Ruling

08806-16 Gatt v Ayrshire Post

    • Date complaint received

      30th March 2017

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 2 Privacy, 3 Harassment

Decision of the Complaints Committee 08806-16 Gatt v Ayrshire Post

Summary of complaint

1. Philip Gatt complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Ayrshire Post breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 3 (Harassment) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Mum admits having sex with schoolboy”, published on 30 September 2016.

2. The article reported that the complainant’s ex-wife had pleaded guilty to sexual activity with a boy aged fourteen. It said that the previous year, she had also been accused of taking inappropriate photographs of an elderly woman while she had been working as a personal carer at a care home. It said that the judge had found the case against her not proven, but her reputation had been “ripped to shreds” as she had confessed to taking photographs of her body parts and sending the images to colleagues. It said during the trial, the complainant’s ex-wife had also confessed that she had dressed up her sleeping husband (the complainant) in “sexy underwear” and that she had photographed them in a “sex act” and “sent the image”. It named the complainant and gave his job and place of work at the local council.

3. The article was also published online with headline “Dalrymple mum-of-two exposed as paedophile after admitting sexual activity with schoolboy aged just 14”.

4. The complainant said that the newspaper had inaccurately stated that his ex-wife had “dressed” him in underwear and photographed them in a “sex act”. He said his then wife had played a prank on him by placing underwear on top of him while he slept, and had then taken a Snapchat photograph of them; this was not a “sex act”.  He said his ex-wife had confirmed that she had not referred to the incident as a “sex act” in court.

5. The complainant said that he was entirely unconnected to the cases in which his ex-wife had been involved, and that the article had caused him embarrassment and stress at work and in his personal life. He said that by giving his name and place of work, the newspaper had identified him to a large number of people who would not have known of his relationship with his ex-wife. He said that the repetition of this information in three articles constituted harassment.

6. The newspaper said that the complainant’s ex-wife had said in open court that she had no regular income and was separated from her husband, who had a job in IT at “County Buildings”. The newspaper said that while the complainant’s name had not been given in court, it was available on the electoral role where he was listed as living in the marital home. It said that its decision to report this information about the complainant had been a matter of editorial discretion.

7. The newspaper said that it had accurately attributed the reference to the “sex act” to the complainant’s ex-wife. His ex-wife had referred to the incident when she was asked why she had asked the owner of the care home if “the issue” was about the photograph of her and her husband.

8. The newspaper provided the shorthand notes taken by the reporter in court in 2015. The transcript of the notes provided by the newspaper recorded the complainant’s ex-wife having said, “I did like to dress him up. I sent picture of a sex act. It's cringeworthy, myself or my own groin”. The newspaper noted that the reporter had not recorded every word spoken, but considered that given the volume of information provided during a trial, it would have been impossible for the reporter to do so. In this instance, the reporter had written his notes into a story on his return to the office.

9. The newspaper noted that while the complainant did not accept that his ex-wife had said the words “sex act” in court, he had not been present at the time. It did not consider that it was responsible for the accuracy of evidence heard in court; rather, it was responsible for accurately reporting the evidence that had been heard.

10. The newspaper noted that the reference to the “sex act” was first published in September 2015 by both the Daily Mirror and the Daily Record. The incident was also referred to as a “sex act” by the Daily Star in March 2016, and by the Daily Mirror and Daily Record in September 2016. It said that the complainant and his ex-wife had not complained about these articles at the time of their publication.

11. Although it did not accept a breach of the Code, in light of the complainant’s concerns, the newspaper said it would remove the reference to him from the online article and refrain from reporting his name, job and place of work in future coverage, unless it was specifically relevant to the story.

12. The complainant said that the notes taken by the reporter made no sense, and the reference to a “sex act” had been taken out of context. His ex-wife had informed him that the prosecution may have made reference to a “sex act”; she had not said those words because a “sex act” had not taken place. He said the first time the reference was published, he had been extremely angry, and he was furious when it was published again. On the assumption that it would not be repeated, he had decided not to complain; but when it was published a third time, given the embarrassment it had caused him, he made a complaint to IPSO. 

Relevant Code provisions

13. 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.

Clause 2 (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, without their consent, in public or private places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.

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.

The public interest

- The regulator will consider the extent to which material is already in the public domain or will or will become so.

Findings of the Complaints Committee

14. The Committee noted the complainant’s position that the newspaper had taken the words “sex act” out of context, and that his ex-wife thought it was the prosecutor who had used those words during the trial. While the reporter’s notes provided by the newspaper recorded that reference to a “sex act” had been made in relation to the complainant’s ex-wife’s evidence, the Committee was concerned that the quality of the notes was such that the exact context in which the description had been given could not be established. The noted phrase “sex act” could have referred to the defendant’s reference to taking a picture of herself, or to the previous phrase “I did like to dress him up”. The Committee noted that all three phrases had appeared on separate lines in the reporter’s notes and did not appear to be linked.

15. However, the newspaper had provided articles which demonstrated that the “sex act” reference had appeared in contemporaneous court reports a year before the article under complaint was published, and in further articles, without complaint or correction. These included a contemporaneous court report written by the same reporter immediately after he had attended court where he had noted the words “sex act”. In addition, it appeared to have been accepted that the words “sex act” had been used in court by the prosecution. In the full context, the Committee did not consider that republishing the reference, which had been taken from contemporaneous court reports, represented a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article in breach of Clause 1 (i). Furthermore, the complainant had not been in court at the time the words had allegedly been spoken. He was therefore not in a position to dispute what had been said. In such circumstances, the Committee was unable to establish that the newspaper’s description of the complainant’s ex-wife’s evidence had been significantly inaccurate such that a correction was required. There was no breach of Clause 1(ii).

16. The Committee noted the complainant’s concern that the article had misleadingly reported that his ex-wife had “dressed” him in underwear and had taken a photograph. However, his ex-wife had placed underwear on top of him and taken a photograph; in these circumstances, the assertion that she had “dressed him up” was not significantly misleading. The Committee noted that the article had made clear that the complainant had been asleep at the time. There was no failure to take care over the accuracy of the article in breach of Clause 1 on this point. The complaint under Clause 1 was not upheld.

17. The Committee understood that the complainant had found the reference to him and his place of work intrusive and unnecessary given that he was unrelated to the second set of proceedings. It acknowledged his position that the article had caused him distress and embarrassment; however, while the complainant had not been identified by name in court during the first proceedings, reference had been made to his marriage to the defendant, the nature of his employment and his place of work. This was information which could legitimately be reported and which was in the public domain as a result of earlier reporting. The Committee did not consider that confirming the complainant’s identity by publishing his name in the article under complaint, in referring back to the earlier proceedings, had amounted to a material intrusion into his private life in breach of Clause 2. The Committee also noted that this information had already been placed in the public domain as a consequence of earlier contemporaneous court reports, although it emphasised that, given the limited extent of its previous publication, this on its own would not have been a sufficient defence under Clause 2. There was no breach of Clause 2.

18. The terms of Clause 3 (Harassment) generally relate to the conduct of journalists during the newsgathering process. The repetition of the references to the complainant in a report on his ex-wife’s conviction did not represent harassment under the terms of Clause 3.

19. While the Committee did not establish a breach of the Code in this instance, it welcomed the newspaper’s offer to refrain from republishing the references to the complainant in future coverage, unless it is specifically relevant to the story.

Conclusion

20. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

N/A

Date complaint received: 30/09/2016
Date decision issued: 08/03/2017