Ruling

10074-21 Sutherland v Daily Record

    • Date complaint received

      24th March 2022

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 10074-21 Sutherland v Daily Record

Summary of Complaint

1. Ian Sutherland 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 “We love thrills & chills of crime fiction.. until it becomes real”, published on 14 August 2021.

2. The article – which appeared on page 19 of the newspaper – was a comment piece, comparing crime fiction with a historic murder case; the complainant was the man who had been convicted of the murder in question. It included a brief narrative of the crime, in which it said that the complainant’s “girlfriend […] was held captive by him while he carved up [the victim’s] body” and that “heart racing, she made a bolt for the door but she wasn’t quick enough”. It also stated that “[t]he body parts of [the victim] were discovered strewn across the lawns of an upmarket neighbourhood […h]is head was found in a bag in a shallow grave, his limbs in a bin and his torso in a communal garden.” The article also briefly referenced the court case which followed the crime, stating that “the prosecution at Sutherland’s [trial] likened the murder to the plot of one of [the crime author’s] novels.”

3. The article also appeared online, in substantially the same form, under the headline “We love the thrills and chills of crime fiction – until it all becomes too real”.

4. The complainant said that the article contained several inaccuracies in breach of Clause 1. He said that, while his then-girlfriend had made allegations that he had held her captive and assaulted her in the manner described in the article, he had not done so and had in fact been found not guilty of charges relating to this alleged conduct in a later court case.  The complainant provided a summary of the case from the trial judge of the murder trial –which had been included in the complainant’s appeal against his conviction – to support his position on this point. The summary stated that “[the girlfriend] tried to escape but the appellant dragged her back and assaulted her. He tried to strangle her with a leather strap. She was terrified. He let her go, told her she was lucky and not to try it again”.

5. He also said that it was not the case that “[t]he body parts of [the victim] were discovered strewn across the lawns of an upmarket neighbourhood” and that “his head was found in a bag in a shallow grave, his limbs in a bin and his torso in a communal garden.” The true position, he said, was that his body parts had been found in a single location, and this location was not a “shallow grave”, “a bin”, or a “communal garden”. He said the alleged inaccuracy made his actions appear cold and callous – rather than panicked and fearful, which he said was his state of mind at the time.

6. The complainant also said that the prosecution in the trial had not “likened the murder to the plot of one of [a crime author’s] novels.”

7. Finally, the complainant expressed concerns that the article was in poor taste, where it appeared to use a real-life crime to promote the work of a crime author.

8. The publication said it did not accept that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 of the Code. It first noted that it had been widely reported at the time of the original trial that the complainant’s ex-girlfriend had told the court that she had attempted to escape the flat but that the complainant had “dragged her back”, and that she also feared he was going to kill her.  It provided cuttings which reported this, and also that the ex-girlfriend had said in court that the complainant “cut [the victim] up in front of me”. It did not, therefore, accept that it could be inaccurate to characterise this as being held “captive while he carved up [the victim’s] body”. While the publication did not dispute that the complainant had not been convicted in relation to any charges arising from his ex-girlfriend’s allegations that she had been held captive, it noted that the article did not report that he had.

9. The publication then said that the location of the victim’s remains was not significant, where it was not in dispute that the victim’s body parts had been found dismembered and that the complainant had been found guilty of his murder. Nevertheless, it provided contemporaneous news reports that the remains had been found “in a wheelie bin”. The publication also provided contemporaneous news reports of the trial, which reported that: “The prosecut[o]r likened the case to the works of two well-known crime writers. He added: ‘You have heard a story that might chime in your mind if you have read the works of [the crime author].’"

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

10. The publication was entitled to report on the historic crime, and to rely on contemporaneous court reporting in doing so – provided it did so accurately, and did not misrepresent what had been heard in court. In this instance, the publication had provided contemporaneous reporting, demonstrating that it had been heard in court that the complainant’s ex-girlfriend had told the court that she had attempted to escape the flat but that the complainant had “dragged her back”, and that she also feared he was going to kill her.

11. It was accepted that the complainant had not been convicted of any crime in relation to these allegations; however, the judge’s report of the case (which had been made for the purposes of the complainant’s appeal) stated as fact in the course of the narrative of events surrounding the murder that: “[the girlfriend] tried to escape but the appellant dragged her back and assaulted her. He tried to strangle her with a leather strap. She was terrified. He let her go, told her she was lucky and not to try it again”. The Committee therefore considered that there was a sufficient basis for the article to report, in its re-telling of the circumstances of the murder and subsequent trial, that the complainant’s ex-girlfriend “was held captive by him while he carved up [the victim’s] body” and that “heart racing, she made a bolt for the door but she wasn’t quick enough”.  There was, therefore, no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

12. The Committee understood that the remains of the murder victim had been found in one location, rather than several different locations – this was clear from the contemporaneous reporting of the court case. The article was therefore inaccurate on this point; however, the Committee did not consider this inaccuracy to be significant, where it was not in dispute that the remains of the murder victim had been dismembered, the remains divided into several black sacks and concealed in the garden. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

13. The publication had provided a news report which supported its position that the prosecutor in the murder trial had compared the murder to the plots of a popular crime author’s novels. The publication had, therefore, demonstrated that it took sufficient care over the accuracy of this point, and there was no breach of Clause 1.

Conclusion(s)

14. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

15. N/A


Date complaint received: 22/09/2021

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 09/03/2022