Ruling

05983-15 Beggs v The Scottish Sun

    • Date complaint received

      24th March 2016

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 12 Discrimination

Decision of the Complaints Committee 05983-15 Beggs v The Scottish Sun

Summary of complaint

1. W F Ian Beggs complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Scottish Sun breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Caged beast’s 21 court cases”, published on 26 September 2015.

2. The article reported that the complainant had spent most of his time in prison “plotting appeals over his conviction and human rights claims”. It said that he had made 21 complaints over alleged abuses of his rights, relating to matters such as food quality in prison, cell conditions, access to exercise equipment and lawyers’ visits. It also reported that the complainant sued “prison chiefs” in 2001 to demand “gay porn books”.

3. The complainant denied that he had sued prison authorities over his lack of access to pornography; he emphasised that he had never sought nor been denied access to such material. He highlighted his complaints to the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) in 2010 and IPSO in 2014, against the Sunday Times and Scottish Daily Mail respectively, in which it had been accepted by both newspapers that he had never requested pornography from prison authorities. The complainant said that it was also inaccurate to report that he had ever litigated over prison food or access to exercise.

4. The complainant also said that the reference to “gay porn” was a gratuitous reference to sexuality in breach of Clause 12; notwithstanding the fact that the allegation was false, his sexuality was not relevant to the story.

5. The newspaper accepted that the complainant had not requested pornography from prison authorities, or sued over the issue. It said that the error had come about because the reporter had relied on an article from the newspaper’s archives which had included this erroneous assertion. It said that it was unaware of the previous PCC and IPSO decisions in relation to the same inaccuracy; it didn’t systematically collate inaccuracies published by other newspapers. The newspaper said it was unable to provide source material to substantiate the allegations that the complainant had litigated in relation to prison food or access to exercise. It removed the online article, amended its archive, and offered to publish on its corrections and clarifications column on page 2 of the newspaper, as well as online, the following correction:

In a story “Evil Beggs ‘battered in his cell’ (26 September) we said that William Beggs, jailed for life in 2001 for the murder of 18-year-old Barry Wallace in Kilmarnock, sued prison chiefs in 2001 to demand gay porn books. This is incorrect. The information came from a previous story published in 2010 that had not been corrected in our archive. The records have now been amended. Reference was also made to litigation over prison food and access to exercise. In fact he complained rather than sued over these matters.

6. The newspaper said that the reference to “gay” pornography was relevant because of the nature of the murder that Mr Beggs had been convicted of in 2001.

7. The complainant said that the original story the newspaper claimed to have relied upon to write the article contained no reference to litigation in relation to gay pornography; rather it had inaccurately reported that he had complained to prison authorities about the issue. He said that there had been an editorial failure to check the veracity of the story, because if there had been a court case on this issue, it would have been a matter of public record.

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 12 (Discrimination)

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

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

Findings of the Committee

9. While the newspaper had explained why the archived story had not been amended, the question of whether reliance on archived material amounts to taking sufficient care under Clause 1(i) will depend on the circumstances of the case. In this instance, the archived article had actually reported that the complainant had demanded to be given access to “gay porn and videos”; it had not said that he had sued prison authorities in relation to access to gay pornography. The newspaper had, therefore, added a further inaccuracy to already inaccurate source material, and this error represented a failure to take care to publish inaccurate information, in breach of Clause 1(i). The newspaper’s inability to provide material to support its claim that the complainant had previously litigated in relation to prison food and access to exercise represented a similar failure to take care. While the newspaper was entitled to comment on the number of legal claims made by the complainant, these inaccuracies were examples used to support the article’s claim that the complainant had taken frivolous legal action over alleged abuses of his rights, and as a result, were significant so as to require correction under Clause 1(ii). 

10. The source material that the newspaper had relied on to write this article had accurately reported that another prisoner had been refused access to homosexual pornography. The nature of the pornography that had been requested was genuinely relevant to the story in relation to that prisoner; to note that the pornography was “gay” in this article did not, in this case, discriminate against the complainant, and did not constitute a prejudicial or pejorative reference in breach of Clause 12.

Conclusions

11. The complaint was upheld under Clause 1.

Remedial Action Required

12. Having upheld the complaint under Clause 1(i), the Committee considered what remedial action should be required.

13. The newspaper had offered to publish a correction in its corrections and clarifications column in print, as well as online, the wording of which recognised the inaccuracies in the article and stated the correction position. In light of the Committee’s decision, it should be published promptly.

Date complaint received: 01/10/2015
Date decision issued: 07/03/2016