Ruling

10430-22 North v The Times

    • Date complaint received

      12th January 2023

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 10430-22 North v The Times

Summary of Complaint

1. Peter North complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Times breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Asylum site villagers plagued by far right”, published on 9 July 2022.

2. The article reported on Home Office plans to house 1,500 male asylum seekers in Linton-on-Ouse. It reported that the plans had “become a magnet for the far right” and that “[r]esidents of Linton-on-Ouse, which has a population of 700, are mostly opposed to the creation of an asylum centre themselves on the grounds that there is not enough infrastructure but say they have been intimidated after challenging the activists”. It included the accounts of some residents who opposed the plans; one resident said that someone had told her: “People could find out where you live and put a brick through your window.” Another resident who opposed the individuals being housed at the proposed site said that “the far right are against migrants full stop”. This resident also described how he had encountered a YouTuber who had walked through the village stating, “[y]ou can’t put 1,500 of them anywhere they are allowed to roam free”; he then asked her to stop filming him and was described as an “absolute arsehole”.

3. The article went on to report that “Patriotic Alternative [PA], the largest far-right organisation in Britain, has since held rallies in the village”, and that “Pete North [the complainant], a former Ukip candidate who was sued for libel for £20,000 after accusing the philosopher AC Grayling of paedophilia, has been seen regularly at these rallies, according to Scout, a blog that monitors the far right”. The article was accompanied by a photograph of a group of people, with the following caption: “The far-right activist [named individual], circled above, at a rally in Linton-on-Ouse. Pete North, a former Ukip candidate, left, has been spotted”. A smaller inset photograph of the complainant also appeared alongside the group photograph.

4. The article also appeared online under the headline “Linton-on-Ouse: Asylum site villagers plagued by far right” and in substantially the same format as the print article. It described the complainant as having “been seen often at the rallies”. The online article also contained the photograph of the group of individuals at a rally and included a larger photograph of the complainant.

5. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. He said that the article was attempting to smear the local opposition as far-right by association, which included himself. He said that this was inaccurate, as he was not a member of any far-right organisation and that the inclusion of his photograph in the article suggested that he was “far right”. He added that the article relied on a blog post by an individual he considered to be a “far-left activist”, in which he made the same false allegations.

6. The complainant further said that the article was inaccurate to claim that “Patriotic Alternative [PA], the largest far-right organisation in Britain, has since held rallies in the village”, as he was not aware of any rallies that were organised by PA. He said that there was a poorly attended protest organised by two residents of the village and another one organised by Linton Action Group, and that he had attended both because he lived near the RAF base, which was the proposed location for the facility. The complainant added that he was in no way connected to PA and – prior to protests in Linton-on-Ouse – he had no interactions with members of PA that he was aware of.

7. Further, the complainant said that it was irrelevant, and therefore in breach of Clause 1, for the article to include the fact that he is a former UKIP candidate and had been sued for libel: “Pete North, a former Ukip candidate who was sued for libel for £20,000 after accusing the philosopher AC Grayling of paedophilia, has been seen often at the rallies, according to Scout, a blog that monitors the far right”. He also said that he had only attended two protests, and therefore did not consider attending two protests could be characterised as attending them “regularly” and “often”. He also said that he did not consider the protests constituted rallies.

8. The complainant also said that the article provided no source for the following quote: “[r]esidents of Linton-on-Ouse, North Yorkshire, which has a population of 700, are mostly opposed to the creation of an asylum centre themselves on the grounds that there is not enough infrastructure, but say they have been intimidated after challenging the activists". He did not consider that this accurately represented the views of the local people that he had spoken to; he added that many locals were not convinced that those arriving to the UK on dinghies were genuine refugees.

9. The publication did not accept a breach of the Editors’ Code. Regarding the complainant’s concerns that the article suggested that he was “far right”, it said that the complainant’s involvement in opposition to the proposed asylum centre was not in dispute and that his political views were a matter of public record. It said that the publication was entitled to characterise these views as such and noted that the complainant described the author of the blog post as “far-left”. In addition, it provided a blog post written by the complainant, where he had stated: “If anyone wants to call me far right then so be it”. The publication further added that the photograph included in the article showed the complainant standing amongst a group of PA activists. It also provided screenshots of the complainant interacting over social media with members of PA and promoting one of the protests.

