Resolution Statement – 09273-22 Bellfield v Sunday Mirror

    • Date complaint received

      25th August 2022

    • Outcome

      Resolved - IPSO mediation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Resolution Statement – 09273-22 Bellfield v Sunday Mirror

Summary of Complaint

1. Levi Bellfield complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Sunday Mirror breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “I HAD MONSTER BELLFIELD'S SECRET SON / How do you tell your child that their father is Britain’s most horrific killer?”, published on 1 May 2022.

2. The article reported on an interview with a woman, who was not named, who claimed to have had a “one-night stand” with a convicted serial killer that resulted in her having his child. The article reported that the woman had stated that the man had “chatted her up at a nightclub” and “plied her with champagne, before serenading her with the 1976 Real Thing hit, You To Me Are Everything”. It also stated that the publication had seen police papers and social services documents that she had alerted the police to her link to the man in 2006. The article reported the woman’s claim that he had told her “Don’t ever f*** with me”, called himself “Levi Taylor” when they met and stated that he was now “serving a whole life tariff at HMP Woodhill, Bucks”.

3. The article also appeared online in substantially the same format under the headline “EXCLUSIVE: 'I had Levi Bellfield's secret son who he fathered weeks before killing Milly Dowler'”, published on 30 April.

4. The complainant, the convicted serial killer said to have fathered the child, said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. He said he could tell who the source of the article was, and that he had not met her at a nightclub as described, nor had he sang to her or offered her drinks. He also said it was inaccurate to describe the relationship as a one-night stand, as he said they had sexual relations on multiple occasions, but that the timings of these relations meant that it was not possible for him to be the father of her child. The complainant said he had never threatened the woman or used the name “Levi Taylor” and that the article had reported the name of the prison he was serving his life sentence in inaccurately. He also said it was a breach of Clause 1 that he had not been contacted for comment prior to the publication of the article.

5. The publication said that, due to its obligations under Clause 14 to protect confidential sources of information, it could not reveal the name of the source nor confirm whether or not she was the same woman referred to by the complainant. It said that all of the information in the article was presented as the claims of the source and were clearly distinguished as her comments. It did accept that the article had referred to a different prison to that which the complainant actually resided in. It said the mistake was due to human error, but it did not consider this to be a significant inaccuracy.

6. The publication also said that it had made every effort to try to contact the complainant prior to publication, but was unable to identify anyone who represented him. It said it had contacted the person who represented him in 2016, the Ministry of Justice and a representative of a different inmate, however, none of these parties were able to tell the publication who was representing the complainant and could not therefore contact him.

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.

Mediated Outcome

7. The complaint was not resolved through direct correspondence between the parties. IPSO therefore began an investigation into the matter.

8. During IPSO’s investigation the publication offered to publish a statement setting out the complainant’s response to the claim

9. The complainant said that this would resolve the matter to his satisfaction.

10. As the complaint was successfully mediated, the Complaints Committee did not make a determination as to whether there had been any breach of the Code.

Date complaint received: 01/06/2022

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 08/07/2022