Ruling

08032-21 Doherty v Ardrossan & Saltcoats Herald

    • Date complaint received

      5th January 2022

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of adjudication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 08032-21 Doherty v Ardrossan & Saltcoats Herald

Summary of Complaint

1. Gary James Doherty complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Legal battle win with car dealer - but Claire is still waiting for cash”, published on 14 July 2021.

2. The article, which appeared on page 11 of the newspaper, reported that a woman had “won a legal battle against a Saltcoats car dealer after the motor she bought from him was plagued with problems”; the man had, according to the article, subsequently claimed to be bankrupt. The car dealer was named in the article as “Gary Doherty, who is connected to several businesses in Saltcoats including […] GJD Garages” and it was reported he had “claim[ed] he was bankrupt and out of money”. The article then reported that “[t]here are no public records of Doherty’s bankruptcy, and the Herald called GJD garages on July 13 and was able to book an MOT for this week.

3. The article also included quotes from the woman who had won the court case, in which she said that after discovering that there were issues with the car, she “phoned [Gary Doherty] immediately, he said take it to GJD garage. […she] would ring them every week to see when it was going to get fixed. He eventually fixed the brakes…”.

4. The complainant was the owner of GJD Garages, and had the same first and last name as the individual who had sold the woman the car. He said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1, as it misleadingly conflated him with the other Gary Doherty, whose business he was entirely unconnected to, and therefore inaccurately reported that he was bankrupt. He considered that the statement in the article that “[t]here are no public records of Doherty’s bankruptcy, and the Herald called GJD garages on July 13 and was able to book an MOT for this week” inaccurately implied that the car dealer Gary Doherty was the owner of GJD Garages, rather than the complainant. The complainant further noted that he often worked with the newspaper for advertising purposes, and therefore it would have been aware of his contact details to check the accuracy of the article prior to publication

5. Prior to contacting IPSO, the complainant contacted the newspaper – on the same day the article was published – to make it aware of his concerns.

6. The newspaper said that it did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that it had been aware before publication that there were two Gary Dohertys, one the car dealer and one the owner of the garage, but it maintained that there was justification for linking to the complainant to the garage. It noted that the article had only reported that the car dealer was “connected” to the business, not that he was its owner or an employee, which it did not consider to be inaccurate. Gary Doherty the car dealer had recommended to the woman that she take her car to the complainant’s garage, and the two Gary Dohertys were Facebook friends. The newspaper also said that it had not reported that either the complainant or the car dealer was bankrupt, where the article made clear that “[t]here are no public records of Doherty’s bankruptcy”.

7. While the newspaper did not consider that the Code had been breached, it said it thought it was best to clear up any unnecessary confusion caused by the article. For this reason, after being contacted by the complainant, it published the following correction page 6 of the following edition of the newspaper, which was published on 21 July 2021: 

Last week, we reported how a woman won a small claims court against Gary Doherty over a car sale. We have been asked to point out that Mr Gary James Doherty owner of GJD Auto Care, has no connection with the Gary Doherty who sold her the vehicle. The garage owner asked us to point out that the other Mr Doherty is not an employee, but an occasional customer. We are happy to set the record straight.

8. The newspaper considered the above wording to be sufficient to address any potential confusion arising for the article, saying that where the situation was complex it considered it best to be succinct.

9. The newspaper provided emails from the woman who had been sold the car, as well as recordings of phone calls and text messages with the woman and the Gary Doherty who had sold her the car. In the text messages, the woman – while speaking to the car dealer – referred to an individual named Gary who worked at a garage. In the emails, the woman had named two addresses from where she said the car dealer operated. She also said that the car dealer was still trading, as he was responding to enquiries relating to his business – though the business was not GJD Garages. The reporter had contacted what they said was the only publicly available phone number for one of the addresses, which connected to GJD Garages. This was when an MOT had been booked by the reporter, and which – it said – confirmed to the reporter that GJD Garages was connected to the car dealer. It said that it had also approached the court for more information prior to publication, and that it had sought legal advice on the story prior to publication.

10. After the complainant raised his concerns with the newspaper, it had contacted the woman who bought the car from the car dealer, who had confirmed that there was another Gary Doherty, who owned GJD Garages.

11. The complainant said that, regardless of whether the car dealer took his cars to the complainant’s garage for repair and whether or not they were Facebook friends, the article should not have conflated them. He also said that the address which the woman said the car dealer operated from was no longer the address for GJD Garages, which had moved to a new address six months prior to the article’s publication and prior to the newspaper phoning it to book an MOT. The complainant provided a newspaper advert, printed on the front page of the Ardrossan & Saltcoats Herald at the time of the move, which showed both that he was no longer located at the address flagged by the woman and that the newspaper was aware of this fact.

