Ruling

10538-22 A woman v The Mail on Sunday

    • Date complaint received

      16th March 2023

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 10 Clandestine devices and subterfuge, 12 Discrimination, 2 Privacy, 3 Harassment

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 10538-22 A woman v The Mail on Sunday

Summary of Complaint


1. A woman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Mail on Sunday breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 3 (Harassment), Clause 10 (Clandestine devices and subterfuge) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in the preparation and publication of an article published in July 2022.

2. The article reported that the complainant, described as a “militant transgender rights activist”, had “launched strident online attacks against those who have raised concerns about the impact of transgender activism on women”. It also stated that she “once appeared to compare a feminist author to the Nazis”, by stating the author had “advocat[ed] a ‘final solution’ for trans people” in “an apparent reference to the Holocaust”. The article contained the complainant’s position, which was that she “denied comparing the author’s views to Nazism or Hitler’s Final Solution” and also included a quote from her in which she stated that “‘[i]t’s her […] final solution… You just read out what she wanted to do to stop people transitioning. I meant ‘her final solution’. [The author] described stopping the transition of trans people.’” The article contained quotes from the author, saying that the complainant “should be disciplined by the Tory Party”.

3. The article described the complainant’s relationship with the MP Penny Mordaunt who, at the time of publication, was a candidate for the Conservative leadership challenge. It described the complainant as a “key backer” and “staunch supporter” of Ms Mordaunt and said they had met at least three times to discuss trans-rights issues. The article said that the pair had “chatted for around five minutes” at a charity party. It also contained a photo of the two women standing next to each other.

4. The article also included a brief three-sentence description of the complainant’s background and made reference to her life prior to her transition and included a number of biographical details relating to that period.

5. The article also appeared online in substantially the same format.

6. The complainant said that, prior to the article being published, she had been contacted by a journalist on 16 July regarding correspondence she had engaged in with Ms Mordaunt, as well as the “final solution” tweet and the allegation that this was a reference to Nazis. At the end of the phone call, the complainant gave the reporter her email address, although she never received an email from them. 

7. The complainant said that the article was in breach of Clause 12. She said that the inclusion of her pre-transition history was irrelevant in the context of either her attendance at a political event or her comments in relation to the author, and that it was irrelevant that such details were in the public domain. The complainant said that the article was also pejorative in that it included her “dead name” and misgendered her. She also said that using the terms “militant” and “strident” were prejudicial to her gender identity as a transgender person.

8. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. She denied that she had compared the author to “the Nazis” and noted she had never used this term; she said she had simply used the phrase “final solution” in a tweet to refer to the “solution” presented by the author who had written about reducing the number of people who had transition. The complainant noted that she had used quotation marks around the phrase “final solution” in her tweet, which she said disassociated herself from the phrase. The complainant said she had made clear that she had not made this comparison whilst on the phone to the journalist – and that her denial was included within the article itself.

9. The complainant also said it was inaccurate to describe her as a “militant trans activist” or “strident”. She said she was, in fact, a trans person concerned about the author’s desire to limit the number of people transitioning expressed by the author referred to in the article.

10. The complainant also said that the article mischaracterised her relationship with Ms Mordaunt. She said it was inaccurate to report that they had met on three occasions to discuss trans rights issues; while they had met three times in total, they had not discussed trans rights during the charity party they were pictured at. She also said that she had never had a specific one-on-one meeting with Ms Mordaunt, and never to specifically discuss trans matters. She also said it was inaccurate to report that witnesses had seen the pair talking for five minutes, as she considered it to have been closer to three minutes. The complainant said, additionally, that it was inaccurate to describe her as a “key backer” of Ms Mordaunt as she was not an MP, nor had she donated to her campaign. The complainant also said that the interaction between herself and the author had nothing to do with Ms Mordaunt, and that she considered the article was intended to undermine Ms Mordaunt’s leadership campaign.

11. The complainant said she had not been contacted by the Conservative Party regarding a complaint made against her, and therefore it was inaccurate to report that the author had said she “should be disciplined by the Tory Party”.

12. The complainant said that the questions asked by the reporter when researching the story amounted to a breach of Clause 2. She said that her correspondence with any Conservative MP was private to her and should not have been the subject of questions. She was also concerned as to where the publication had gained her phone number from. The complainant said that the photo of her and Ms Mordaunt taken at a garden party and published without either’s consent, also intruded into her privacy.

