Ruling

10492-22 Portes v Sunday Express

    • Date complaint received

      15th December 2022

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of correction

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 10492-22 Portes v Sunday Express

Summary of Complaint

1. Jonathan Portes complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Sunday Express breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Asylum 'children' actually over 18”, published on 10th July 2022.

2. The article, which appeared on page 2, reported “nearly two thirds of asylum seekers who claimed to be unaccompanied children were found to be over 18” according to figures published by the Home Office. It then stated that from “January 2021 to the end of March [2022] the Home Office [had] resolved 2,520 cases after it suspected someone who claimed to be an unaccompanied child was actually an adult – 1,626 (65 per cent) of them were found to be 18 or over.” It then reported that the figure also showed “more than half of those claiming to be unaccompanied children from the start of 2018 were actually adults”, with “the total number of resolved cases since then [being] 4,814” and applicants “found to be over 18 in 2,722 (56 per cent) of cases”.

3. The article also appeared online under the headline “Two thirds of asylum seekers who claimed to be children were found to be over 18”, with the sub-heading stating: “NEARLY two thirds of asylum seekers who claimed to be unaccompanied children were found to be over 18, new figures show”.

4. The complainant said the claim that “two thirds of asylum seekers who claimed to be children were found to be over 18” was inaccurate and misleading; in fact, the majority of asylum seekers identifying as unaccompanied children were indeed found to be children. The figures reported by the newspaper related only to those cases where the Home Office had actively disputed the given age of the asylum seeker. The complainant accepted that the text of the article stated that the headline figure related to age dispute cases from January 2021 to March 2022 – which he agreed was an accurate representation of the statistics published by the Home Office – but did not consider that this mitigated the inaccurate and misleading impression given by the headline, sub-headline and opening paragraph.

5. The publication accepted that, if read in isolation, the headline of the online article could be misleading. However, it argued that the text of the article made sufficiently clear that the headline figure related to age dispute cases from January 2021 to March 2022.

6. Notwithstanding this, on 5th August 2022 – 25 days after the article’s publication and 15 days after it had received the complaint from IPSO – the publication amended the online headline to read “Report into child asylum seekers found two-third accused of lying were found to be over 18”. It also amended the sub-heading to read “NEARLY two thirds of asylum seekers suspected of lying when claiming they were unaccompanied children were found to be over 18, new figures show” and published the following correction below the headline of the online article:

“A previous version of this article reported that from January 2021 to the end of March this year 65 per cent of unaccompanied child migrants who arrived into the UK via illegal routes were found to be over the age of 18. To clarify, this figure refers to the 2,315 cases where the Home Office suspected the claimant was lying about their age. Of these, 1,501 were found to be adults claiming to be children. There were a further 1,766 unaccompanied children whose age was not in doubt. If these are included in the total, 36 per cent of all 'unaccompanied children' were in fact adults. The article also reported that figures showed that 'more than half (56 per cent) of those claiming to be unaccompanied children from the start of 2018 were actually adults'. This figure referred to disputed cases only. In fact, 20% of the total number of asylum seekers claiming to be unaccompanied children between January 2018 and March 2022. in the UK were later found to be adults We are happy to make this point clear.”

7. The publication also published, on 7th August, and the fourth edition of the newspaper since the article’s publication, a standalone item on page 2, under the headline “Asylum ‘children’ actually over 18: A clarification”:

“Our article “asylum ‘children’ actually over 18” published on July 10 reported that from January 2021 to the end of March this year 65 per cent of unaccompanied child migrants who arrived into the UK via illegal routes were found to be over the age of 18. To clarify, this figure refers to the 2,315 cases where the Home Office suspected the claimant was lying about their age. Of these, 1,501 were found to be adults claiming to be children. There were a further 1,766 unaccompanied children whose age was not in doubt. if these are included in the total, 36 per cent of all “unaccompanied children” were in fact adults. The article also reported that figures showed that “more than half (56 per cent) of those claiming to be unaccompanied children from the start of 2018 were actually adults”. this figure referred to disputed cases only. In fact, 20 per cent of the total number of asylum seekers claiming to be unaccompanied children between January 2018 and March 2022 in the UK were later found to be adults. We are happy to make this point clear.”

