Ruling

10204-22 Chowdhry v The Sun

    • Date complaint received

      23rd February 2023

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 11 Victims of sexual assault, 2 Privacy, 3 Harassment

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 10204-22 Chowdhry v The Sun

Summary of Complaint

1. Wilson Chowdhry, acting on his own behalf and on behalf of his daughter Hannah Chowdhry, complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sun breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 3 (Harassment), and Clause 6 (Children) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in the preparation and publication of an article headlined “CHARITY CHIEF RESIGNS OVER SEX SLAVE AFFAIR”, published on 19 June 2022.

2. The article reported that the complainant, a “Christian charity boss”, had “resigned after having an affair with a volunteer he helped rescue from sex slavery”. It went on to report that he “ha[d] admitted there were ‘moral failures’ over his sexual relationship with […the] woman.”

3. The article then went on to state that “[w]hen the affair ended in 2019, she told police [the complainant] had raped her in Australia. Police there and in the UK investigated but did not bring charges. [The woman] went to the Charity Commission, which began a probe last year. [The complainant] then quit as chairman of Essex-based British Pakistani Christian Ltd.” The article was also accompanied by a photograph of the complainant.

4. The article also appeared online, in substantially the same form, under the headline “Christian charity boss quits after affair with volunteer he rescued from sex slavery”. This version of the article also included the same photograph of the complainant – this was captioned “Wilson Chowdhry quit amid a probe from the Charity Commission”.

5. Prior to the article’s publication, a journalist contacted the complainant, his wife, and the charity, and put several questions to each party. The journalist first contacted the charity on 23 May 2022, and all parties exchanged several emails over the course of a week; the correspondence ceased after the charity asked the journalist to say who they worked for and they declined to do so.

6. As well as exchanging emails prior to the article’s publication, the journalist also called and then exchanged text messages with a number which the complainant said belonged to his daughter. The sequence of those calls and texts was as follows: two calls occurred on 23 May 2022; the second call was answered and a conversation took place between the complainant’s 18 year-old daughter and a journalist.  After this call a text was subsequently sent to the journalist from the number at 5:47pm:

I’m a teenager and don’t appreciate these calls.

7. A further call was made after this text message was sent; the journalist then texted the number with the following message:

Mr Chowdhry please don’t pretend this is not your phone. Your daughter answered it claiming at first it was a wrong number and then that you were not in. She agreed to pass on a message.

Will you please get in touch so I can discuss with you the way you ran the BPCA, the circumstances around your departure but continued involvement and other important matters.

My brief chat with your daughter was polite and the BPCA website and annual accounts clearly promotes her role in its work, including with the media.

I have no interest in seeking any comment from her. But you and your wife can help with my enquiries. You can see from the internet what I do.

I look forward to talking to you.

8. Another text was then sent from the number to the journalist:

As I’ve said before I’m a teenager and will report you to [the local] Council in regards of safeguarding. If you continue message me [sic] I will report you to the police.

No further calls were made, or text messages sent, after this text.

9. The complainant said that the article included several inaccuracies in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy). He said that he had not helped a “sex slave” and had not “rescued” her – as reported by the articles and online version of the headline. He said that he first met her in November 2018, which was six months after she had left Pakistan – the country where she had allegedly been held captive. He further said that he had not had an “affair” with the woman; rather, they had agreed to be friends unless his wife left him, at which point he would enter into a romantic relationship with the woman. However, the woman had “blackmailed” him into a relationship. He also disputed that she had been a “sex slave”.

10. The complainant also said that the article inaccurately reported on the timing and circumstances of his resignation from the charity. He said that he had resigned of his own volition “long before the woman had approached the Charity Commission”; he resigned in May 2019, and the Charity Commission first approached the charity in August of the same year. He also said that the print version of the article was inaccurate in its reporting of when the Charity Commission “probe” began; it had not begun “last year” – in 2021. Rather, it had begun in 2019. He said that this inaccuracy was deliberate, and was done in an attempt to make the article more current.

