Ruling

09444-19 Reynolds v Daily Mail

    • Date complaint received

      14th October 2021

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 09444-19 Reynolds v Daily Mail

Summary of Complaint

1. Patrick Reynolds complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Mail breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) in two articles headlined “CORBYN THE BOMB MAKER'S HELPER”, published on the 4 December 2019 and “Why DID Jeremy Corbyn share offices with a convicted IRA bomb maker... who was embroiled in a £550k scandal?”, published on 5 December 2019.

2. The first article set out associations in the 1980s between Jeremy Corbyn MP and a man who had been convicted of conspiring to cause explosions. The article began by introducing the man and examining how he came to live in Islington. The sub-headline said that “admirer Jeremy Corbyn helped create a council job for [the man]”. The article went on to focus on this job which was at an organisation called the Irish in Islington Project. The article reported that the Irish in Islington Project was founded in 1983 and described it as one of a number of pressure groups “under the umbrella of Corbyn’s IBRG [Irish in Britain Representation Group]”. It reported that the IBRG was a pro-republican group which supported Mr Corbyn in his campaign to become the MP for Islington North.

3. The article reported that “inevitably” the Irish in Islington Project applied to Islington Council for funding to pay for full time staff and headquarters. It reported that Mr Corbyn sought “successfully” to find funding for the project elsewhere, and referred to a letter sent to Ethnic Minorities Unit at the Greater London Council (GLC) in which Mr Corbyn said: “The work of the Irish in Islington Project is both necessary and desirable, and I urge that their application for two project workers be met”.  It also reported that John McDonnell MP wrote to the GLC in 1984 to say “I understand that the Irish in Islington Project will shortly be submitting an application for capital funds to establish an Irish Centre. I would like to lend my support to the Project and could you keep me informed of its progress”. The article then said “You might be already to be able to guess who was to be given one of these posts”, as approximately two weeks after the man was released from prison, he took up the position of “community outreach worker” at the Project. It said that “thanks to Corbyn and friends, [named man’s] future was secure”. The article reported that Mr Corbyn had not responded to a request for comment on the claims, however it reported that the man had said “I knew Jeremy back in the Eighties and Nineties. He was my MP when I was living in England”.

4. The second article expanded upon the man’s job at the Irish in Islington Project whilst repeating several points which had been made in the first article. It said that: “Within days of release, terrorist [name] landed a plum council job thanks to Labour’s leader” and that he received “assistance” from “Labour’s current leadership”. It also said that the man enjoyed “what could be described as a charmed life – thanks in part at least to his friends John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn”, that the two positions at the Irish in Islington Project were “promoted” by Mr Corbyn and Mr McDonnell, and that the man was “handed not one but two taxpayer-funded jobs close to his tax-payer funded home in London”. It described the Irish in Islington Project as a “subsidiary” of the IBRG.

5. The article also said that “Archive records examined by the Mail show [man] and [other man] set up an office in a community centre in the heart of Corbyn’s constituency in Archway, North London. Corbyn himself used the same address for his monthly constituency surgeries”. The article repeated a point made in the first article that 13 days after the Brighton bombings in 1984, Mr Corbyn hosted the man and others at the House of Commons. It went on to report that the following day, the GLC approved a grant to the Irish in Islington’s “sister project” – the Irish in Greenwich Project. It reported that the man returned to the House of Commons for a press conference organised by the IBRG. Finally, the article reported that the man had since left London and moved back to Northern Ireland, where he became a Sinn Fein councillor.

6. The complainant worked at the Irish in Islington Project at the time the man was employed in the 1980s. He said that the two articles contained a number of inaccuracies, and that a representative from the Irish in Islington Project should have been contacted prior to publication.

