Ruling

08796-16 Vafiadis v Bucks Free Press

    • Date complaint received

      6th April 2017

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 3 Harassment

Decision of the Complaints Committee 08796-16 Vafiadis v Bucks Free Press

Summary of Complaint

1. Odysseas Vafiadis complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Bucks Free Press breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 3 (Harassment) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in articles headlined “Motorist accused of fatal attack on man”, published on 9 September 2016, “Tribute to kind, loving man in road rage row”, published on 23 September, and “Road Rage man, 70, cleared of murder”, published on 23 September. The articles were also published online with the headlines “MURDER TRIAL: Gerrards Cross man Odysseas Vafiadis accused of killing OAP in Chalfont St Peter zebra crossing attack”, published on 6 September, “'I've lost my soulmate': Devastated partner of 'road rage victim' Paul Davidson reveals heartbreak”, published on 20 September, and “Odysseas Vafiades cleared of Paul Davidson death after road rage attack in Chalfont St Peter”, published on 19 September.

2. All the articles, save the 9 September article, reported on the complainant’s acquittal on charges of murder and manslaughter, following a “road rage” incident. The 19 September article reported that the complainant had commented after the verdict that “I didn’t mean to kill him” as well as reported that the complainant had said “I didn’t want him to die”. The 19 September and 23 September articles reported that the complainant had been arrested on 6 November, the day of the incident. All the articles, save the 23 September print article, reported that the court had heard that the complainant had kicked the deceased. The 9 September and 6 September articles contained an image of the complainant driving away from court.

3. The complainant denied that he had said “I didn’t mean to kill him”, but accepted that he had told the journalist “I didn’t want him to die”. Whilst the complainant accepted that a witness in his trial had given evidence that he had kicked the deceased, the complainant disputed the accuracy of the witness’ testimony. He said that it was inaccurate to report that he had been arrested on 6 November 2015; he had been arrested on 11 November.

4. The complainant said that he had felt harassed and intimidated by a photographer who had taken the images of him as he had driven away from court. He also said that when the journalist had approached him for comment, they had not identified themselves or which publication they represented. A journalist had also approached his wife at their home for comment, but she had closed the door on them. The complainant also expressed concern that the articles reported details of his home address.

5. The newspaper denied any breach of the Code. It initially said that it could provide a copy of an audio note, sourced from the reporter’s agency, which recorded the complainant saying “I didn’t mean to kill him”. It later clarified that the recording had been wiped clean. However it provided a letter from the agency, which said that the complainant had told the reporter that he didn’t mean to kill the deceased. It said that the details of the incident contained in the articles were an accurate report of what was said in court. Further, in the absence of reporting restrictions, it said it was entitled to include details of the complainant’s home address.

6. The newspaper accepted that the 19 September article inaccurately reported that the complainant had been arrested on the day of the incident and offered to amend the online article on this point and publish the following clarification and apology in print and online:

On September 19, 2016 the Bucks Free Press carried a report into the acquittal of Mr Odysseas Vafliadis, from Gerrards Cross, on charges of murder and manslaughter. Our report stated that he had been arrested on the day of the alleged offences, November 6, 2015. In fact, Mr Vafiadis was arrested on November 11, 2015 following the death of the alleged victim.

We are happy to make this clarification and apologise for any misunderstandings this may have caused.

7. The newspaper said that when the agency reporter had approached the complainant for comment, he had been enthusiastic to talk. It said that, given that the agency reporter had not been commissioned by the newspaper to cover the trial, they would not have been able to identify which publication they represented. The newspaper said that an agency reporter had attended the complainant’s home, during the course of normal journalistic newsgathering; when the complainant’s wife declined to comment, the reporter had left. The newspaper said that the image of the complainant driving away from court had been obtained by a photographer standing on a public right of way.

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.

Clause 3 (Harassment)

i) Journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit.

ii) They must not persist in questioning, telephoning, pursuing or photographing individuals once asked to desist; nor remain on property when asked to leave and must not follow them. If requested, they must identify themselves and whom they represent.

(iii)  Editors must ensure these principles are observed by those working for them and take care not to use non-compliant material from other sources.

Findings of the Committee

9. The Committee acknowledged the complainant’s position that he had not told the reporter “I didn’t mean to kill him”, but noted the complainant’s acceptance of having said “I didn’t want him to die”. The articles made clear that the complainant had been acquitted on charges of murder and manslaughter; in that context and where the article made clear that the complainant was found not to have been responsible for the death, any discrepancy between the complainants account and what was published was not significantly misleading. The newspaper was unable to provide the recording it said was made of the conversation, and the Committee was therefore unable to attach to it any evidential weight. Nevertheless, where the discrepancy between the complainant’s and newspaper’s account of the conversation did not give rise to the articles containing a significant inaccuracy, there was no breach of Clause 1 (i).

10. The complainant had not suggested that the article was an inaccurate report of the proceedings; it was not inaccurate for the article to report that the court had heard that the complainant had kicked the deceased during the incident. The inclusion of the complainant’s home address did not breach the Code, in the context of a court report where no reporting restrictions were in place.

11. The timing of the complainant’s arrest had been inaccurately reported. However this inaccuracy was not significant, in the context of an article which reported that the complainant faced trial on serious charges. However, the Committee welcomed the newspaper’s willingness to correct the 19 September article in light of the complainant’s concerns. There was no breach of Clause 1.

12. The Committee noted that the complainant had interacted with the photographer, however he had not suggested that this interaction was aggressive or intimidating. It did not appear that the photographer continued to take photographs, or that the journalist had persisted in making enquiries, once being asked to desist. There was no breach of Clause 3.

Conclusions

13. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

N/A

Date complaint received: 20/09/2016
Date decision issued: 06/03/2017