Ruling

08111-15 Manning v Sunday People

    • Date complaint received

      1st February 2016

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 12 Discrimination, 3 Harassment, 9 Reporting of crime

Decision of the Complaints Committee 08111-15 Manning v Sunday People

Summary of complaint

1. Mandy Manning complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Sunday People breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 3 (Privacy), Clause 9 (Reporting of crime) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “My Dad raped me for four years…now Mum’s taken him back and says God wants me to forgive him”, published on 8 November 2015. It was published online with the headline “Dad raped me for 4 years but mum took him back and says God wants me to forgive him.”

2. The article was an interview with the complainant’s daughter, Becky, who had been raped by her father, David Manning, (the complainant’s estranged husband) as a child, and had waived her right to anonymity in order to tell her story. The article said that Mr Manning had recently been released from prison, and it was his daughter’s understanding that he had been allowed to move back into the family home, where her siblings still live. The complainant’s daughter said that she believed that her mother’s church had persuaded her to “take back” her husband.

3. The complainant said that the article contained a number of inaccuracies: she has not “taken back” Mr Manning, nor had her church told her to do so; Mr Manning had been charged with seven sexual offences over a two-year period, therefore it was misleading to refer to “nightly rape” over a four-year period; he had not been charged with any offences relating to when his daughter was under 13, it was therefore inaccurate to refer to him as a “paedophile”; the complainant does not attend a “hardline evangelical church”; and her daughter does not have two siblings living at home, she has one. The complainant said that the article breached Clause 1.

4. The complainant also said that the article intruded into her private life, in breach of Clause 3. She had not consented to the publication of her photograph, or occupation. A photograph of Mr Manning had identified her house, which put her family at risk. She also believed that, as the former partner of the convicted man, she should not have been identified; this breached Clause 9. The complainant said that the reference to her being a Christian was irrelevant and prejudicial, in breach of Clause 12.

5. The newspaper did not believe that its article breached the Editors’ Code. It had taken appropriate care over the accuracy of the story. The complainant’s daughter had provided the newspaper with a copy of a letter from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), which showed that Mr Manning had undergone a period of monitoring and assessment with a view to moving back into the family home, and that he had been given permission to do so with immediate effect from the date of the letter. The journalist had understood that in order for this process to take place, the MoJ would have needed the complainant’s consent.

6. The journalist had telephoned the complainant prior to publication. She had identified herself as a journalist and, after the complainant had confirmed her identity, the journalist had asked her if she was now in a relationship with Mr Manning, following his release from prison. The complainant did not answer the journalist’s question, but instead pretended that the journalist had the wrong number. She did not give the journalist the opportunity to ask her if she had made the decision to take back her husband as a result of input from her church. The journalist then sent the complainant a text message, in which she stated she was a journalist and said “I spoke to you by phone earlier today about a story we’re running about your daughter Becky…I think there was some confusion but after seeing your WhatsApp profile picture and consulting with Becky regarding your current phone number, I can confirm you are the Mandy Manning we are looking to speak to. Could I give you another call? It’s very important you understand exactly what information we will be running in our story.”  The complainant responded saying that the journalist had the wrong number; that she felt she was being harassed; and that she did not have any children.

7. The complainant’s daughter then sent the journalist a screenshot of a message she had received from the complainant, in which she said that Mr Manning was not living with her. In light of this, the published article included the complainant’s denial.

8. The journalist then spoke to a pastor at the complainant’s church. He confirmed his close association with the complainant, and was very vocal in his belief that the complainant’s daughter should forgive her father, and that he hoped that the family would be reunited. He said that the church had forgiven Mr Manning. He also said that the police had visited the church and accused the people there of being brainwashed. As the journalist had been unable to ask the complainant directly about the church’s role in her decision, the article had presented the complainant’s daughter’s claims that her mother had taken back her father, and that her mother had told her that Jesus would want her to forgive her father, as allegations and not as fact.

9. The newspaper had asked a freelance photographer to go to the complainant’s home. About an hour and a half after he arrived Mr Manning came out of the house to take out the refuse. His presence suggested that he was either living at the house or, at the very least, spending some time there. (The complainant said in response that Mr Manning would have been at the house to visit his son, and reiterated that he does not live there.)