7. The complainant said that both articles were misleading, as they gave the impression that the man had obtained his job at the Irish in Islington Project in a corrupt way. The complainant said that he was on the panel which appointed the man, and Mr Corbyn had nothing to do with his shortlisting or appointment. He said that the man met the criteria for the job – which he said was not a council job – and there was a proper process for the appointment. He said that it was his view that Mr Corbyn would not have known the man or about his appointment in 1983 – the steps Mr Corbyn took to support the Project were standard for any local MP. As such, any reference in either of the articles to Mr Corbyn or Mr McDonnell helping create the man’s job, promote the two positions, or give the man any “assistance” was misleading. He said that neither Mr Corbyn nor Mr McDonnell promoted either of the two men who filled the roles at the Project. Similarly, the first article was misleading to say that “you might be able to guess who was given one of these posts” and that it was not the case that the man’s future was secure thanks to Mr Corbyn or that the man was “handed” the job. In regards to the second article, the complainant said that its references to the man having enjoyed a “charmed life, thanks in part to his friends John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn” was also misleading for the same reasons. The complainant also said that it was not the case that the Irish in Islington Project sought funding from Islington Council, or that Mr Corbyn sought funding from elsewhere. He later went on to clarify that the Project did not seek funding from Islington Council when it was first established; the funding it went on to receive from Islington Council was allocated automatically following the abolition of the GLC.

8. With regards to the first article specifically, the complainant said that it was inaccurate to describe the IBRG as “Corbyn’s” IBRG as it had other members who were politicians, from a range of parties. He said that Mr Corbyn had no input into the IBRG apart from speaking at public meetings, raising issues in the House of Commons, and hosting a meeting in December 1983 with the IBRG where he looked at ways to support the Irish community. The complainant said that the article should not have labelled the IBRG as being pro-republican as this implied it was pro-IRA. He said that it was a community group which was more focussed on social issues and met delegations from all communities. He also said that the first article was inaccurate to report that Mr Corbyn was the man’s MP – he said that the man did not live in Mr Corbyn’s constituency.

9. With regards to the second article specifically, the complainant said that it was inaccurate to report that the Irish in Islington Project shared offices with Mr Corbyn. He said that the Project had its own exclusive office, and many community projects were also based in the same complex. He said that 131 St John’s Way – where the Irish in Islington Project was – was a different building from 129 St John’s Way where Mr Corbyn held his surgeries. He said that this implied a link and closeness between Mr Corbyn and the Project which did not exist. The complainant said that it was not the case that the Irish in Islington Project was a subsidiary of the IBRG – it was a separate organisation with a different constitution and employed different people. He provided a cutting from a newspaper in 1983 which said: “Whereas the IBRG has taken the initiative in launching the exercise the proposed project [the Irish in Islington Project] will be independent of it.”

10. He also said that it was inaccurate to report that two men employed “set up an office” as they began work at the Irish in Islington Project when the office space had already been secured by others. The complainant said that it was inaccurate to describe the Irish in Greenwich Project as a “sister project” of the Irish in Islington Project – there was no connection between the projects, and reporting that the Irish in Greenwich Project had been granted funding after the 1984 conference implied that this had happened corruptly. The complainant said that it was not the case that the IBRG organised a press conference at the House of Commons after the Brighton bombings in 1984. He also said that the man was not elected to be a councillor in Derry – he said that instead it was his understanding that he had been nominated to fill a vacancy between elections, and had never actually been elected.

11. The newspaper did not accept that the articles were inaccurate – it said that there was nothing in either article which stated or implied corruption on the part of the Irish in Islington Project by hiring the men over other candidates. It said that it was accurate to report that when the Irish in Islington Project applied for funding from the GLC in 1983, Mr Corbyn also wrote to the GLC to urge them to approve the application for two project workers. It provided a copy of this letter. When the application was granted, the posts were taken up by the man and another man – the roles were funded by the council. It said that as such, it was reasonable to say that the two men had Mr Corbyn to thank for their jobs. It also said that the complainant was not in a position to dispute the relationship and association between the man and Mr Corbyn. It said that it took care to put claims to Mr Corbyn and did not receive a response or denial. It said that it had not received a complaint from Mr Corbyn about the article, nor either of the men who took up the posts at the Project. The newspaper also referred to a previous ruling by IPSO on a complaint made by one of the men who took up the posts at the Project – he did not appear to challenge the assertion that Mr Corbyn had lobbied the GLC to fund the Irish in Islington Project.