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

12. The article clearly implied that the Gary Doherty who sold the woman the car and had subsequently been ordered to pay her money by a small claims court was the same Gary Doherty who owned the garage, the complainant. The article stated that the car dealer was “connected to several businesses […] including GJD Garages”; that after the car dealer told the woman to take the car to the garage, “[h]e eventually fixed the brakes”, without any suggestion that it was not the car dealer who had fixed the brakes at the garage; and, in investigating  the car dealer’s claims of bankruptcy, the newspaper “called GJD garages on July 13 and was able to book an MOT for this week”. The article was therefore misleading; GJD Garages and the complainant was not involved in selling the car and the complainant was not and had not claimed to be bankrupt. The newspaper was not able to demonstrate that it had taken care over the accuracy of the article, where the woman who was the source of the story had not claimed that the car dealer owned the garage, text messages sent to the car dealer had explicitly referenced another individual called Gary who owned a garage, and the address she gave the newspaper as being associated with the car dealer had not been the business address of the complainant for six months prior to the article’s publication – a fact that was clear from advertisements within the newspaper itself.  In addition, the publication had said that it was aware prior to publication that there were two individuals called Gary Doherty. Where the newspaper had not taken care over the accuracy of the article, there was a breach of 1 (i).

13. The inaccuracy arising from the newspaper’s failure to take care was significant, where it had the potential to have serious and adverse effects on both the complainant’s reputation and his business, by associating his business with an individual who had been ordered to pay back money after selling a woman a car “that was plagued with problems”. Where the article was significantly misleading on this point, there was a requirement to correct it, under the terms of Clause 1 (ii).

14. The Committee turned next to whether the action taken by the newspaper was sufficient to avoid a further breach of Clause 1 (ii). For corrective action to address the terms of Clause 1 (ii), the misleading statement must be corrected promptly and with due prominence and – where appropriate – include an apology.

15. The Committee was satisfied with the promptness and prominence of the correction published by the newspaper, where it appeared further forward in the newspaper than the original article – on page 6, as opposed to page 11 – and had been published in the next edition of the newspaper. However, the Committee did not consider that the published wording corrected the original misleading statements, where it did not clearly identify the way in which the article was misleading: namely, that the article had misleadingly implied that the car dealer was the owner of and operated out of the complainant’s garage.

16. In addition, the Committee considered that an apology would have been appropriate in the circumstances where – as the article clearly implied that the Gary Doherty who sold the woman the car and had subsequently been ordered to pay her money by a small claims court was the same Gary Doherty who owned the garage, the complainant – the original misleading statements had the potential to have a damaging effect on the reputation of the complainant and his business. For these reasons, there was a further breach of Clause 1 (ii).

Conclusions

17. The complaint was upheld.

Remedial Action Required

18. Having upheld a breach of Clause 1, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required. In circumstances where the Committee establishes a breach of the Editors’ Code, it can require the publication of a correction and/or an adjudication, the terms and placement of which is determined by IPSO.

19. The Committee considered that, where a breach of Clause 1 (ii) arose both from the wording of the correction itself, and the publication’s failure to apologise to the complainant, a published adjudication was necessary to remedy the breach of the Clause. The headline of the adjudication must make clear that IPSO has upheld the complaint against the Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald and must refer to its subject matter; the wording of the headline should also be agreed with IPSO in advance.

20. The Committee then considered the placement of the adjudication. It noted that the article appeared in print only, on page 11 of the newspaper; as such, the Committee found that the adjudication should appear on this page of the newspaper or further forward. The terms of the adjudication for publication are as follows

Gary James Doherty, the owner of GJD Garages, complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Legal battle win with car dealer - but Claire is still waiting for cash”, published on 14 July 2021.

The complaint was upheld, and IPSO required the Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald to publish this adjudication to remedy the breach of the Code.

The article reported that a woman had “won a legal battle against a Saltcoats car dealer after the motor she bought from him was plagued with problems”; the man had, according to the article, subsequently claimed to be bankrupt. The car dealer was named in the article as “Gary Doherty, who is connected to several businesses in Saltcoats including […] GJD Garages” and it was reported he had “claim[ed] he was bankrupt and out of money”. The article then reported that “[t]here are no public records of Doherty’s bankruptcy, and the Herald called GJD garages on July 13 and was able to book an MOT for this week.” The complainant said that the article was inaccurate, as it misleadingly conflated him with another man who had the same name as him and implied he was bankrupt.

IPSO found that the article clearly and misleadingly implied that the Gary Doherty who sold the woman the car and had subsequently been ordered to pay her money by a small claims court was the same Gary Doherty who owned the garage, the complainant. In fact, the publication was aware before it published the article that, the complainant was not involved in selling the car and had not claimed to be bankrupt. The newspaper was not able to demonstrate that it had taken care over the accuracy of the article, and the inaccuracy was significant, where it had the potential to have serious and adverse effects on both the complainant’s reputation and his business.

In addition, while the newspaper had published a correction, IPSO did not consider that the published wording sufficiently corrected the original misleading statements; it did not acknowledge that the article had misleadingly implied that the car dealer was the owner of and operated out of the complainant’s garage. In addition, the Committee considered that the newspaper should have apologised given that the original misleading statements had the potential to have a damaging effect on the reputation of the complainant and his business. IPSO upheld the complaint.

 

Date complaint received: 21/07/2021

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 21/12/2021