Ruling

08495-16 Mitchell v Daily Record

    • Date complaint received

      5th January 2017

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 08495-16 Mitchell v Daily Record

Summary of Complaint

1. Derek Mitchell complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Record breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Radio star Suzie McGuire’s husband granted £30k divorce payoff by same judge who spared him jail over assault charge”, published on 9 August 2016.

2. The article reported that the complainant was granted a £30,000 divorce settlement by the same judge who spared him jail following an assault on his ex-wife 19 months earlier. It said that the complainant was awarded the sum following a ten-minute hearing at Paisley Sheriff Court.

3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate. He said that the divorce settlement was agreed before the hearing started, was not debated in court by any party and had nothing to do with the Sheriff. He said that the article suggested that the Sheriff had not only kept him out of jail, she had also awarded him a large sum of money.

4. The newspaper accepted that the information it had reported was inaccurate. It said that its reporter had been told the information by a member of the court staff. It denied that there had been a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article; it said that its reporter had no reason not to trust the information received from the member of court staff, and that it was common practice to check facts with court staff when reporting such matters. It said that it did not consider that the inaccuracy was significant given that the crux of the story – that the complainant went to court, got divorced and received £30,000 – was accurate. It said that when it was informed by the complainant that the money had not been awarded by the Sheriff, it amended the article immediately. It also offered to publish the following footnote:

The article has been updated to make clear that Mr Mitchell received £30,000 in an out-of-court settlement and was not awarded the sum by the Sheriff as we originally reported.

Relevant Code Provisions

5. 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.

Findings of the Committee

6. While the newspaper did not have a journalist in court to cover the complainant’s divorce hearing, it had received information about the case from a member of court staff. Given the position held by the source, and that the information received simply related to the outcome of the case, the newspaper was entitled to rely on what the member of court staff had said; there was no failure to take care not to publish inaccurate information in breach of Clause 1(i). However, the assertion in the headline and first line that the £30,000 sum had been awarded by a judge who had previous involvement with the complainant, rather than through a settlement agreed between the parties, gave a significantly misleading impression of the manner in which the divorce proceedings were concluded.

7. In order to avoid a breach of Clause 1(ii), it was necessary to correct the headline and first line of the article. The newspaper had amended the article when contacted by the complainant on the day of publication to make clear the £30,000 figure had come from an out-of-court settlement. The newspaper also offered to publish a footnote which made clear that the original version of the story had inaccurately reported that the Sheriff had awarded the sum to the complainant. These actions were sufficient to meet the requirements of Clause 1(ii), and the footnote should now be published.

Conclusions

8. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

9. N/A

Date complaint received: 16/09/2016
Date decision issued: 12/12/2016