Ruling

Resolution Statement 05896-18 Alexander v The Times

    • Date complaint received

      29th November 2018

    • Outcome

      Resolved - IPSO mediation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Resolution Statement 05896-18 Alexander v The Times

Summary of complaint

1. Mark Alexander complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Times breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Church stops killer adding ‘beloved’ to father’s grave”, published on 20 July 2018.

2. The article reported that the complainant had been convicted of the murder of his father in 2010; it reported that he had “dismembered the body of his father”, burnt the remains and buried them in concrete. The article also reported that the complainant’s father “forbade him from having a girlfriend” and was “furious when he objected to studying at the Sorbonne in Paris”. The article was published online in substantively the same format.

3. The complainant said that it was mentioned by the judge during court proceedings that his father’s body had not been deliberately dismembered, and that subsequent expert evidence given in court had corroborated this. He also said that a contemporaneous note of a remark made by the judge before sentencing, recorded by the defence, had stated that there was “no dismemberment of the body – contrary to what was said in the press”.

4. The complainant said that the prosecution had stated in court that his father “forbade him from having a girlfriend”, however this was contradicted by later evidence heard by witnesses in court. He also said that while it was heard in court that his father was “furious when [the complainant] objected to studying at the Sorbonne in Paris”, this did not give a balanced impression of the facts presented to the jury.

5. The newspaper did not accept that it had breached the Code, and disputed the complainant's account of the evidence heard in court. It said that the information reported in the article was taken from contemporaneous court reports of the proceedings. It noted that none of these court reports were subject to complaints since publication in 2010; the newspaper did not consider that relying on them constituted a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article. It said that in any event, it was not in dispute that the victim was discovered in more than one piece. While the newspaper acknowledged the uncertainty as to how this had occurred, it noted that the article did not claim that the body had been intentionally dismembered.

6. The newspaper said that the claims that the complainant’s father “forbade him from having a girlfriend” and that he was “furious when [the complainant] objected to studying at the Sorbonne in Paris”, were made by the prosecution in court and were referenced in contemporaneous reporting of the trial.  It noted that the judge in his sentencing remarks, had said: “the defendant was very much under the control of his father and that the relationship to some extent involved this defendant’s fear of his father or at least a fear of going against his father’s wishes.” The newspaper said that the article was an accurate report of evidence heard in court and clearly attributed as such.

Relevant Code Provisions

7. 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.

Mediated outcome

8. The complaint was not resolved through direct correspondence between the parties. IPSO therefore began an investigation into the matter.

9. During IPSO’s investigation, the newspaper offered to publish the following clarification as a footnote to the online article, as a gesture of goodwill:

“We said that Mark Alexander dismembered the body of his father before concealing it.  We have been asked to clarify that, owing to the condition of the remains, the court which convicted Alexander of murder was unable to determine precisely what had been done to the body after death. He was therefore sentenced on the basis there was no clear evidence of dismemberment.”

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

11. 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: 03/09/2018

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 19/10/2018