Ruling

05726-15 Boyd v Express.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      20th November 2015

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 12 Discrimination

·  Decision of the Complaints Committee 05726-15 Boyd v Express.co.uk

Summary of complaint 

1. Sean Boyd complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Express.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Warning: Britain ‘faces new wave of gun massacres amid fears over firearms laws’”, published on 15 September 2015. 

2. The article reported on Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary’s (HMIC) report “Targeting the risk: An inspection of the efficiency and effectiveness of firearms licensing in police forces in England and Wales”. It reported that the failings identified in the HMIC report “come in the wake of horrific shootings in recent years”, and referred to the case of Derrick Bird in 2010, in which 12 people were murdered. It included the comments of the individual who led the HMIC report, who had said that “unless things change, we run the risk of further tragedies occurring”. The article was originally accompanied by an image depicting machine guns for sale on a wall display. The sub headline stated that “Britain faces a new wave of gun massacres unless the current firearms licensing system is overhauled, experts have warned”. 

3. The complainant said that the HMIC report did not claim that Britain “faces a new wave of gun massacres”. In addition, he said that this claim implied there was a previous wave of gun massacres, which he denied. He said that the image which originally accompanied the article depicted illegal firearms, rather than firearms covered by the licensing system. The complainant was concerned that the article was an attack on law-abiding firearms owners, and implied that they had mental instabilities; he said that this discriminated against law-abiding gun owners. 

4. The newspaper said that the individual who led the report had said that “unless things change, we run the risk of further tragedies occurring”, and such tragedies included the murders in Cumbria. It was not misleading to claim that the report warned of a new wave of gun massacres in this context. It denied that this implied that there had been a previous wave of gun massacres. The newspaper denied that there was a breach of Clause 12. It said that Clause 12 is designed to protect individuals from discrimination, rather than groups such as fire-arms owners from generalised remarks. 

5. The newspaper said that on the day the article was published, it received a telephone call complaining about the image of machine guns. After this call, the image was changed to one of a shotgun, and the following text was added as a footnote to the article, with the heading “correction”: 

In the first version of this article we published a picture which showed a number of firearms which are illegal in the United Kingdom. Firearms which are illegal in Britain include machine guns. The image used to illustrate this article pictured a machine gun. It was therefore misleading to illustrate the article with an image of a machine gun. This has been amended and we are happy to set the record straight. 

Relevant Code Provisions

6. 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. 

iii) The Press, whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact. 

Clause 12 (Discrimination) 

i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's race, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability. 

ii) Details of an individual's race, colour, religion, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story. 

Findings of the Committee

7. The HMIC report noted that recommendations to upgrade the status of the Home Office guidance on firearms licensing made after Derrick Bird killed 12 people in 2010, and after Michael Atherton killed three people in 2012 had not been implemented. It claimed that history suggested that a similar pattern of inaction would follow the next fatal tragedy involving a firearm.  The HMIC’s press release on the report stated that “lessons from past tragedies have not always been learnt and this fails the victims of those events, including their families, unacceptably. Unless things change, we run the risk of further tragedies occurring.”  It was not misleading to refer to these incidents as “gun massacres”, and the HMIC had warned of further such tragedies occurring.  In these circumstances, the headline warning that “Britain ‘faces new wave of gun massacres amid fears over firearms laws’”, was not misleading; it accurately summarised the HMIC’s comments. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point. 

8. The Committee acknowledged that the firearms depicted in the image which originally accompanied the article were illegal in the UK.  However, the article reported on failures the HMIC had identified in the gun licensing system. These related to application backlogs, the medical checks of those applying to own guns and the number of firearms stolen or missing. The article did not criticise, or otherwise comment on the type of firearm available in the UK, nor did the article’s claim that Britain faced “a new wave of gun massacres” rely on such a claim about the firearms available. Any misleading impression the image gave was not significant; it did not support any claim subsequently made in the article, and served simply to illustrate that the article was about guns. There was no breach of Clause 1. 

9. While it was not required under the terms of Clause 1 (ii), the Committee welcomed the newspaper’s prompt recognition of the fact that the firearms depicted were illegal in the UK, its decision to replace it with an image of a shotgun, and its addition of a footnote clarifying the position. 

10. Clause 12 protects individuals from discrimination on the basis of certain characteristics. The complainant’s concern that the article discriminated against firearms owners did not engage the terms of Clause 12, and there was no breach of the Code on this point.  

Conclusions

11. The complaint was not upheld. 

Remedial Action Required

N/A 

Date complaint received: 16/09/2015

Date decision issued: 20/11/2015