11. The complainant further said that he had not been investigated for rape charges in the UK; only Australian police investigated the matter. He said that the article had also omitted criminal allegations he had made against the woman, while focussing on allegations against him – which he said rendered the article inaccurate.

12. The complainant further said that the article breached Clause 2 (Privacy), as he considered it contained private information about his personal and family life.

13. The complainant also expressed concern that a journalist working on behalf of The Sun had breached Clause 3 (Harassment). He said that, during a two-day event – a Christian music festival – held in early June 2022, he had been approached by a man who he believed to be the journalist; as the man resembled a photograph which accompanied an article written by the journalist, though he did not realise this until after the encounter when he had searched for him online. He said the following interaction had occurred between himself and the man who he believed to be the journalist:

The man: I know you from somewhere, don’t I?

The complainant: I don’t know.

The man: Ah that’s right [unrelated name]

The complainant: I don’t remember that but please put your detail down on this form so that I can stay in touch.

14. The complainant said that the same man had approached him the next day; he had looked at the complainant and smiled then – when asked by the complainant where they had met – had walked away, “lifting a [finger] and touching his forehead on the side”. The complainant said that he found the interactions “bizarre and scary”, and further said that the man had been seen, by a third party who the complainant did not identify, following him and his daughter around the event. The complainant also said that he believed the individual asked people to film him at the event, though he said that he had not approached the people who he believed were filming him or received any other confirmation of this.

15. The complainant further said that the same journalist had breached Clause 3, as he had not identified which publication he worked for when explicitly asked by the charity  via email on 30 May 2022.

16.  The complainant further expressed concern that the journalist had breached Clause 3 (Harassment) and Clause 6 (Children) by phoning and texting a phone number which he said belonged to his daughter, and not respecting the request that he desist contacting the number. He said that his daughter was in her last year of school and completing her A-Level exams at the time of the calls and texts, and they had caused her a great deal of stress and intruded on her schoolwork.

17. The publication did not accept that the Code had been breached. It first set out the steps that the journalist had taken to ensure the accuracy of the article: he had questioned the woman who made the allegations against the complainant at length, and had put allegations made by the complainant to her; he had requested specific evidence from the woman to support her claims; the journalist had “[e]ngaged in a detailed right of reply process” with the complainant, his wife, the charity, and the Charity Commission; and made inquiries with several third-parties. The publication also provided a letter from the woman who had made the allegations, prepared for the attention of IPSO, setting out the “integrity, professionalism, [and] impartiality” of the reporter.

18. Turning to the specific breaches of Clause 1 alleged by the complainant, the publication said that the language used in the article – that he had “helped rescue” her from sex slavery – covered the charity’s role in the woman’s recovery from sex slavery. It said that the charity had organised counselling for the woman, appeared alongside her in media appearances and coordinated such appearances on her behalf, and arranged and promoted petitions and fundraisers for her cause. It said that the complainant was personally involved in these activities as the founder, chairman, and “dominant force” behind the charity.

19. It also said that the complainant and the charity itself had “publicly credited” the charity with rescuing the woman. For example, the complainant had posted to a Facebook group – using his personal Facebook account – an article about the woman’s alleged experiences. In the post which accompanied the article, the complainant had written: “British Pakistani Christian Association helped free her from Pakistan”. A further email, sent from the charity’s admin account to a magazine and signed “Wilson”, said:

Although the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA) only became cognisant of Lara’s plight later on this piece, we immediately mobilised to her help with counselling, extra costs associated with her safe exit, housing when she arrived back in Australia and on-going support and counselling. We were committed to not only emancipating her from Pakistan but also from the collateral damage (PTSD, mental trauma, potential homelessness) all concomitant [sic] on leaving her abusive situation.

Therefore, the publication did not accept that it could be inaccurate to report that the complainant “helped rescue” the woman.