10. In relation to the claim regarding PA holding rallies in the village, the publication said that the group’s presence in the village and its involvement in local protests had been well documented and was a matter of public record. It said that its activities had been documented on its Telegram channel and provided links to several posts by PA stating that they had been in Linton-on-Ouse distributing leaflets and surveying people, and one including a video of one of the protests. The publication said that the complainant could be seen in a video of one of the protests – which it provided – shaking hands with activists, and that an individual involved with PA could also be seen in this video. It added that the complainant was also interviewed by a far-right activist at a second rally and provided the video of this. It said that it understood that PA activists were also present at this protest. In relation to word “rallies”, the publication said that the vocabulary used to describe a particular event was a matter of editorial discretion and that the definition of a “rally” is “a public meeting to support or protest against a particular cause, often political in nature”. The publication said that PA’s activities in the village date back to April 2022 and its understanding was that PA had begun its campaign in the village after being alerted to the asylum issue by two local individuals.

11. In response to the complainant’s concerns regarding the quote “[r]esidents of Linton-on-Ouse, North Yorkshire, which has a population of 700, are mostly opposed to the creation of an asylum centre themselves on the grounds that there is not enough infrastructure, but say they have been intimidated after challenging the activists", the publication said that the article included the abuse and threats experienced by two named residents. It also added that it included the intimidation suffered by a third individual, but who requested anonymity in the article.

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

12. The Committee first considered the complainant’s concern that the article suggested he was “far right” by the inclusion of a photograph of him with a number of other individuals at one of the protests held at the village, one of whom was described in the caption to the photograph as “far right”. The Committee considered that the characterisation of political philosophies as “left” or “right” on the political spectrum is a subjective assessment, rather than a verifiable fact. It acknowledged that where a given viewpoint is placed on that spectrum will be a matter of debate. It was the Committee’s view that in this instance the publication was using “far right” as a very broad and subjective descriptor for those who most actively opposed the asylum centre.   In any event, the Committee noted that the article did not explicitly state that the complainant was “far right”, and it was not in dispute that he had appeared in the photograph. On this basis, the publication had taken care not to publish inaccurate information under Clause 1(i) and there was no significant inaccuracy that required correction under Clause 1(ii).

13. The complainant said that the article inaccurately claimed that “Patriotic Alternative, the largest far-right organisation in Britain, ha[d] since held rallies in the village” and that he had been seen “regularly” at these rallies. He said that he was not aware of any rallies that had been organised by PA. The Committee noted the publication’s position that PA had attended at least two protests which had been held in the village; a member of PA could be seen in the photograph included in the article and in one of the videos provided by the publication and the publication said that it understood PA activists were present at another protest. It was a reasonable characterisation to describe these protests, which sought to mobilise people around a particular cause, as “rallies”. It was not in dispute that the complainant had also attended these protests and reporting that the complainant had been seen “regularly”, where he had attended at least two protests, was not a significant inaccuracy which required correction. In addition, the Committee did not consider that stating that the complainant had been seen at rallies “held” by PA was a significant inaccuracy, where PA and the complainant had attended the same protests and where the complainant accepted that he had spoken to and debated with the activists present. There was no breach of Clause 1 on these points.

14. The complainant had also expressed concern that the article had included the fact that he was a former UKIP candidate and had been previously sued for libel. The Committee first noted that the complainant did not dispute the accuracy of this information; his concerns lay with its inclusion in the article, which he considered was not necessary or relevant. The Committee noted that newspapers have the right to choose which pieces of information they publish, as long as this does not lead to a breach of the Code. In this instance, the complainant did not dispute the accuracy of the information and the publication was entitled to include it in the article. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

15. The Committee next considered the complainant’s concerns that the article had provided no source for the following statement: “[r]esidents of Linton-on-Ouse, North Yorkshire, which has a population of 700, are mostly opposed to the creation of an asylum centre themselves on the grounds that there is not enough infrastructure, but say they have been intimidated after challenging the activists". The Committee noted that the article had included a number of accounts of individuals who appeared to be “intimidated”. In addition, it was not in dispute that many residents were opposed to the creation of an asylum centre, and the article did not need to include all the reasons residents were opposed to it. Where the complainant did not dispute that people were opposed to the creation of the centre, and where the article had provided a number of accounts of individuals who appeared to be “intimidated” by other individual’s actions, the Committee did not consider the statement to be inaccurate or misleading. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

Conclusion(s)

16. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

17. N/A


Date complaint received: 09/07/2022

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 19/12/2022


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.