Ruling

10486-22 Worrall v elystandard24.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      10th November 2022

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of correction

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 2 Privacy, 3 Harassment

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 10486-22 Worrall v elystandard24.co.uk

Summary of Complaint

1. David I. Worrall complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that elystandard24.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), and Clause 3 (Harassment) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Villagers react angrily to 51 extra holiday lodges”, published on 15 April 2022.

2. The article, which appeared online only, reported on plans to build holiday lodges on the grounds of a golf and country club. The article closed with the following paragraph: “Nine years ago, the complex became the centre of controversy after Bespoke Oak Supplies Ltd of Wisbech celebrated completion of the £2m club house. Managing director David Worrall toasted his company’s craftsmanship with champagne but the next day it all went horribly wrong. His firm went bust owing £1.6 million.” The article was accompanied by a photograph of the complainant holding a glass of champagne.

3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. He said that it was inaccurate to state that “the next day it all went horribly wrong. His firm went bust owing £1.6 million”, both because it was not “his firm” - he had simply, at one time prior to the company entering liquidation, been its managing director – and because the company had entered liquidation two months after the party celebrating the clubhouse’s opening, when he was no longer associated with the company. He said that the celebration of the clubhouse’s opening had taken place on 13 of February 2013; he resigned on 18 February 2013; and the proposal for the company to be voluntarily “wound up” – which the complainant said he was unaware of at the time – was made on 23 April 2013. He said that these alleged inaccuracies constituted an immense threat to his reputation. He also said that the photograph which accompanied the article was in breach of Clause 1. He said that he had not objected to the photograph being taken in 2013, but he did object to its use in the context of an article which he considered to be inaccurate.

4. The complainant also said that the article breached Clause 2, as he considered the article to be a personal attack that intruded into his private and family life, and that the article’s publication had led to great distress and embarrassment to his family. He further said that the article breached the Public Interest section of the Code, and that the terms of Clause 3 had been breached, as he considered the publication of inaccurate articles constituted persistent pursuit in breach of this Clause.

5. The complainant provided an article, published by the Cambs Times’ sister newspaper in June 2013, which reported on the company having gone “bust”. The 2013 article said: “[M]anaging director David Worrall drank champagne to toast the completion of a £2million leisure complex but the next day he quit. […] Within weeks, his firm went bust owing £1.6million.”

6. The publication first apologised for any offence caused to the complainant by way of his inclusion in the article. It said that having reviewed the editor’s inbox, where the original complaint email had been sent, it could not locate the email but nevertheless wanted to deal promptly with the issues raised by the complainant. It offered to: remove all references to the complainant and his former company from the online article, and offer an assurance that the information would not be republished online or in print; to speak to the complainant personally to assist in “putting the record straight”; to publish a clarification online and print, explaining the circumstances of the company’s dissolution and the complainant’s involvement in the company, along with an apology if it had misunderstood the complainant’s position. The references to the complainant were removed from the article prior to IPSO beginning its investigation.

7. The publication also proposed to publish the following clarification as a footnote to the online article:

In a recent article in the Cambs Times and Wisbech Standard reference was made to Bespoke Oak Supplies Ltd and its managing director David Worrall. The photograph was repeated from an article published in 2013 and the completion by Bespoke Oak Supplies Ltd of a major construction contract. Mr Worrall says his Wisbech company did not, as stated, go into liquidation the day after the reception to celebrate completion of the contract but did so later. Mr Worrall says at the time of the liquidation of Bespoke Oak Supplies, he was no longer a shareholder and not involved with the company's finances at that stage. We are happy to make this clarification.

8. Notwithstanding its apology to the complainant and proposal to publish a clarification, the publication said that it did not consider that the article was significantly inaccurate, misleading, or distorted. It said that the complainant was shown in Companies House documents as being both a director and managing director of the company.  It also said that Bespoke Oak Supplies had ceased trading and closed its premises the day after the 13th of February party; it did not therefore accept that it could be inaccurate to report that “the next day it all went horribly wrong. His firm went bust owing £1.6 million” when the company had ceased trading while the complainant was still managing director, and the business had gone into liquidation shortly after his resignation. It considered that it was semantics to argue that summarising these events as the article rendered it significantly inaccurate, misleading, or distorted in breach of Clause 1.

