Ruling

06025-15 Stanway v The Sentinel

    • Date complaint received

      22nd January 2016

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 06025-15 Stanway v The Sentinel

Summary of complaint

1. Karoline Stanway complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Sentinel breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) in an article headlined “’Feral’ thugs jailed after unprovoked town centre attack”, published on 27 September 2015. The article was also published in print with the headline “’Feral’ thugs attacked man in town centre”.

2. The article was a court report about two men who had pled guilty to actual bodily harm and affray. The complainant is the mother of one of the men, Thomas Goodwin; he was sentenced to 20 months in prison.

3. The complainant said that the article contained inaccuracies: the CCTV footage did not show the complainant’s son holding the victim while the other man kicked and punched him; the men had not “heckled” the victims, as the comments made towards them were not proven to be aggressive; the attack was not unprovoked, as the CCTV had shown the victim attacking Mr Goodwin first; and the recorder had not described the men as “feral thugs”, although he had described their behaviour as “feral”.

4. The newspaper said that its report was not inaccurate. It was based not on what was shown in the CCTV footage, but on what the prosecutor and the recorder had said in court. The prosecution had claimed that the complainant’s son had held the victim while he was being punched and kicked, and the article had not presented this claim as established fact. The newspaper said that as the recorder had sentenced the two men he had said that “you Goodwin aimed abuse at another group and it was done to cause trouble, and it did.” It was not inaccurate to say that he had “heckled” the victims, or that the attack had been “unprovoked”; nothing had happened prior to the “abuse” being aimed at the victims. The newspaper said that the description of the men as “feral thugs” was justified, given the recorder’s comment that “this is the type of feral violence that blights town centres.”

Relevant Code Provisions

5. 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.

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

Findings of the Committee

6. The reference to the CCTV footage showing the complainant’s son holding the victim while he was being kicked and punched by the other man was presented as a direct quotation from the prosecutor, and the accuracy of that quotation was not disputed. While the Committee acknowledged the complainant’s position that it was misleading to omit the court’s finding that her son had not held the victim, the article had accurately reported the charges for which the man had been convicted, and his sentence. In addition, it was clear from the recorder’s concluding comments that he had been seriously concerned by the complainant’s son’s behaviour. In this context, the omission identified by the complainant did not give a significantly misleading impression of the crime, and did not raise a breach of Clause 1.

7. It was also not disputed that the recorder had said the complainant’s son had “aimed abuse” at the victims before the attack began; this had led to the subsequent violence. On this basis, the newspaper was entitled to describe the attack as “unprovoked”, and to say that the victims had been “heckled”. These characterisations did not breach Clause 1.

8. The recorder had described the attack as “feral violence” at the conclusion of the case. The article’s headline had not suggested that the recorder had described the men as “thugs”; this word was not in quotation marks. The newspaper was entitled to use this term, which was within the bounds of its editorial discretion. There was no failure to take care over the accuracy of the article, and the Committee did not identify any significant inaccuracies which would require correction under the Code.

Conclusions

9. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

N/A

Date complaint received: 05/10/2015
Date decision issued: 22/01/2016