12. The newspaper said that it was able to demonstrate that the Project had applied to Islington Council for funding. It provided the original funding application submitted to the GLC in 1983, signed by the complainant. It highlighted that in a section of the application asked what other sources of assistance had been sought, and it stated: “Outstanding application with Islington Council (race relations) for office + full time worker”. It also provided a cutting from the Islington Gazette which reported that: “A community centre for the Irish in Islington is to go ahead. Members of Islington Council’s policy committee agreed to give it more than £68,000 in grants […]”. Furthermore, it also provided an IBRG newsletter which said that:

“Islington which so far has not spent a single penny on any Irish activity or organization in the borough has refused without providing any satisfactory explanation to fund community workers and premises that the Branch sought on behalf of the Irish in Islington Project.”

13. The newspaper said that describing the IBRG as “Corbyn’s IBRG” was to denote his heavy involvement and support of the organisation. It provided an IBRG election statement which was solely devoted to Mr Corbyn and explained how valuable he was to the organisation:

“Jeremy joined the IBRG in the early days in November 1982, and since then has been an immensely valuable and hard worker on our behalf. He enabled us to lobby Islington Council to provide the Irish Community with a research and advice worker along with office premises He is part of a delegation that the IBRG are sending along with an Islington Council delegation to the BBC, ITV, Home Office and Parliamentary Labour Party to lobby on matters affecting the Irish community”.

The newspaper noted that this election statement also set out that the IBRG had unanimously decided to publicly endorse Mr Corbyn, and to actively support his election campaign. The newspaper also provided an IBRG statement which talked about the branch’s activities from the previous year, which included: “…persuading Islington Council to call for the withdrawal of British troops from Ireland [and to] recognise the right of the Irish people to self-determination”.

14. The newspaper said that it was the man’s own claim that Mr Corbyn was his MP, and the article reported this as a quote attributed to him. Although the newspaper accepted that the man’s home was not inside Mr Corbyn’s constituency, it provided a Companies House document filed by the man in which he gave the Irish in Islington Project’s address – which was inside Mr Corbyn’s constituency – as his home address. It said that he used this address for residential and business purposes from 1984 to 1997.

15. The newspaper said that it was not inaccurate to say that that the Project “shared offices” with Mr Corbyn and noted that the article did not say that they shared an office. It said that the Project was based at 131 St John’s Way, and Mr Corbyn held surgeries at 129 St John’s Way – although these were separate buildings, it said that at the time they were both part of the same complex and both owned and used by the Council. Where they shared premises, it was not inaccurate to say that they “shared offices”. The newspaper said that describing the Project as a “subsidiary” of the IBRG did not have a legal or technical business meeting, and instead was to denote that the Project had stemmed from the IBRG. It provided a newsletter from the IBRG which said that the Project was founded “as a result” of an Islington IBRG initiative and that they were “instrumental in the establishment of the Irish in Islington Project”. It also provided a separate newsletter in which the Islington IBRG said that it had lobbied Islington Council “to provide the Irish Community with a research and advice worker along with office premises” – it said that this was a clear reference to the Project.

16. The newspaper said that saying that the two men “set up an office” did not mean that they were responsible for finding premises or furnishing it. Instead it meant that the two men started running the operations of the Project from that office – which the complainant did not dispute. The newspaper said that it was not the case that there was “no connection whatsoever” between the Irish in Islington Project and the Irish in Greenwich Project. It said that this point was not significant in the context of the overall article, however describing them as “sister projects” was to indicate that the organisations were very similar – both Projects supported the IBRG in their literature and campaigned on the same issues. It also provided a flyer from 1987 from the Irish in Islington Project, which gave the Irish in Greenwich Project and a local IBRG on a list of useful addresses. The newspaper provided a cutting of an article published on 23 January 1985 which reported that the man “attended a press conference [the day before the article was published] organised by the Irish in Britain Representation Group”.

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.