9. To support its position, the publication provided: a copy of the liquidator’s report, which showed that on 23 April 2013 the company’s liabilities totalled £1,643,053.44; a form from the publicly accessible Companies House website showing that the complainant ceased being a managing director of the company on 18 February 2013; and an article which had been published at the time of the clubhouse’s opening on 22 February 2013.

10. The publication did not accept that the use of the photograph of the complainant represented a possible breach of Clause 1. It said that the photograph was taken at the party celebrating the clubhouse’s opening and the complainant had consented to being photographed. It also did not consider the terms of Clause 2 or Clause 3 to be engaged, and noted that the complainant had spoken openly with the editor of the publication a number of times during previous years – for instance, inviting him to his home and taking lunch with him to discuss Bespoke Oak Limited.

11. The complainant said that the action proposed by the publication was not sufficient to address his concerns. He wished for the newspaper to publish a front-page retraction, acknowledging that the article was incorrect and apologising to him, his family, and his friends.

12. The complainant further said that it was untrue to state that Bespoke Oak Supplies had closed and ceased trading on 14 February 2013, and questioned why the newspaper had published an article about Bespoke Oak Supplies on 22 February 2013 if it had ceased trading over a week earlier.

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.

The Public Interest (*)

There may be exceptions to the clauses marked * where they can be demonstrated to be in the public interest.

(1.) The public interest includes, but is not confined to:

-  Detecting or exposing crime, or the threat of crime, or serious impropriety.

-  Protecting public health or safety.

-  Protecting the public from being misled by an action or statement of an individual or organisation.

-  Disclosing a person or organisation’s failure or likely failure to comply with any obligation to which they are subject.

-  Disclosing a miscarriage of justice.

-  Raising or contributing to a matter of public debate, including serious cases of impropriety, unethical conduct or incompetence concerning the public.

-  Disclosing concealment, or likely concealment, of any of the above.

(2.) There is a public interest in freedom of expression itself.

(3.) The regulator will consider the extent to which material is already in the public domain or will become so.

(4.) Editors invoking the public interest will need to demonstrate that they reasonably believed publication - or journalistic activity taken with a view to publication – would both serve, and be proportionate to, the public interest and explain how they reached that decision at the time.

(5.) An exceptional public interest would need to be demonstrated to over-ride the normally paramount interests of children under 16.

Findings of the Committee

13. While there was a dispute over the precise date on which Bespoke Oak Supplies had ceased trading, which the Committee was not in a position to resolve, both parties accepted that the company had not entered liquidation until two months after the party celebrating the opening of the golf club, and that the complainant had resigned as managing director prior to this. The article reported that the complainant “toasted his company’s craftsmanship with champagne but the next day it all went horribly wrong. His firm went bust owing £1.6 million.”

14. The Committee considered that the publication had not taken care in reporting that “Managing Director David Worrall toasted his company’s craftsmanship with champagne but the next day it all went horribly wrong. His firm went bust […] “, as this implied that the company had entered liquidation the day after his attendance at the  party, and while the complainant remained Managing Director.  In fact, the company went into liquidation two months later in April 2013, following the complainant’s resignation as a director on 18 February 2013. Referring to the company as “his” company in the context of reporting on the company’s liquidation was inaccurate, in circumstances where  he was no longer Managing Director at the time the company was liquidated. The newspaper’s own previous reporting made clear in  2013  that the timeframe had been longer and that the company “went bust within weeks” of the party. It had also not taken any steps, prior to the publication of the article under complaint,  to confirm the date on which the company “went bust”, such as by contacting the complainant, or consulting publicly available records at Companies House. There was therefore a breach of Clause 1(i).

