Ruling

06235-21 Smith v Sunday Life

    • Date complaint received

      3rd February 2022

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 06235-21 Smith v Sunday Life

Summary of Complaint

1. Andrew Wilson Smith complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Sunday Life breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in a series of articles headlined:

·  “Meet Fisher's 'Mr Big'...the man with the cocaine connections”, published on 16 May 2021;

·  “UDA crime lord halts Liverpool cocaine cargo”, published on 23 May 2021;

·  “Hitman Smith blamed for UDA cocaine trade leaks”, published on 30 May 2021;

·  “FISHER FEELING HEAT AS COPS RAID DEALERS”, published on 18 July 2021;

·  “UDA boss dismisses 'informers' after raids”, published on 8 August 2021.

2. The first article reported a development relating to allegations that the South East Antrim Ulster brigade of the Ulster Defence Association (SEA UDA) was engaged in trafficking of illegal drugs. It was illustrated with several photographs, including one which showed a man wearing sunglasses, a hat and a face covering obscuring the lower half of his face; the area around his hair was pixelated. The article said that the photograph had been taken during a 2004 “show of strength” by the SEA UDA and showed the organisation’s “drugs ‘Mr Big’”. It went on to allege that this individual (who was not identified by name) had “overseen the transportation of vast amounts of cocaine from Liverpool to Northern Ireland, hidden on lorries belonging to the freight company for which he works”. The article reported that “Mr Big” "has legitimate interests in transport and freight businesses" and stated that he "moved some time ago from [... a named estate [...] to a sprawling home in the Co Antrim countryside".

3. The second article repeated the allegations that “Mr Big” was a “drug lord”. It also stated that “Mr Big’s” home was “near” a named village and that cocaine was “hidden on lorries belonging to the freight company for which [“Mr Big”] works". This article contained the same image of “Mr Big”.

4. The third article reported that “UDA member known as ‘Mr Big’ who uses his role in the freight industry as cover to ship drugs from north-west England to Northern Ireland”. This article also reported a 2015 crime in relation to two other named parties, in which a “lorry containing the huge haul was intercepted by police in Carrickfergus, with six men later convicted of importing cannabis and possessing the drug with intent to supply”. This article also contained the image of “Mr Big”.

5. The fourth article reported on a separate alleged UDA member. It referred to “Mr Big” as a “close associate” of this member and said that “Mr Big” used “his role in a courier business to smuggle the terror gang’s cocaine into Northern Ireland”.

6. The fifth article reported on a series of raids. It referenced “Mr Big” by stating that he “oversees the cocaine importation being increasingly seen in Rathcoole”.

7. The complainant said that the biographical details about “Mr Big” included in the articles suggested, inaccurately, that he was “Mr Big”; he denied that he was the person shown in the photograph and denied that he had engaged in any of the criminal activity alleged by the publication. The articles had referred to a particular housing estate in which “Mr Big” was said to have previously lived. He noted that the first article described “Mr Big” as living in the countryside of Co Antrim, and the second article reported “Mr Big” lived near a specific village. The complainant said he had lived in the housing estate, and now lived within the specific village. The complainant also said that he was a business owner within the freight industry, and that the first, second and third articles described “Mr Big” as working in the freight and transport industry and the fourth a courier business. The complainant also said that he was one of the six men who were convicted of importing and intending to supply cannabis in 2015, as described in the third article, although he was not named in the article and the article did not directly report that “Mr Big” was involved in that crime. He said that by including the reference to his previous conviction in the same article “Mr Big” was both referenced and photographed in, this added to the inaccurate impression that he was “Mr Big”. The complainant also said that he had been contacted by business associates who had asked if he was the “Mr Big” in the newspaper. The complainant said that the image of a man in the first three articles which the newspaper identified as “Mr Big” were not images of him.

8. The publication did not accept that the articles were inaccurate. It noted that it had named neither the complainant nor “Mr Big”. It also said that there were differences between the complainant’s position and the information attributed to “Mr Big”: it said that the articles did not refer to “Mr Big” as the owner of a freight company, but simply that he had a role in, or connections to, freight, transport and courier businesses. It also noted that “Mr Big” was described as living in the Co Antrim countryside or “near” the named village rather than living in it. The newspaper said that many individuals may work within the freight industry and live near the named village – it also noted that none of the articles stated that “Mr Big” worked in the area. The publication also noted that the complainant had said he was not the man pictured in the first three articles. It said on this basis that the complainant was not identified by the article. It did, however, offer to give the complainant a right of reply.

Relevant Code Provisions

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

9. The complainant said that the article inaccurately identified that he was the person referred to as “Mr Big”, and that by inference it made seriously inaccurate allegations that he was engaged in criminal activity.

10. The Committee considered first whether the articles identified the complainant as the person referred to as “Mr Big”. The Committee noted first the position with respect to the first, second and third articles. These articles contained four pieces of information about “Mr Big”: that he worked in the freight industry; that he had once lived on a named estate; that he now lived in the countryside nearby to a named village; and that he was the man shown prominently in the photograph accompanying the story. While the Committee accepted the complainant’s position that the three biographical details included in the article applied to him (along with, potentially, others), the most clear potentially identifying information in the article was the prominent photograph of “Mr Big”, which the complainant said was not of him. Given the prominence of this photograph and where, on the complainant’s account, it was not a photograph of him, the Committee concluded that the article did not identify the complainant as “Mr Big”, and therefore did not by inference allege that he had engaged in the activities attributed to “Mr Big” in the article. There was therefore no breach of Clause 1 on the grounds cited by the complainant.

11. The fourth article did not contain a photograph of “Mr Big”, but the only information under complaint was that “Mr Big” had a “role in a courier business”. This information, in itself, was not capable of singling out a specific individual . The article, therefore, did not inaccurately identify the complainant as the person referred to as “Mr Big”.  There was no breach of Clause 1 in relation to this article.

12. The fifth article contained none of the information under complaint, and therefore could not be said to identify the complainant as “Mr Big”. There was no breach of Clause 1 in relation to this article.

Conclusion(s)

13. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

14. N/A

 

Date complaint received: 07/06/2021

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 17/01/2022