Ruling

10348-22 Malster v Mail Online

    • Date complaint received

      5th January 2023

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 2 Privacy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 10348-22 Malster v Mail Online

Summary of Complaint

1. Dudley Malster complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Mail Online breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “EXCLUSIVE Revealed: 'Heartless' landlord who kicked out Ukrainian family-of-nine who fled their war-torn home for a new life in Britain is a married senior Royal Navy officer with two young children who has served in Afghanistan”, published on 29th June 2022.

2. The article reported on the experience of a Ukrainian family who had been “given an eviction notice to quit and have now had to start crowdfunding for a new home”. The article reported that the family had “fled war-torn” Ukraine and been hosted by a family in the UK. The hosts were described as “kicking out” the Ukrainian family “after just one month”. It continued by stating that the “landlord [the complainant] is a married senior officer in the navy who lives next door to the family with his wife and two young children – and has enjoyed a 20-year career in the military”. The article also included further, specific, details of the father’s military service “according to his LinkedIn profile”. It stated that the property the Ukrainian family was living in “was previously owned by [the complainant’s wife’s] father […] before he died last year”. The article quoted the Ukrainian family as saying “’[the complainant and his wife] were so welcoming and made us feel this was a place where we could stay’” and also stated that the couple “couldn’t have been nicer hosts when they arrived… [and] [h]e said their hosts were warm, inviting and friendly”, but now said “the landlord is being heartless”. The article said the publication had tried to contact the complainant, but he was “not at [his] semi-detached home and did not return calls”. The article also included an image of the complainant as well as a picture of the eviction notice served on the Ukrainian family. It also included an image of the house in which the Ukrainian family were living and linked to a JustGiving page they had set up. The article also named the town the family was being hosted in.

3. The complainant said the article inaccurately described him as a “landlord”. He said he was an executor of the property the Ukrainian family were staying in and that he did not and would never own it, and therefore, he could not be a landlord. He said the Ukrainian family did not have a tenancy, as they were guests under the scheme, and that it was his wife who chose to host them and who appeared on the paperwork as the sole host. He accepted that the “Notice to Quit” document that had been sent to the Ukrainian family had described him as a “landlord”. However, he said this was because the scheme allowing people to host Ukrainian refugees was very new, and so there was no precedent for asking the refugees to leave the property, and that he had been advised to use it.

4. The complainant also disputed the term “heartless landlord” as the article quoted the Ukrainian family who had described the complainant and his family as “kind”. He also said it was inaccurate for the article to state the family would be “kicked out” to live on the streets as this does not happen to families with children in the UK. The complainant also said it was inaccurate to suggest that the family had fled Ukraine with very little with them as they had left with their car, and he believed the family owned properties and businesses in Ukraine.

5. The complainant also said that the article breached Clause 2 because it reported information that could lead to readers locating his house, namely: a picture of the house the Ukrainian family were staying in, and reported he lived next door; it stated he lived in a semi-detached house and the name of the town he lived in.

6. The complainant also said that the article breached his privacy by reporting: his, his wife’s, and his late father-in-law’s names; the existence of the JustGiving page which had pictured and named the school his children attended; and an image of the notice to quit. The complainant said that the inclusion of his picture and information about his career compounded the intrusion into his privacy. He asserted that, as a serving member of the UK military, and with the media attention that resulted from asked the family to leave, exposing his name and address put him and his family at risk.

7. The publication said it did not accept a breach of Clause 1. It said that the article had not reported that the complainant owned the property and it had made clear that it had belonged the complainant’s late father-in-law. Moreover, the publication noted that the “Notice to Quit” had named the complainant and his wife as a “landlord”. It said, therefore, it was not inaccurate or misleading for the article to refer to him as such. Regarding the description of the complainant as “heartless”, the publication said this appeared in quotation marks throughout the article to denote it as a quotation from the Ukrainian family, and noted the full quote had been published in the article. The publication also said it was not inaccurate to omit references to the Ukrainian family had left with their car.

8. Furthermore, the publication did not accept a breach of Clause 2. It said that much of the information in the article was in the public domain. It said that the complainant and his wife were listed on the public land registry, which gave their precise address – which had not been included in the article. It said that in any case, it did not consider that the information in the article would have led to the identification of the complainant’s address. It also said the complainant did not have an expectation of privacy over his address – it noted he had not provided evidence to demonstrate that its publication was likely to lead to security issues.

9. The publication also said that the complainant’s career history was listed on his public LinkedIn profile, and that the picture of him only showed his likeness, which was not private information. Regarding the “Notice to Quit”, the publication said this was not a private document and that the newspaper had received it from the Ukrainian family. In addition, during direct correspondence between the parties, the publication stated that the Ukrainian family were appealing the eviction and, as a result, much of what the complainant had said was private, including his address, had been heard in open court after the publication of the article. The publication also said that someone’s name was not private information, and it was standard practice for articles to include basic biographical information.

10. In relation to the inclusion of the complainant’s father-in-law as the owner of the property the Ukrainian family were living in, the publication said this was not private because ownership of a property is publicly registered. The publication provided title deeds to showing the complainant’s father-in-law’s ownership.

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.

Findings of the Committee

11. The Committee first considered the points of complaint under Clause 1. Regarding the complainant’s concern that he was not a “landlord” because he did not own the property and the family did not have a tenancy, the Committee considered that, where it was not in dispute that he was formally hosting the family in that property, and where he appeared on the relevant legal notice asking the Ukrainian family to leave as a “landlord”, it was not significantly inaccurate or misleading for the article to describe him as such. The article made clear that the complainant had initially allowed the Ukrainian family to stay in the house, and was now asking them to leave via a legal notice – the exact nature of his relationship to the property was not significant in this context and there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

12. The complainant had said the article was also inaccurate because it described him as “heartless”. “Heartless” appeared in quotation marks throughout the article, and the article had included a quote from the Ukrainian family in which they described the complainant as “heartless”. This, therefore, set out the basis of the claim. In addition, the Committee considered that describing something as “heartless” was clearly subjective and the publication had provided sufficient basis for its characterisation of the complainant as so: he was making the Ukrainian family leave the house. The publication had taken sufficient care over this claim and there was no breach of Clause 1.

13. In addition, the Committee did not accept the complainant’s opinion that the article implied that the Ukrainian family had very little – it simply reported that the family had “fled” and that they were raising money so they could find somewhere else in the area to live. The complainant did not dispute this and there was no breach of Clause 1. In relation to the complainant’s concerns that the family would not be “kicked out” because a family with children would not be forced to live on the streets, the Committee noted that the article did not claim that the family would have to “live on the streets”. It considered that “kicked out” was not an inaccurate characterisation where the family were being asked to leave their current place of residence. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

14. The Committee then considered the complaint under Clause 2. Whilst the complainant had raised concerns that the information in the article could have led readers to identify his home, the Committee did not consider that the information in the article identified his home: it did not show a picture of the complainant’s house, nor did it report his address. There was no breach of Clause 2 on this point.

15. In addition, the names of the complainant, his wife, his late father-in-law, the fact of his late father-in-law being the previous owner of the property (which, again, was on the public land registry), the link and reference to fundraising pages, and his career history which was publicly available on his LinkedIn profile were not information over which the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy. There was no breach of Clause 2.

Conclusion(s)

16. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

17. N/A


Date complaint received: 04/07/2022

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 02/12/2022