15. The Committee considered the inaccuracy to be significant, in circumstances where misreporting the date on which the company entered into liquidation implied that the complainant was still involved with the company at the time of its liquidation, when this was not the case – this inaccuracy had the potential to impact on the complainant’s reputation. The newspaper was therefore required to correct the inaccuracy, in line with the terms of Clause 1 (ii).

16. The Committee turned next to the question of whether the action taken by the publication was sufficient to address the terms of Clause 1 (ii). The publication had, in its first communication with the complainant, offered to publish a clarification explaining the circumstances of the company’s dissolution and the complainant’s involvement in the company, along with an apology if it had misunderstood the complainant’s position. It had later proposed the following wording:

Mr Worrall says his Wisbech company did not, as stated, go into liquidation the day after the reception to celebrate completion of the contract but did so later. Mr Worrall says at the time of the liquidation of Bespoke Oak Supplies, he was no longer a shareholder and not involved with the company's finances at that stage.

17. The Committee considered that the newspaper had offered to publish a correction promptly – once it became aware of the complainant’s concerns via IPSO – and had proposed to publish it in a sufficiently prominent position: as a footnote to the amended online article. However, the wording of the correction only put the complainant’s position on record, rather than putting the correct factual position on record. The Committee further noted that the proposed wording referenced only inaccurate articles in other, sister, publications, rather than the publication under complaint. There was, therefore, a breach of Clause 1 (ii), where the correction did not make clear that it was a matter of fact that the complainant had resigned before the company had entered liquidation.

18. The complainant also considered that the correction should have included an apology. Notwithstanding that the correction proposed did not put the correct position of fact on record, the Committee did not consider that an apology should be required given: the promptness with which the publication had attempted to address the complainant’s concerns during the IPSO process; that fact that it had offered to apologise during correspondence with the complainant; and the fact that it had apologised directly to the complainant for any offence caused by his inclusion in the article. There was no breach of Clause 1 (ii) arising from the lack of apology in the proposed remedial action.

19.  The Committee also considered that the publication had demonstrated that it had taken care over the claim that the company had owed £1.6 million at the time it went “bust”, where the liquidators’ report showed liabilities totalling £1,643,053.44. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

20. While the complainant did not consent to his photograph being used in the context of the article under complaint, this did not render its use inaccurate, misleading, or distorted. There was no breach of Clause 1 arising from the photograph’s use.

21.  The complainant’s previous involvement with Bespoke Oak Limited was a matter of public record, and reporting on this did not constitute an intrusion into the complainant’s private or family life. The Committee also did not consider that the publication of the article constituted persistent pursuit as defined by Clause 3, and noted that persistent pursuit is generally defined as a journalist following or contacting an individual against their wishes. There was, therefore, no breach of Clause 2 or Clause 3.

22. While the complainant had expressed concerns that the publication of the article was not in the public interest, the Committee noted that it was not possible for this portion of the Code to be breached. The Public Interest section of the Code is not a standalone Clause; rather, it allows for publication to publish stories and engage in activity which would otherwise engage certain Clauses of the Code, provided there is a proportionate public interest.

Conclusion(s)

23. The complaint was partly upheld under Clause 1.

Remedial Action Required

24. Having upheld a breach of Clause 1, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required. In circumstances where the Committee establishes a breach of the Editors’ Code, it can require the publication of a correction and/or adjudication, the terms and placement of which is determined by IPSO.

25. In coming to a view on the appropriate remedy in this case, the Committee considered the seriousness and extent of the breach of the Code. It also noted the steps taken by the newspaper following IPSO investigation, which included the removal of the information under complaint from the online article and the proposal of a correction – notwithstanding that the wording of the correction did not address the terms of Clause 1 (ii). The Committee therefore considered that the appropriate remedy was the publication of a correction, putting on record the correct position regarding the complainant and his former company.

26.  The Committee then considered the placement of the correction. It should appear as a footnote to the online amended article. The wording of this clarification should be agreed with IPSO in advance and should make clear that it had been published following an upheld ruling by the Independent Press Standards Organisation.


Date complaint received: 04/07/2022

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 13/10/2022