Ruling

Resolution Statement: Complaint 05806-15 Phillips v The Mail on Sunday

    • Date complaint received

      4th December 2015

    • Outcome

      Resolved - IPSO mediation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Resolution Statement: Complaint 05806-15 Phillips v The Mail on Sunday

Summary of complaint

1. Chris Phillips 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 originally headlined “The Ripper's family: Pictures of Victorian respectability, brother and sister of Britain's most notorious killer”, published on 4 July 2015.

2. The article reported that the newspaper last year revealed “DNA evidence that proved beyond reasonable doubt” that Jack the Ripper was a man called Aaron Kosminski. It explained that DNA had been extracted from a blood stain on a shawl found on the body of a victim of Jack the Ripper. An “expert in analysing genetic evidence from historical crime scenes” proved that the DNA was a “perfect match” to the descendants of both Aaron Kosminski’s sister, and of the victim. The article made a number of references to murders committed by Aaron Kosminski, and included photographs which the article said were of his family members.

3. The complainant said that it was inaccurate to state that the expert’s DNA evidence proved “beyond reasonable doubt” the identity of Jack the Ripper. The nature of this evidence was controversial among scientists, and the expert’s work had not been subject to scientific peer review. Consequently, it was inaccurate for the article to report as fact that Aaron Kosminski had murdered anyone. It was also unlikely that one of the photographs showed Aaron Kosminski’s brother, Isaac Abrahams, as claimed in the caption.

Relevant Code Provisions

4. 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.

Mediated outcome

5. The newspaper accepted that the scientific evidence was considered controversial by some experts in the field. It therefore offered to remove reference in the online article to the DNA evidence “proving beyond reasonable doubt” the identity of Jack the Ripper. It also agreed to amend the online article to reflect that Aaron Kosminski had only “allegedly” murdered a number of people. The photographs had been provided by a descendant of Aaron Kosminski, who believed that they did indeed show his family members; the newspaper offered to make this clear in the online version of the article.

6. After further correspondence, the newspaper offered to publish the following correction in print on page 2 in its Clarifications & Corrections column, in addition to its previous offer to amend the online version of the article:

On July 5 we said DNA evidence proves beyond reasonable doubt that the Victorian serial killer 'Jack the Ripper' was the contemporary suspect Aaron Kosminski. We would like to clarify that this is the conclusion of Dr Jari Louhelainen of Liverpool John Moores University. His work has not yet been subject to peer-review in a scientific journal.

It also offered to publish a similar clarification beneath the online article.

7. The complainant said that this would resolve the matter to his satisfaction.

8. As the complaint was successfully mediated, the Complaints Committee did not make a determination as to whether there had been any breach of the Code.

Date complaint received: 14/11/2015
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 04/12/2015