Findings of the Committee

17. It was not in dispute that Mr Corbyn had written to the GLC in support of the Irish in Islington Project’s funding application and specifically urged that the application for two project workers be approved. It was clear that Mr Corbyn had taken active measures to aid the funding application for the two roles. The grant that was then awarded funded the two men’s jobs at the Project. As such, it was not misleading for either article to say that Mr Corbyn had helped create or promote the jobs, or that in doing so, this had effectively assisted the man. Similarly, the articles had a basis to say that thanks to “Corbyn and friends”, the man’s future was secure and that the man enjoyed a “charmed life, thanks in part to his friends [such as] Jeremy Corbyn”. The Committee noted that furthermore, both of these statements did not attribute the man’s success only to Mr Corbyn or anyone else.  The articles did not make any claim as to Mr Corbyn or anyone else’s involvement in hiring the man beyond supporting the creation of the role. As such, the articles on these points were not misleading as to the process by which the men were hired by the complainant or the Irish in Islington Project, as suggested by the complainant. There was no failure to take care in reporting Mr Corbyn’s role in the appointment of the man, and no breach of Clause 1(i) or significant inaccuracy requiring correction under the terms of Clause 1(ii).

18. Mr McDonnell had written in support of an application by the project for capital funding to set up a centre. Unlike with Mr Corbyn, it was not established that Mr McDonnell had supported the specific application for the funding of the two project workers. Nevertheless, the Committee did not consider that it was significantly inaccurate to make reference to a link between Mr McDonnell and the financial support for the two job roles. Mr McDonnell had still advocated for financial help to be given to the group; the nature of this help –capital funding- was elsewhere referenced and, in any event, the article had been more focused on the link between Mr Corbyn’s actions and the creation of the roles. There was no failure to take care in reporting Mr McDonnell’s role in the appointment of the man, and no breach of Clause 1(i) or significant inaccuracy requiring correction under the terms of Clause 1(ii).

19. Where the role was funded by the council, it was not misleading to describe it as a council job. There was no failure to take care over the accuracy in reporting the job role and no breach of Clause 1(i), and not significant inaccuracy requiring correction under the terms of Clause 1(ii).

20. The article reported that the Irish in Islington Project applied to Islington Council for funding for two full time staff and a headquarters. The complainant did not appear to dispute that the Project was at times funded by Islington Council, specifically following the dissolution of the GLC. Where the article did not make any claim that the Project applied to Islington Council for its initial funding, the article was not inaccurate as suggested by the complainant to report that the Project had applied to Islington Council. There was no breach of Clause 1(i) on this point, and no requirement for a correction under Clause 1(ii).

21. The phrase “Corbyn’s IBRG” was unclear– it was a minor reference in the context of the article and did not claim that Mr Corbyn was responsible for the IBRG, or that it operated under his leadership. Rather, it did suggest a close relationship between Mr Corbyn and the organisation. The article explained that the IBRG supported Mr Corbyn in his campaign to become an MP, and the newspaper was able to show that the IBRG considered Mr Corbyn a strong supporter of the IBRG. The newspaper also said that it took care to put this claim to Mr Corbyn and did not receive any response. As such, it was not misleading to suggest a close relationship between Mr Corbyn and the IBRG by referring to “Corbyn’s IBRG”. There was no breach of Clause 1(i) on this point and no requirement for a correction under Clause 1(ii).

22. The article described the IBRG as being “pro-republican”, which the complainant was concerned suggested that the group was aligned with the IRA. Although the complainant pointed out that the group had cross-community engagement, he did not appear to dispute that it was pro-republican in its aims. Furthermore, a newsletter provided by the newspaper reported that the Islington branch’s activities included “…persuading Islington Council to call for the withdrawal of British troops from Ireland [and to] recognise the right of the Irish people to self-determination”. As such, it was not misleading to describe the group as being pro-republican. With regards to the complainant’s concern that this description linked the group to the IRA, the Committee was clear that republicanism and support for the IRA are distinct – the article did not make any suggestion that the IBRG was close to or supported the IRA in any way. As such, the article was not misleading to describe the group as pro-republican. There was no breach of Clause 1(i) on this point, and no requirement for a correction under Clause 1(ii).