20. The publication also did not accept that it was inaccurate to report that the complainant had had a “sexual affair” with the woman. The complainant had admitted to the journalist, during pre-publication correspondence, that: he had become “romantically linked” to the woman after speaking to her on the phone; had exchanged sexual text messages with the woman (copies of which were provided to IPSO); had shared a hotel room with the woman on a trip abroad; and had admitted to ‘moral failures’. It also said that the woman had told the journalist that she and the complainant had a “romantic and sexual relationship”. The publication also provided a recording of a phone call between the complainant and the woman, in which he referenced the pair engaging in a sex act together and in which the complainant and the woman both said “I love you”.

21. The newspaper also said that the woman’s allegations that she had been a “sex slave” had been previously documented in other publications, and that the complainant had provided a comment to another publication supporting her account.

22. Turning to the complainant’s concerns regarding the timeline of his resignation and the Charity Commission’s probe, the publication noted that the Companies House register for the charity showed the date of his resignation as June 2019 – rather than May 2019, as the complainant had alleged. It also noted that the Charity Commission had confirmed in direct correspondence with the journalist that its probe had begun in June 2019. Therefore, it did not accept that it was inaccurate to report that the complainant “then” quit after the woman had approached the Charity Commission (as reported by the print article) or that he had quit “amid” the probe (as reported by the online version of the article).

23. The publication accepted that the article was inaccurate to report that the probe began “last year” – in 2021 – and that it had in fact begun in 2019. It amended the online version of the article to make this clear once the inaccuracy was brought to its attention via the IPSO process. However, it said that this inaccuracy was “trivial and inconsequential” because it did not affect the thrust of the article: that the complainant had resigned after a woman had approached the Commission with allegations about his behaviour. It also noted that, prior to publication, the complainant had told the journalist that his ”timeline for events [wa]s very well off the radar but I’ll let [the journalist] realise for yourself at the right time”; he had not said precisely what he disputed. It therefore considered it to be “deeply unfair” that the complainant sought to complain on this point when he had declined the opportunity to correct the inaccuracy prior to publication.

24. Turning to the question of whether police in the UK had investigated rape allegations against the complainant, the publication noted that – in direct correspondence with the journalist – the complainant himself had said that a UK police force had investigated rape charges against him: “It should be noted that while newspapers and the Charity Commission and Australian and Essex Police were investigating me for rape[…]” and “Fawkner Police in Australia and Essex Police had already dropped her false rape charges”. It further noted that the Charity Commission had told the reporter that “[t]he allegations of criminality were referred to the police in Australia and the UK”. It also provided emails sent from UK police officers to the woman, indicating that they were liaising with their Australian counterparts on the matter; one of the emails referred to an officer’s hope to have “the suspect interviewed in regard to the allegations”.

25. The publication did not accept that omitting the fact that the complainant had made allegations against the woman rendered the article inaccurate; it said that the focus of the article was on the Charity Commission’s probe and the complainant’s resignation, neither of which were – by the complainant’s own account – related to his own allegations against the woman. Notwithstanding this, it said that the journalist had taken the allegations seriously, and had put them to the woman as well as a source which the complainant had said would corroborate his allegations. It said that both of them had refuted the complainant’s depiction of events.

26. Turning to the complainant’s Clause 2 concerns, the publication said that the article did not include information which intruded into the complainant’s private or family life: he was the trustee of a charity, which received grant funds, and which had been the subject of a critical report from the Charity Commission. He had been contacted via official email channels and a phone number which the journalist knew he had previously used for charity business and to contact the woman who he had had the affair with, and the questions related to serious allegations against the complainant – which the journalist had a duty to put to him for comment.

27. The publication did not accept that the journalist had followed the complainant at the two-day event in breach of Clause 3 because the journalist was not present at the event. He had not physically followed the complainant on that or any other occasion – nor had he caused anyone else to place the complainant under surveillance. It also said that the picture which the complainant said showed the journalist was of a different man entirely.

