Ruling

06759-18 Jefferd v Daily Express

    • Date complaint received

      7th February 2019

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 06759-18 Jefferd v Daily Express

Summary of complaint

1. Barry Jefferd complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Express breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors' Code of Practice in an article headlined “Doctor and accountant ‘tried to strip war heroine of her fortune’” published on 11 July 2018.

2. The article was a report of court proceedings in which the complainant and another man were charged with fraud. The complainant was also charged with one count of forgery. The article detailed the charges facing the defendants, and said that the complainant, who was the alleged victim’s accountant, “…allegedly drew up a will which signed over [woman’s] property in Cadogan Square, Chelsea, to [the co-defendant]”. It also said that the complainant, “…later drew up a will, allegedly signed by [woman], in which she was to leave her £1.5 million flat and its entire contents to [co-defendant]”.

3. The article also appeared online in the same form; this was deleted from the publication’s website when initially it was contacted by the complaint.

4. The complainant said that the article misreported the charges he faced, because the only allegation made against him related to the inclusion of a charging clause in the will. He said that the article gave the misleading impression that he conspired with the other man when including him in the woman’s will, when this action was legal and unrelated, and did not form part of the charges that either of them faced. He said that he and his co-defendant had been found to have no case to answer.

5. The complainant also said that it was not alleged that the other man took payments from the woman between 2010 and 2015 and that “later” the complainant drew up the will. The will in question was drawn up in 2012, not after the payments were taken. In addition, he said that it was inaccurate to state that this will was “allegedly” signed by the woman. He said that the woman had signed the will and this was not in dispute.

6. The publication said that it had relied on agency copy from a reporter present in court, and that the article was a faithful reproduction of this copy. In addition, the publication said that the complainant faced serious charges and did not consider the inaccuracies alleged by the complainant to be significant in the context of the overall nature of his crime.

7. The publication said that it had been contacted by the complainant’s lawyer prior to IPSO’s involvement and had removed the online version of the article at his request. It said that in these circumstances, it was not necessary to add an update informing readers of the complainant’s acquittal, and noted that this acquittal had been widely reported elsewhere. However, it offered to publish the following correction in print on page 2 in its corrections and clarification column and as a standalone section online:

“Barry Jefferd - Correction

Our article "Doctor and accountant 'tried to strip war heroine of her fortune' published on 11 July 2018, concerned a report of the criminal trial of Barry Jefferd and a family doctor at Southwark Crown Court. We reported that accountant Barry Jefferd and [another man] were accused of trying to fleece [the woman] out of all her belongings and that Mr Jefferd had drawn up a will alleged to have been signed by [the woman]. This was not correct. In respect of Barry Jefferd, the prosecution alleged that he abused his position by making Miss Cohen's Last Will and Testament and procuring the signing of the will in the knowledge that she did not have the capacity where there was a potential benefit for him because of a charging clause in the will for professional services.  There was no allegation that Mr Jefferd and her Doctor had acted together in their alleged frauds. We also confirm that following submissions to the court by both defendants that there was no case to answer, this was accepted by the judge on the basis that no reasonable jury, properly directed, could conclude that Ms Cohen lacked capacity at the relevant times. We are happy to set the record straight and apologise for any upset that may have been caused by this error.”

Relevant Code Provisions

8. 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 article made clear the charges that the complainant and the other man faced, and was entitled to reference the fact that the defendants had appeared in court together and that the will in question benefitted the other man. There was no failure to take care over the presentation of these statements, and no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

10. It was accepted that the complainant had drafted the will at the same time as the other man had received payments from the woman. However, the article was not significantly inaccurate on this point so as to require correction: it did not give an overall misleading impression of the nature of the charges facing the complainant at the time of publication. Furthermore, in circumstances in which the veracity of the will was in dispute at the time of publication, the article was entitled to describe it as being “allegedly” signed by the woman; the headline was an accurate characterisation of the facts of the case. There was no breach of Clause 1 on these points.

11. The newspaper had accurately reported the original court proceedings. Where a newspaper is made aware of the outcome of court proceedings, by a defendant or otherwise, it may be appropriate to publish an update to keep readers informed of the status of the case. In this case, although the online article had already been removed, there was a requirement to put the defendants’ updated position on record. The statement offered was sufficient in this regard and should now be published. There was no breach of Clause 1.

Conclusions

12. The complaint was not upheld

Remedial Action Required

13. N/A

Date complaint received: 14/10/18

Date decision issued: 11/01/19