Ruling

Resolution Statement 06456-18 Oatley v thesun.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      18th April 2019

    • Outcome

      Resolved - IPSO mediation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Resolution Statement 06456-18 Oatley v thesun.co.uk

Summary of complaint

1. Sonia Oatley complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that thesun.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “SEVEN YEARS FOR A LIFE? Mum’s fury as killer who beat schoolgirl to death with a rock ‘for a fry-up bet’ launches bid for early release after just seven years”, published on 28 September 2018.

2. The article reported that the man who had been convicted of murdering the complainant’s daughter had “launched a bid for early release from jail” under a “little-known rule”, having served just half of his 14-year sentence. It said that the man’s claim for early release was being assessed by the prison service, and that the complainant had been “forced to write statements begging the judge to keep him behind bars”. The article quoted a “family source” as stating that the complainant’s biggest concern was that the man could be starting to prepare for early release; it said “she has been warned by her solicitor that it is a possibility”. The source was quoted as saying that “’the solicitor says the authorities are looking at preparing for his release in the near future’”, and that the complainant and her daughter were currently writing victim impact statements.

3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) because it gave the misleading impression that she had told the publication that the man had applied for a tariff review; in fact she had not done so, and had been told by the probation service that he had not applied for a review. She said that she had been told that her conversation with a journalist was ‘off the record’, but her quotations had been published and attributed to a “family source”.

4. The publication expressed its sympathies to the complainant, but denied any breach of the Code. It said that the complainant had told its reporter that she and her daughter were writing victim impact statements at the request of her solicitor, who had said that the man’s release was been considered soon. The publication said that it had put the claim that the man had applied for tariff review to the Parole Board and Ministry of Justice in advance of publication; the Parole Board had confirmed that he was ‘subject to tariff review’. It also noted that the complainant was quoted in a different publication saying that the man’s tariff review was “imminent”. In these circumstances, the publication did not consider that the article was inaccurate. It said that the reporter had not agreed that the discussion with the complainant was ‘off the record’, but that in any event the quotations had not been attributed to her in the article.

5. The complainant disputed the publication’s account of her conversation with the journalist: she said that she had explained that all young offenders are entitled to tariff review, but that this was not likely in this case in the near future. She said she had not mentioned a solicitor as she did not have one. She said that she had prepared a victim impact statement at the request of her Victim Liaison Officer to be used in the eventuality that any review was requested in the future.

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.

Mediated outcome

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

8. Following IPSO’s involvement, the publication offered to amend the article on a number of points, to clarify that the man was entitled to a tariff review, as opposed to stating that he has made a “bid for early release”. It also offered to write the complainant a private letter of apology, and to make a charitable donation to the foundation set up in the complainant’s daughter’s memory.

9. The complainant said this resolved the matter to her satisfaction.

10. As the complaint had been mediated successfully, the Complaints Committee did not make a determination as to whether there had been any breach of the Code. 

Date complaint received: 01/10/2018

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 07/01/2019