28. The publication also did not accept that the journalist had declined to identify who he worked for in breach of Clause 3. It said that, at the time (30 May 2022) when the journalist had been asked to identify which publication he was acting on behalf of, he was acting in a freelance capacity and not on behalf of any newspaper – he had only later approached The Sun with his story on 8 June 2022, after his research was completed. The publication provided the email from the journalist offering the story to the publication to demonstrate this. Regardless, the publication noted that the journalist had clearly identified himself as a journalist in both emails and phone calls, and had also invited the complainant and his daughter to look him up on the internet.

29. The publication did not accept that the journalist’s phone call to the complainant’s daughter breached the terms of Clause 3 or Clause 6. It said that the journalist had good reason to believe the number belonged to the complainant himself: it was the number used to communicate with the woman during their affair, and to send her sexually explicit text messages, and the complainant had previously supplied this telephone to media outlets and politicians when conducting charity business. It also did not accept that the message “I’m a teenager and don’t appreciate these calls” represented an honest or genuine request to desist, and considered that it was sent either by the complainant or at his instigation

30. The publication said that the journalist had called the phone number at 5:16pm on 23 May 2022, and had not left a message. He had subsequently called the number again five minutes later, and said he had the following conversation with a woman who answered the phone:

Woman: Hello

Journalist: Is that Wilson’s phone?

Woman: No

Journalist: Hello

Woman: Wrong number.

Journalist: Is that [complainant’s wife]?

Woman: No

Journalist: So who is that?

Woman: Erm, it’s Hannah

Journalist: Oh right so you are the daughter?

Woman: Yeah

Journalist: Right is your dad there?

Woman: Erm, no, he’s just left

Journalist: Alright, is your mum there?

Woman: Erm, no, not right now

Journalist: Alright. Any [sic] you’re involved in the charity

Woman: Yeah

Journalist: Are you a trustee?

Woman: Yeah

Journalist: Alright so maybe we can talk about the Charity Commission report.

Woman: Oh, erm, you’ll have to talk to [the complainant’s wife] about that

Journalist: [Complainant’s wife] your mum?

Woman: Yeah

Journalist: Right, so when is she going be to back? [sic]

Woman: Erm, what time is it…OK she’ll be back home soon so I can call you when she’s back.

Journalist: Alright. Has my number come up?

Woman: Yes

Journalist: Alright, so if you could give me a call when your mum gets in that would be great.

Woman: OK.

Journalist: Thanks a lot. You haven’t asked who it is yet. It’s [journalist’s name].

Woman: Oh. Ok

Journalist: Thanks very much. Bye

Woman: Bye

31. The publication said that the content of the call clearly demonstrated that: the journalist believed the phone belonged to the complainant; the journalist had emphasised that he wished to discuss the Charity Commission’s probe; the complainant’s daughter had said that she was a trustee of the charity; and the journalist had given his name. After the phone call, and having received texts asking him to desist from contacting the number, the journalist had then verified – via Companies House – that the complainant’s daughter was 18 years old at the time of the phone call, and therefore not a child.

32. The publication then said that, taking this information into account, there was no breach of Clause 6: the complainant’s daughter was 18 years old at the time of the call, and not a child, and the call did not demonstrate unnecessary intrusion into her school life; the complainant had appeared to have accepted that his daughter’s involvement with the charity’s work did not intrude on her school life, given that she promoted the charity on her social media accounts and her role in the charity was promoted in the charity’s newsletter and website. In any case, it said, the journalist was clearly seeking comment from the complainant, not his daughter.

33. The complainant reiterated that he had not had a “sexual affair” with the woman; they had not engaged in vaginal sex and he was not physically attracted to her. He further said that the sexual text messages provided by the publication lacked important context.

34. The complainant said that the emails and posts supporting the woman’s claims which had been sent from accounts associated with the charity had been drafted by the woman herself or her supporters. He provided texts to demonstrate this, in which the woman said: “Also the latest blog post is a disaster. It has so many mistakes and nobody writes your quotes better than I do. So may I please amend it?”