23. The claim that Mr Corbyn was the man’s MP was the man’s own claim, presented as a quote attributed to him. Clause 1(iv) requires that care is taken to distinguish between comment, conjecture and fact – in this case, this care had been taken by attributing the claim to the man. There was no breach of Clause 1(iv). It did not appear to be in dispute that the man did not live in Mr Corbyn’s constituency. However, the Committee noted that the man simply said that Mr Corbyn was “his MP”, and the Committee considered that this description was broad and could encompass the man considering that Mr Corbyn often acted on his behalf in his role as an MP for example, or whether he felt he could count on Mr Corbyn’s support – the complainant was not in a position to know whether this was the man’s view. As such, the Committee did not find that the claim was significantly misleading as to the connection between Mr Corbyn and the man as to require correction under the terms of Clause 1(ii).

24. The second article did not report that the Irish in Islington Project shared an office with Mr Corbyn – instead it reported that the Project shared offices (plural) with Mr Corbyn, which the article explained was because the Project’s office was in a community centre used by Mr Corbyn for his monthly community surgeries. As such, the article was clear that the Project had its own office in the building and did not say that the Project and Mr Corbyn shared a single room or office. The article did not make any claim that the Project and Mr Corbyn worked jointly at their respective premises. The Committee noted that the Project was situated in a different building from where Mr Corbyn held his surgeries, however it did not appear to be in dispute that both of these buildings were adjacent and used for council-funded activities. As such, the Committee considered that the article on this point was not significantly misleading as to the connection between the Project and Mr Corbyn. There was no breach of Clause 1(i), and no requirement for a correction under the terms of Clause 1(ii).

25. The article reported that the Irish in Islington Project was a “subsidiary” of the IBRG. The Committee considered that “subsidiary” was not a prescriptive legal or technical business term in this context, and instead denoted that the Project was linked to the IBRG. The newspaper was able to demonstrate that it was reported contemporaneously that the Project was formed at the instigation, and with the involvement, of the IBRG, which the complainant did not appear to dispute. In this case, this was a sufficient basis to describe the Project as a “subsidiary” of the IBRG. There was no failure to take over the accuracy of the article in reporting this description. The complainant’s position that the Project was separate and independent from the IBRG did not contradict this. As such, the description did not represent a significant inaccuracy requiring correction under the terms of Clause 1(ii).

26. The article reported that the two men “set up an office in a community centre in the heart of Corbyn’s constituency”. It was not in dispute that the men began running the Project from the new premises. As such, the Committee considered that whether the men were responsible for practically securing or furnishing the office was not significant to the overall article; it did not affect the central point that the men began working at the recently-founded Project in council buildings situated in Mr Corbyn’s constituency. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

27. It did not appear to be in dispute that both the Irish in Greenwich Project and the Irish in Islington Project sought to support Irish communities in London. Furthermore, the article was not an in-depth focus on the Irish in Greenwich Project or its relationship with the Irish in Islington Project. As such, any dispute over the extent to which the Irish in Greenwich Project could accurately be described as a “sister project” was not significant to the overall article as to require correction under the terms of Clause 1(ii).

28.  The complainant did not dispute that the Irish in Greenwich Project received funding after Mr Corbyn held a press event at the House of Commons. The newspaper was entitled to report that this had occurred, and the complainant was not in a position to dispute whether there had been a causal link between the two events and the reasons for the local government grant, especially as he had not been involved in the Irish in Greenwich Project. As such, the complainant was a third party on this point.

29. The article did not report that the man had been elected a councillor in Derry – instead, it said that he had been a councillor in Northern Ireland. As such, it did not appear to be in dispute that the man had been a councillor in Northern Ireland, as reported by the article, and the article was not inaccurate or misleading to report this fact. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

Conclusions

30. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

31. N/A.

 

Date complaint made: 10/12/2019

Date decision issued: 28/5/2021

Independent Complaints Reviewer

The complainant complained to the Independent Complaints Reviewer about the process followed by IPSO in handling this complaint. The Independent Complaints Reviewer decided that the process was not flawed and did not uphold the request for review.