13. The complainant also considered the phone call with the reporter amounted to harassment in breach of Clause 3. She said that the phone call, which had not been pre-arranged and did not contain a caller ID, was intimidating. She said that she had asked the reporter not to write an article about her, and that she had said that the phone call needed to stop and that she was ending the call. She said that after this he had asked for her email, which she provided to have a written opportunity to object to the claims being made. She said that the journalist had not stopped asking questions until she put the phone down.

14. The complainant also had concerns that the publication may have tried to access her emails. On 18 July she shared screenshots of two alerts from her email address which were dated as having taken place 10 and 11 hours before. The alert “type” was “unusual activity detected” and the approximate location given was the United States. The complainant said that the alerts stopped after she had reported the matter to IPSO on 18 July, and that when she took her phone to be assessed by a professional, they told her that the device’s email app was no longer connected to normal servers and that she should delete the app and redownload it. She said she therefore considered that the publication may have been trying to access her emails in breach of Clause 10.

15. The complainant also said that the article’s use of the terms “strident” and “militant transgender rights activist” discriminated against her as a trans woman. She said that she had made the comments about the author in self-defence and that she had a right to freedom speech; this did not make her “militant” or ”strident”.

16. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that the article did not contain any prejudicial or pejorative references to the complainant’s gender identity. It also said that the background to the complainant’s transition and the name they used were in the public domain following an interview the complainant had given to a news agency in 2015, and were basic background biographical details which were not prejudicial or pejorative. It said that the previous name and pronouns used by the complainant appeared only in the section of the article which related to her life before she transitioned, and matched how she presented at that time. It said that the article had only used female pronouns when describing her after her transition. It also said that it did not consider that the terms of Clause 12 required newspapers to explain why a person’s former name or pre-transition story were genuinely relevant to a story.

17. The publication also said that the claim the complainant had compared the author to Nazis had appeared in single quotation marks, which indicated that it was a claim and not a statement of fact. It also noted that the complainant’s denial had been published in the article. The publication said, however, that the phrase “final solution” was inextricably associated with the Holocaust. It also provided a copy of the original tweet and video the complainant was retweeting with the phrase “final solution” which had the caption “PLEASE: Watch this and tell me the Gender Critical movement are not Nazis. Here’s [Twitter handle] and [Twitter handle] openly talking about their plans for trans people. Children and adult. Absolutely parallels with 1930s Germany”. The publication said, therefore, it was not misleading on this point.

18. The publication also did not consider that it was inaccurate to describe the complainant as being “militant” or “strident”. It said that the terms were clearly of opinion and perspective and that the article set out the basis for the characterisation by including tweets published by the complainant.

19. The publication also did not accept that it had mischaracterised the relationship between the complainant and Ms Mordaunt. It said that it had taken care when reporting that the two had met at least three times to discuss trans-rights issues by putting these questions to the complainant in advance of publication. It provided a transcript of the phone call between the complainant and publication in which the complainant said she had met Ms Mordaunt “three, possibly four times” and that in those discussions Ms Mordaunt “talked about the context of respecting and showing dignity to all people. That includes trans people, that includes women, and it was her job to, to do that”. It said that this was the basis for the quote, and – in any case – the difference between discussing a topic with someone twice, or three times, was insignificant. The publication said it did not consider there to be a significant difference between “around five minutes” and three minutes and noted that the article accurately reported what had been told to the publication by a witness. It also said it considered the term “key backer” to be subjective and did not consider this to be an inaccurate description where the complainant had been supportive of Ms Mordaunt’s campaign; for example, it said, she had dedicated her Twitter page to the campaign. It also said the basis for the description of the complainant as a “key backer” was explained in the story itself when it stated the complainant was a high profile trans activist in the Tory party.

20. The publication said that the quote from the author saying that the complainant “should be disciplined by the Tory Party” was clearly attributed to the feminist author as their opinion. It said it was irrelevant whether or not the complainant had been contacted by the Conservative Party about a potential investigation.

21. The transcript of the phone call provided by the publication showed that the reporter had asked the complainant whether she had ever communicated with Ms Mordaunt by email. The publication also said that her phone number was obtained via an online contact details database which newspapers subscribe to. It said that neither of these concerns engaged the terms of Clause 2.

22. The publication also said that the complainant’s attendance at the garden party, in which the photograph was taken, was not private, and that the image in question had been shared on Twitter publicly. It said therefore, she had no reasonable expectation of privacy over it.

23. The publication said that the complainant had only been called by the journalist once, and that a lengthy telephone conversation took place. It said that the complainant had not made any requests to desist and that, therefore, there was no breach of Clause 3.