35. He said the woman had also written the quote attributed to him which described her as a “sex slave”, which was published by a separate publication. He further said that the petitions posted by the charity in her support were actually created by the woman and her supporter, rather than by him. He said that he had his own email address, which he would have used for emails that he deemed “very personal” and that emails sent from a generic charity email address and signed by him were not necessarily written by him. He further said that the Facebook account under his name was accessible to a number of charity volunteers – including the woman. He said, therefore, the publication could not say that the Facebook posts from this account, despite being under his name, to support its position, as the posts may not have been written by him. He also said that, at the time of the posts, the charity believed the woman’s story – but that this was no longer the case.

36. The complainant further said that the articles which the publication had provided, which it said supported the position that the woman had been a “sex slave”, did not show this. He said, in fact, what was described in the articles just showed normal living conditions and attitudes towards women in Pakistan.

37. With regards to his resignation, the complainant said that he resigned of his own volition, and that the woman had never made a formal complaint to trustees at the charity – she had only complained to a charity donor. The complainant said that he had resigned because the woman was “threatening to publicly shame” him, and that charity trustees “understood that there was a moral failure in not having curbed all of [the woman’s] attention from the beginning and were made aware that [he] was in an undesired relationship under duress”. He said that, regardless of whether the Charity Commission probe had begun in June 2019, he had still resigned well before this: in May 2019. He further said that the Charity Commission had only approached the charity in August 2019 with the allegations, and provided IPSO with what he said was the first email, dated 23 August 2019, alerting the charity to the allegations. The email included the following:

You may be aware of allegations made against a former trustee of the charity, Wilson Chowdhry. The Charity Commission has received a complaint and we are in the process of considering the information provided. […] We did not proactively contact the media in this case but we were asked to confirm whether we were aware of the allegations, which we confirmed to be the case. The allegations are extremely serious and concern inappropriate behaviour by Mr Chowdhry […]

38. The complainant said that the Companies House register was inaccurate. He accepted that it showed that he had resigned in June, but said this was an error due to charity trustees being unsure how to remove his details from the register. He reiterated that he resigned in May, and provided an email sent to the charity from the Charity Commission, which said as follows:

I can confirm that Wilson Chowdhry was removed as a trustee on the charity’s CCEW account by another trustee on 24/06/2019, which was before the Commission case was opened.

39. Turning to the emails sent by the complainant in which he had said that UK police had investigated rape charges against him by the woman, the complainant said that this was an error – perhaps caused by speed-typing. He said that he was only given one day to give comment, and therefore his response was made under pressure. The complainant provided an email from a police officer, confirming that he was never investigated for rape in the UK as the alleged crime took place in Australia and therefore was not in the jurisdiction of police in the UK.

40. Regarding the phone call made to his daughter, the complainant said that she had mistakenly said she was a trustee; this was not actually the case, and he believed that she may have made the mistake as she was nervous. He also said that the number called by the journalist did not appear on any website belonging to the charity. He further noted that the journalist did not identify himself as a journalist on the phone; rather, he had said that he wanted to discuss the Charity Commission report, and so his daughter thought that he had been calling from the regulator. The complainant further said that, regardless of whether or not she participated in charity work, his daughter was a teenager and in full-time education at the time of the call. The complainant also disputed that the journalist had been polite or courteous on the phone, saying that the call had caused his daughter great anxiety.

41. The publication said that the complainant was still performing the role of trustee in May 2019, and provided articles from the charity’s website which it said demonstrated this: four referred to the complainant as the “Chairman of the BPCA”, while two referred to him as the “president”. The publication also said that the trustees’ report and financial statement stated that the complainant resigned on 22 June 2019. It also provided a WhatsApp message from a charity member, sent on 25 June 2019, which said:

In meeting, Wilson has resigned will be on charities commission site in next few days talk tomorrow?

