ruling

04921-16 Bailey v The Mail on Sunday

    • Date complaint received

      6th October 2016

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 04921-16 Bailey v The Mail on Sunday

Summary of Complaint

1. Anthony Bailey complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Mail on Sunday breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Queen’s envoy in honours scandal”, published on 29 May 2016.

2. The article reported that the complainant had been awarded an Antiguan knighthood, and that he was now “masquerading as a knight” in the UK. It said that he had used the title “Sir” in the UK, “flouting convention and angering Buckingham Palace”. It also said that a “high-level government source” had informed the newspaper that at a ceremonial banquet for the president of Hungary held “last Monday”, the complainant had added “Sir” to his name in a letter from David Cameron, the then Prime Minister, which was then read out by Oliver Letwin, giving the impression that the Prime Minister had recognised the title “in contravention of the wishes of the Foreign Office”.

3. The article was published in substantially the same form online with the title “Queen's envoy 'Baroness Brazen' is entangled in honours scandal: Title given to Commonwealth chief's crony is 'reviewed' after she is accused of abusing the system”.

4. The complainant denied that he had been “masquerading as a knight” in the UK: for more than a year, he had been pressing for formal clarification on the issue of UK recognition of honours bestowed in Commonwealth Realms. A statement clarifying the position was not issued until 1 June, after the article was published; therefore, at the time of publication, he had been entitled to believe that he could use his title in the UK.

5. His complaint to IPSO, however, centred on his concern that the newspaper had inaccurately reported that he had doctored official correspondence from the Prime Minister. He said the newspaper did not have any evidence to support what was a very serious allegation, and it had failed to put the claim to him before publication. He expressed concern that the newspaper had not offered to publish a correction until six weeks after the allegation was published; and, given the seriousness of the claim, he considered that the wording should have included an apology.

6. The newspaper said that its sources at the Foreign Office and Buckingham Palace had confirmed that the complainant had no right to use his title in the UK because his knighthood was not a British knighthood and he was not a dual national with Antiguan citizenship. It provided a letter from Buckingham Palace addressed to the complainant, dated 8 September 2015, in which it stated that “no permission can be given for use of the title ‘Sir’”.

7. The newspaper said that the information regarding the amendment of a letter from the Prime Minister had come from a “top-level source”. The allegation was not put to the complainant before publication because it was considered a “relatively insignificant detail” in the context of the wider claims. It considered that responsibility for the Prime Minister “recognising the title in contravention of the wishes of the Foreign Office” rested with the complainant: he had allowed the banquet programme to refer to him as “Sir”, and the next day’s official registers were not corrected. However, as the complainant denied the allegation, it offered to publish the following wording:

An article on May 29 suggested Anthony Bailey had added the title ‘Sir’ to his name in a letter from the Prime Minister that was read out at a ceremonial banquet for the President of Hungary. We would like to make it clear that Mr Bailey made no such amendment to the letter.

8. The newspaper did not consider that an apology was required because the complainant had misrepresented himself as a knight on “numerous occasions”, including in announcements at prestigious events and online. It said that information used by Downing Street to compose the Prime Minister’s letter appeared to have come from the complainant or someone acting on his behalf; it was unimportant whether the misinformation had been provided during the dinner or before it. It noted that the correction was published in print and online on 17 July 2016, and the reference in the online article was removed. 

Relevant Code Provisions 

9. 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

10. The newspaper had given the significantly misleading impression that the complainant had amended a letter from David Cameron, the then Prime Minister, which was then read out at an official banquet. The newspaper had based this claim on information supplied by a confidential government source, but it appeared to have taken no steps to verify it, and it had not put the allegation to the complainant for his comment before publication. This represented a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article in breach of Clause 1 (i). A correction was required in order to avoid a breach of Clause 1 (ii).

11. In its second response to the complaint, the newspaper had offered to publish a correction to address the inaccuracy. The wording, which was published in print and online, made clear that the complainant had not amended the Prime Minister’s letter. While the Committee acknowledged the complainant’s position that an apology was also appropriate, it noted that the inclusion of the title in the letter appeared to have come about as a consequence of his practice of referring to himself as Sir Anthony in the UK. In such circumstances, and in the full context of the allegations set out in the remainder of the article, the decision not to include an apology did not breach Clause 1 (ii).

Conclusions

12. The complaint was upheld.

Remedial action required

13. Having upheld the complaint, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required.

14. The newspaper had published a correction in print and online, which identified the inaccuracy and made the correct position clear. No further action was required.

Date complaint received: 15/07/2016
Date decision issued: 19/09/2016