8. The complainant, however, did not consider that the steps taken by the newspaper were sufficient; he expressed concern that a “clarification”, rather than a correction, had been published and that the wording did not make clear that the previous articles had been incorrect. The complainant proposed the publication of the following correction:

“Our article "Asylum 'children' actually over 18" published on July 10 reported that from January 2021 to the end of March this year 65 per cent of unaccompanied child migrants who arrived into the UK via illegal routes were found to be over the age of 18. This claim was incorrect. It refers only to the 2,315 cases where the Home Office suspected the claimant was in fact over 18, of whom 1,501 were found to be over 18. There were a further 1,766 unaccompanied children whose age was not in doubt, so approximately 36 per cent of all unaccompanied child migrants were in fact found to be over 18. The article also reported that figures showed that 'more than half (56 per cent) of those claiming to be unaccompanied children from the start of 2018 were actually adults'. Again, this figure was incorrect, and referred to disputed cases only. In fact, fewer than 20% of the total number of asylum seekers claiming to be unaccompanied children between January 2018 and March 2022. in the UK were later found to be adults We are happy to make this point clear. “

9. The alternative wording proposed by the complainant was not accepted by the publication. The matter was passed to the Committee for adjudication.

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 terms of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code are explicit in their requirement that headline statements should be supported by the text of the article. The Committee emphasised that the body of the article cannot be relied upon to correct an actively misleading impression given by a headline.

11. The online headline made the clear assertion that “[t]wo thirds of asylum seekers who claimed to be children were found to be over 18”. This was misleading and distorted the Home Office data cited by the newspaper, which related only to the proportion of disputed cases of unaccompanied child asylum seekers arriving in the UK; it did not relate to the total number of unaccompanied child asylum seekers. This was compounded by the sub-heading of the online article, which repeated the statement. While the Committee noted that the body of the article detailed that between January 2021 to March 2022 “the Home Office has resolved 2,520 cases after it suspected someone who claimed to be an unaccompanied child was actually an adult – 1,626 (65 per cent) of them were found to be 18 or over”, this was not sufficient to rectify the misleading impression already given by the headline. The publication of the headline and sub-headline amounted to a clear failure by the newspaper to take care not to publish misleading or distorted information, raising a breach of Clause 1(i).

12. In the context of an article about migration and asylum, misrepresenting publicly available figures that suggested that the proportion of unaccompanied child asylum seekers was higher than was actually the case was considered significant and as such required correction under Clause 1 (ii) of the Editors’ Code.

13. Similarly, the print article incorrectly stated, “NEARLY two third of asylum seekers who claimed to be unaccompanied children were found to be over 18”. For the reasons outlined above, this statement and the opening paragraph of the article misrepresented and distorted the figures published by the Home Office. As such, the Committee considered that the newspaper had failed to take care not to publish inaccurate or misleading information under Clause 1 (i). For the same reasons given above, this was significant and as required correction under the terms of Clause 1 (ii).

14. The Committee next considered whether the remedial action taken by the newspaper was sufficient to meet the terms of Clause 1 (ii). The publication had amended the headline of the online article and published a clarification, beneath the amended headline, 15 days after it had been notified of the complaint by IPSO and 25 days after the article’s publication; it had also published a clarification in print, as a standalone article on page 2, two days later. While the locations of these two items were sufficiently prominent, the Committee did not consider that they were sufficiently prompt to meet the terms of Clause 1 (ii). Further, the Committee did not consider that the wording of both items satisfied the terms of Clause 1 (ii) as they did not identity, and then correct, the significancy inaccuracies within both versions of the article. The Committee noted that the wording of both clarifications did not make explicitly clear that a previous version of the article was inaccurate to state that two thirds of asylum seekers who claimed to be children were found to be over 18, as opposed to requiring clarification. As such, there was a further breach of Clause 1 (ii).

Conclusion(s)

15. The complaint was upheld.

Remedial Action Required

16. Having upheld the complaint, 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 an adjudication, the nature, extent and placement of which is determined by IPSO.

17. The Committee considered that both the headline and sub-headline of the online article inaccurately and misleadingly reported on publicly available figures relating to the proportion of unaccompanied child asylum seekers arriving in the UK who were later found to be adults. While the clarification offered by the newspaper had been inadequate, it had shown a willingness to resolve the complaint and correct the matter. Therefore, on balance, the Committee considered that a correction, putting the correct position on record was the appropriate remedy.

18. The Committee then considered the placement of this correction. This correction should be added to the foot of the online article, given that the headline had already been amended, and appear as a standalone correction in the publication’s Corrections and Clarifications column – both online and in print. The wording should also be agreed with IPSO in advance and should make clear that it has been published following an upheld ruling by the Independent Press Standards Organisation.


Date complaint received: 13/07/22

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 17/11/22