42. The publication said that this message, the articles and the trustee’s report and financial statement all tallied with the timeline the woman had given the reporter: on 24 May 2019 she had first informed two charity members of the alleged misconduct; in late May or early June she had told one of the members that she would be making a complaint to the Charity Commission; on 27 June 2019 a safeguarding body – acting on her behalf – submitted a complaint to the Commission. The publication further noted that the Charity Commission had, separately, told the reporter that the probe had begun in June 2019, even if the case was not formally opened until after this date. The publication provided a copy of the email between the reporter and the Charity Commission to support its position on this latter point.

43. The publication said, therefore, that care had been taken over the accuracy of the article; the journalist was entitled to rely both on the resignation date recorded on the Companies House register, and on the Commission’s response to his email.

44. The complainant said that the existence of an article written by him in May did not contradict his position that he resigned in late May 2019 – he noted that May has 31 days, and the latest post provided by the publication was from 28 May 2019. He also said that the charity member who had sent the WhatsApp message to the woman -– provided by the publication to support its position that the complainant had resigned in June – did not attend any charity trustee meetings, and so would not have been present at his resignation.

45. The publication then provided an article from 28 June 2019 which also referred to the complainant as the chairman of the charity. Therefore, it said, the complainant was still giving his title as chairman at this time and had not since sought to have the article corrected.

46. While the publication did not consider that the Code had been breached, towards the end of IPSO’s investigation it offered to publish the following corrections in print (in its regular Corrections and Clarifications column) and online (as a footnote to the article):

In print

A 19 June article said that Wilson Chowdhry resigned as Chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association charity (BPCA) after having an affair with a vulnerable female volunteer, and after the Charity Commission commenced its investigation into the BPCA. Mr Chowdhry has asked us to state his position that he resigned before the Commission investigation began. We are happy to do so.

Online

This article, now amended, originally stated that Wilson Chowdhry resigned as Chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association charity (BPCA) after having an affair with a vulnerable female volunteer, and amid an investigation by the Charity Commission into the BPCA. Mr Chowdhry has asked us to state his position that he resigned before the Commission investigation began. We are happy to do so.

47. The complainant did not accept this as a resolution to his complaint.

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.

Clause 2 (Privacy)*

i) Everyone is entitled to respect for their private and family life, home, physical and mental health, and correspondence, including digital communications.

ii) Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual's private life without consent. In considering an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy, account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information and the extent to which the material complained about is already in the public domain or will become so.

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.

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.

Clause 6 (Children)*

i) All pupils should be free to complete their time at school without unnecessary intrusion.

ii) They must not be approached or photographed at school without permission of the school authorities.

iii) Children under 16 must not be interviewed or photographed on issues involving their own or another child’s welfare unless a custodial parent or similarly responsible adult consents.

iv) Children under 16 must not be paid for material involving their welfare, nor parents or guardians for material about their children or wards, unless it is clearly in the child's interest.

v) Editors must not use the fame, notoriety or position of a parent or guardian as sole justification for publishing details of a child's private life.

Findings of the Committee

48. The Committee first made clear that it was not in a position to make a finding on whether the woman had been a “sex slave” as the article reported. The complainant disputed this claim but, by his own account, he had not known the woman at the time when she had allegedly been held as a “sex slave” and had no first-hand knowledge of this time. Without the input of one of the directly affected first-parties, the Committee was not in a position to make a finding on this point of complaint.

