Ruling

06142-17 Ballard v Sunday Mail

    • Date complaint received

      7th September 2017

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 06142-17 Ballard v Sunday Mail

Summary of Complaint

1. Heather Ballard complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Sunday Mail breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “EL CRAPO”, published on 9 April 2017 and an article headlined “Prisoners face jailbreak rap”, published on 16 April 2017

2. The 9 April article reported that a “source” had informed the newspaper that the complainant’s son had attempted to escape from his jail cell by sawing through the bars on his window with a smuggled hacksaw. It said that he had been unsuccessful, “managing to blow a whistle on his escape bid by getting into a fight with [his] cellmate”. The article reported that the source had claimed that “[the escape] was obviously a long time in the planning”. It also said that the complainant’s son was jailed for 20 months for his part in a nationwide heroin ring.

3. The 16 April article reported that the complainant’s son had been charged, along with his cell mate, in relation to the incident. The article stated that “Police Scotland said two men had been reported to the Procurator Fiscal in connection with the alleged breakout bid.

4. The 9 April article appeared in substantively the same form online, under the headline “Would-be jail breaker saws through prison bars and makes rope from bedsheets but blows escape after scrap with cellmate” and was published on the same day. The 16 April article appeared in substantively the same form online, under the headline “Prisoners face jailbreak rap after staff discover hacksawed prison bars and rope made from bedsheets”, and was published on the same day.

5. The complainant said that her son had not been involved in any attempt to break out of his prison cell: it was inaccurate to report that he had been charged for such an offence. While the complainant did not dispute that her son had been previously convicted for a drug related offence, her son was not a “drug dealer”, as the articles had claimed, because his current sentence of four and a half months related to a conviction for dangerous driving.

6. The complainant also said that her son had not been jailed for 20 months, nor had he been transferred to HMP Saughton, as reported in the article: he had been sentenced for four and a half months for dangerous driving, and had in fact been transferred to HMP Dumfries. The complainant said that given that her son had only been in prison for four weeks, the “source” had inaccurately claimed that the escape bid would have been “a long time in the planning”.

7. The newspaper said that it had obtained the information that the complainant’s son had made an attempt to break out of jail from confidential and trusted sources, whose identities it was obliged to protect.

8. Prior to publication of the 9 April article, the newspaper had contacted Police Scotland and had requested that it provide a statement in response to the allegation that the complainant’s son had been involved in a disturbance, and escape attempt, in his cell. In response, the police spokesman had told the newspaper: “we can confirm that police responded to a request for assistance from the Scottish Prison Service in relation to an incident that occurred within HMP Dumfries on March 26. An investigation is under way”.

9. Prior to publication of the 16 April article, a journalist had made a further request to Police Scotland for their comment on whether the complainant’s son had been charged in relation to the escape attempt. This request had referred to the complainant’s son’s name and age. In response, on 14 April, the newspaper had received the following statement: “two man, aged 41 and 27 years, are the subject of a report to the Procurator Fiscal in connection with the alleged attempted break out of prison”. The newspaper noted that it was normal practice for the police to only give the relevant ages of each of the accused.

10. The newspaper said the ordinary process for such incidents would be that the individual would be detained by the police, charged and then released, with a report being sent to the Procurator Fiscal for consideration, detailing the charge(s). It said that the Procurator Fiscal would then consider the report and assess if what happened amounted to one or more offences, and if so which one(s) and which course of action, if any, should be taken.

11. While the newspaper acknowledged that the complainant’s son’s was currently serving a sentence in relation to his conviction for dangerous driving, it said that he had been previously convicted as a “sub dealer” as part of a nationwide drug ring and had been sentenced to 20 months imprisonment. The newspaper offered to add a line to the online article to make clear that the complainant’s son had previously been jailed for drug offences, had been released having served a portion of his sentence, and then had been jailed again for dangerous driving. The newspaper further noted that the complainant’s son had not been transferred to HMP Saughton and offered to remove references to this prison from the online article.

12. The newspaper said that the claim that the escape had been “a long time in the planning” had been clearly presented in the article as the source’s opinion and had reflected their belief that the escape had not been spontaneous.

Relevant Code Provisions

13. 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.

Findings of the Committee

14. The newspaper had reported on the testimony of its source and had also taken steps, prior to publication, to obtain on the record statements from the Scottish Prison Service and Police Scotland.

15. The newspaper had requested that the Scottish Prison Service provide a statement in response to the specific allegation that the complainant’s son had been involved in an attempted escape, and disturbance, in a cell in HMP Dumfries. The statement which the newspaper had received in response did not explicitly confirm the source’s claims, however, it did not contain a denial and had acknowledged that an “incident” had taken place. The Committee did not conclude that there had been a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article on these points.

16. The newspaper had received a statement from Police Scotland, which had said that a man, aged 27, was the subject of a report to the Procurator Fiscal in connection with the alleged attempted break out of prison. This statement had been made in response to a specific enquiry from the newspaper, which had referred to the complainant’s son’s name and age. In those circumstances, and given the difficulty in contacting the complainant’s son for comment, the Committee did not conclude that in reporting that he had been charged in relation to the incident, there had been a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article on this point. Where the newspaper had taken steps to verify the source’s claims and had received on the record comments, which did not contain any denial, the Committee did not establish that the articles contained significant inaccuracies, such as to require correction.

17. The Committee noted the complainant’s concern regarding the reference to her son’s previous conviction for a drug related offence, given that this had not been the reason for his current sentence. However, the complainant did not dispute that her son had been previously sentenced for 20 months for his part in a nationwide heroin ring. In this context, the inaccuracy relating to the reason for his current sentence was not significant. The Committee welcomed, however, the newspaper’s offer to amend the online article to make clear the reason for the complainant’s son’s current sentence. Further, in the context of an article which reported on an attempted prison escape, any inaccuracy in relation to which prison the complainant’s son had been transferred to, was not significant. There was no breach of the Code.

Conclusions

18. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

19. N/A

Date complaint received: 18/04/2017
Date decision issued: 22/08/2017