10. The complainant and her religion were both genuinely relevant and necessary to the story. The article was about the attitude of the complainant and her church to the horrific sexual abuse her daughter had suffered. Her daughter had wanted to express her concern about her present relationship with her mother, and how she believed it had been affected by her mother’s religious beliefs. The newspaper believed that the complainant’s daughter’s right to freedom of expression outweighed any right the complainant might have had not to be mentioned. The photograph of the complainant had been provided to the newspaper by her daughter; it had not been obtained in a way which intruded into the complainant’s privacy.

Relevant Code Provisions

11. Clause 1 (Accuracy)

i) The press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures.

ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and – where appropriate – an apology published.

iii) The press, whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.

Clause 3 (Privacy)

i) Everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence, including digital communications.

ii) Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual’s private life without consent. Account will be taken of the complainant’s own public disclosures of information.

iii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals in private places without their consent.

Clause 9 (Reporting of crime)

i) Relatives or friends of persons convicted or accused of crime should not generally be identified without their consent, unless they are genuinely relevant to the story.

Clause 12 (Discrimination)

i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual’s race, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.

ii) Details of an individual’s race, colour, religion, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.

The public interest

2. There is a public interest in freedom of expression itself.

Findings of the Committee

12. The newspaper was entitled to publish the complainant’s daughter’s story, in line with her right to freedom of expression. The article was clearly presented as her daughter’s own view of the events following her father’s conviction, and the claims about her mother having taken back her father following input from their church were not presented as fact. There was no breach of Clause 1 (iii).

13. The newspaper was obliged under the Code to take care not to publish inaccurate or misleading information. It had taken reasonable steps to verify the complainant’s daughter’s claims in advance of publication: it had a copy of the letter from the MoJ, it had contacted the complainant, and it had spoken to a pastor from the complainant’s church. It also had material from its photographer. Having been made aware, via her daughter, that the complainant denied that Mr Manning was living with her again, the newspaper included this denial in the article. There was no failure to take care over the accuracy of the article; there was no breach of Clause 1 (i).

14. Mr Manning had pleaded guilty to seven charges relating to sexual offences against his daughter, including two counts of rape, and this information had been included in the article. In circumstances where it was accepted that Mr Manning had sexually abused his daughter from a young age it was not significantly inaccurate or misleading for the article to include the complainant’s daughter’s account of “almost nightly rape” over four years as she recalled her childhood. The newspaper was not required to publish a correction on this point. Further, given that Mr Manning had been convicted of a number of sexual offences against a child, it was not significantly misleading to describe him as a “paedophile”; there was no breach of Clause 1 on these points.

15. The journalist had spoken to a pastor at the complainant’s church who had made clear his view that the complainant’s daughter should forgive her father for the abuse she had suffered. He had also made clear that the police had expressed concern about “brainwashing” at the church. The article’s characterisation of the church as “hardline” did not constitute a significant inaccuracy under the Code. In the context of the article, it was also not significantly inaccurate or misleading to report that the complainant has two children living at home, when in fact she has one; it would not meaningfully alter the understanding of her daughter’s concerns in relation to her father moving back in with the family. There was no breach of Clause 1.

16. The terms of Clause 9 provide protection to relatives and friends of people convicted or accused of crimes, unless they are “genuinely relevant to the story”. The story in this case was that the complainant’s daughter had waived her anonymity in order to express concern that her abuser was being allowed to return to the family home, and her belief that her mother had been persuaded by her church to take back David. The complainant was genuinely relevant to that story; there was no breach of Clause 9.

17. The photograph of the complainant had originally been taken with her consent; had been provided to the newspaper by her daughter; and did not reveal any private information about her. The print version of the article had reported that the complainant worked in a bakery; this was not inherently private information. The photograph of Mr Manning outside her house did not include any details which would have allowed the location of the house to be identified. There was no breach of Clause 3.

18. The complainant’s relationship with her church was genuinely relevant to the story, which detailed the perceived impact of that church on her relationship with her daughter. There was no breach of Clause 12 (ii). The article did not contain any prejudicial or pejorative references to the complainant’s religion; there was no breach of Clause 12 (i).

Conclusions

19. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

N/A

Date complaint received: 11/11/2015
Date decision issued: 01/02/2016