49. The complainant had also disputed that he had “rescued” the woman as he had met her after she had left in Pakistan.  Neither party disputed that the complainant had not met the woman until after she had left Pakistan; however, the publication had argued that “helped to rescue” covered the charity’s – and, by extension, the complainant’s – ongoing role in the woman’s recovery from alleged sex slavery; for instance, organising counselling, promoting fundraising and petitions, appearing alongside her in media appearances, and liaising with media organisations on her behalf. It had further noted that the charity had, itself, said that it had assisted the woman in escaping from Pakistan; an email sent from the charity’s admin account said that the charity had “help[ed her] with counselling, extra costs associated with her safe exit, housing when she arrived back in Australia and on-going support and counselling”. The same email went on to state that “[w]e were committed to not only emancipating her from Pakistan[…]”

50. The Committee understood that the complainant had argued that the woman herself may have drafted the above email from the charity’s admin account. However, while he had later come to disbelieve the woman’s account, it was not in dispute that he had at first believed her account and had offered her support and assistance. The charity had publicly stated that it had assisted in the woman’s rescue, and – at this time – the complainant was the chairman of the charity, and had accompanied her to media appearances; for instance, a social media post from the complainant referred to the charity having “helped free her from Pakistan”. On this basis, the Committee did not consider that there had been a failure to take care in reporting that the complainant had “helped rescue” the woman; publicly available material disseminated by the charity itself was the source of this claim. The Committee did not consider that describing the complainant’s involvement in this manner was significantly inaccurate, misleading, or distorted. There was, therefore, no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

51. The Committee had sight of messages between the complainant and the woman in which he referenced engaging in sex acts with the woman. In such circumstances, it was not inaccurate for the article to report that he had had a “sexual affair” with the woman. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

52. The Committee then examined the concerns about when the Charity Commission’s investigation had begun. It was common ground that the article was inaccurate in claiming that the Charity Commission’s investigation had begun “last year” – in 2021 – when it had in fact begun in 2019.

53. However, the Committee did not consider that the inaccuracy was significant in the context of the article as a whole, where it was not in dispute that the Charity Commission had investigated the matter and had published a report into the matter in May 2022 – which the article accurately reported. While the complainant had expressed concerns that the inaccuracy had served to make the story appear “more current” than it actually was, the Committee noted that the Charity Commission’s report had been published a month prior to the article’s publication; it was a recent matter, accurately reported as such. There was therefore no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

54. Turning to the timing of the complainant’s resignation, the complainant had said that this had occurred in May 2019 and well before the charity was aware of any Charity Commission action in August 2019, whereas the article reported after the probe began, he had “then” quit (while the online version reported that he had quit “amid” the probe). However, publicly available Companies House documents gave the complainant’s resignation date as June 2019, and the Commission had told the reporter that this was the month during which the “probe” had begun. There was no failure to take care in reporting that the complainant “then quit” after the probe began, or to report that he quit “amid” the probe: this timeline was supported by publicly available documents, the Commission’s comment, and the complainant had not disputed it directly when the timeline was put to him. In any case, the Committee did not consider that the limited possible discrepancy in the timeline to be significant in the context of the article where the complainant had said that his resignation had been prompted by the woman’s allegations: the reason for the investigation. Therefore, it did not consider this inaccuracy to represent a significant inaccuracy in need of correction under the terms of Clause 1 (ii). There was therefore no breach of Clause 1 on this point, though the Committee welcomed the publication’s amendment of the online version of the article and its offer to publish the complainant’s position in print and online

55. The complainant had said that the article had breached Clause 1 because he had not been investigated for rape charges in the UK. However, in circumstances where the complainant had said in pre-publication correspondence with the journalist that UK police had investigated the allegations, there was no failure to take care over this claim – the source of it was the complainant himself, who was in the best position to know who had investigated the matter. It was also not in dispute that the matter had been referred to UK police by the Charity Commission, and the article did not report that the complainant had been charged with any crime. Therefore, any potential inaccuracy was not so significant as to require correction under the terms of Clause 1 (ii). There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

56. The complainant had also said that the article breached Clause 1 as it omitted to reference allegations that he had made against the woman. Newspapers have the discretion over selecting material for publication, provided the Code is not otherwise breached. Therefore, the question for the Committee was whether the omission of this information rendered the article significantly inaccurate, distorted, or misleading. In the context of an article focussing on the Charity Commission report and allegations against the complainant, the Committee did not consider that omitting the complainant’s own separate allegations against the woman constituted a breach of Clause 1.

57. In reaching a decision on whether the article intruded into the complainant’s private and family life in breach of Clause 2, the Committee noted that it reported on serious allegations about his conduct while chairman of a charity. While the nature of the alleged misconduct touched on his personal life, reporting it did not represent an intrusion into his private and family life; the allegations against the complainant were that he exploited his position in civil society, and reporting on these allegations did not breach Clause 2.

58. The complainant had said that a man he believed to be a journalist working on behalf of the publication had breached Clause 3 by: speaking to him briefly; approaching him a second time to look at him; smiling at him while walking away; and asking people to film him. He also said that the man had been seen following him. The publication disputed that any journalist working on its behalf had been at the event where this pattern of behaviour had taken place. The Committee noted that it was not in a position to resolve this discrepancy but that – at any rate – the behaviour described by the complainant did not breach the terms of Clause 3. It is not against the terms of the Clause for journalists to attend the same events as the subjects of articles, to approach them, to speak to them, or to record them where no request to desist had been made. In such circumstances, there was no breach of Clause 3 on this point.

59. The complainant had said that the journalist had also breached the terms of Clause 3 by refusing to identify which publication he worked for on 30 May 2022. The Committee was satisfied that, at this time, the journalist was not working on behalf of The Sun. There was, therefore, no breach of Clause 3 in the journalist not saying that he was working on their behalf, where – on this date – it was not the case that he was. The Committee further noted that, while the journalist had not been able to specify which publication he was working on behalf of, he had made clear that he was a journalist and that he was seeking comment in relation to a story he was preparing, from the date of his first contact with the complainant on 23 May 2022.

60. The Committee next addressed the question of whether the journalist’s interaction with the complainant’s daughter had breached the terms of Clause 3. The Committee noted that the complainant’s daughter appeared to have texted the journalist saying: “I’m a teenager and don’t appreciate these calls”. The journalist had called once more and sent a text after receiving this message. The Committee therefore had to consider whether the journalist had ignored a request to desist from contacting the complainant’s daughter.

61. The Committee noted from the text message sent to the daughter that it was clear that the journalist was seeking comment from the complainant, rather than his daughter, and had inadvertently contacted a number which the complainant said belonged to her –  which was the same number which the complainant had used to communicate with the woman who he’d allegedly had an affair with. The Committee further noted that, during the call itself – the transcript of which was not disputed by the complainant – the daughter had not indicated that she did not wish to be contacted, and had agreed to call the journalist back. In addition, the journalist did not request a comment from the daughter, and – after one phone call and the text message aimed at the complainant – he had refrained from calling the number further, and had continued his enquiries via email. On balance, therefore, the Committee did not consider that there was a breach of Clause 3 arising from the phone call.

62.  Turning to the question of whether the inadvertent contact with the daughter had breached Clause 6 by intruding into the daughter’s time at school, the Committee first noted that the terms of Clause 6 (i) were still engaged despite her being 18 years old, where she was still – at the time of the alleged breach – in full-time secondary-level education. The Committee then noted that the journalist had not sought to contact the daughter, and had been unaware that the phone was in her possession at the time that the call was made. It further noted that she held roles within the charity, having been given access to a phone which had previously been used for charity business – and which had the same number as the phone which the complainant had used to communicate with the woman who had alleged that she had an affair with him – as well as playing a public role in the charity; promoting it on her social media account, and making appearances on the charity’s website on social media channels. In such circumstances, an approach by the journalist about a matter concerning the charity – which resulted in her answering phone calls – would not represent an intrusion into her schooling. Finally, the Committee noted that the contact related to the charity only; she was not contacted in relation to any details about her private life, or in any capacity relating to her schooling. Taking these factors into account, the Committee did not consider that there had been a breach of Clause 6.

Conclusion(s)

63. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

64. N/A


Date complaint received: 18/06/2022

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 25/01/2023


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.