24. The publication said that the complainant’s concern that it may have attempted to access her emails was a very serious allegation which was without foundation and was denied. It noted that the screenshots provided confirmed that the activity had taken place in the US, rather than the UK where the publication was based. It also made clear that IPSO had only passed on the complaint to the publication on 2 August, sometime after the activity complained of had ceased. The chronology, therefore, did not support the complainant’s position that the cessation of the activity on her account had coincided with the publication being made aware of the matter by IPSO.

25. The complainant said that she had not seen the full tweet and video she had retweeted. She said she had retweeted a tweet from a barrister, who had retweeted the video and the tweet the publication had provided, but as she had blocked the original sender, she was unable to see the comment attached to it.

26. The complainant also said she did not accept that the transcript of the call was accurate or complete. She said that she had told the journalist “that’s enough now” and said “please stop/don’t” when asking if the newspaper was going to write a “hit piece” on her and Ms Mordaunt. These remarks did not appear in the transcript provided by the publication.

Relevant Clause 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 10 (Clandestine devices and subterfuge)*

i) The press must not seek to obtain or publish material acquired by using hidden cameras or clandestine listening devices; or by intercepting private or mobile telephone calls, messages or emails; or by the unauthorised removal of documents or photographs; or by accessing digitally-held information without consent.

ii) Engaging in misrepresentation or subterfuge, including by agents or intermediaries, can generally be justified only in the public interest and then only when the material cannot be obtained by other means.

Clause 12 (Discrimination)

i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's race, colour, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.

ii) Details of an individual's race, colour, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.

Findings of the Committee

27. The Committee first considered the complainant’s concerns under Clause 12. The article referred to the complainant as “trans” and included a three-sentence summary of her pre-transition life and professional background. As part of this description, it used the pronoun and the title the complainant had previously used. This clearly related to her gender identity and therefore Clause 12 was engaged.

28. The Committee first considered whether the details included in the article about the complainant’s gender identity were genuinely relevant to the story. The story highlighted the complainant’s support of Penny Mordaunt in her bid to become Prime Minister and had presented in a critical light the complainant’s comments, and in particular her suggestion that the author was seeking a “final solution” to reduce the number of people making gender transitions. The Committee noted that the complainant had established a profile as a trans activist in the Conservative party, including by disclosing some of the information included in the article. In the view of the Committee, these details of her gender identity provided relevant context for her criticism and her strength of feeling on the subject of gender transition. The Committee therefore found that the brief details relating to the complainant’s gender identity were genuinely relevant to the story, and there was no breach of Clause 12(ii).

29. The Committee then considered whether the references were prejudicial or pejorative to the complainant’s gender identity. Whilst the Committee appreciated that the name and pronoun previously used by the complainant and the noun used in the article did not reflect the complainant’s gender identity, it noted that these had been used in one paragraph only and solely in the context of a brief description of the complainant’s pre-transition history – and that her correct name and pronoun had otherwise been used throughout the article. In addition, it did not consider the terms “militant” or “strident” to be words to describe her gender identity, rather it considered these described the strength of her criticism of the author on twitter. On this basis, the Committee did not consider the article had made any prejudicial or pejorative references to the complainant’s gender identity and there was no breach of Clause 12(i).

30. With regards to Clause 1, the allegations that the complainant had “‘compared [a] feminist writer to the Nazis’”, had either been presented within single quotation marks or preceded by the phrase “appeared to”. These aspects made clear that this was a claim rather than statement of fact. In addition, the article clearly set out the basis for the claim: the complainant had used the term “final solution” when describing the author’s thoughts on transgender people. The article also contained the complainant’s position on this point – that she denied comparing the author to Nazis, and that she had been referring to the author’s own “final solution”. Where the article had made clear that it was a claim that the complainant had compared the author to Nazis, had set out the basis for this claim, and included the complainant’s position, the Committee did not consider that the publication had failed to take care over this information, nor had it failed to distinguish between comment, conjecture, and fact. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

31. The complainant also considered that it was inaccurate for the article to describe her as “militant” and “strident”. The Committee considered that these adjectives were not claims of fact – they were clearly the characterisation of the newspaper and intrinsically subjective terms, which was set out in the article on the basis of the complainant’s tweets. There was, therefore, no breach of Clause 1.

32. In addition, where the complainant accepted that she had spoken to Ms Mordaunt on two occasions in the context of her job about the respect and dignity of all people, including women and trans women, and had met Ms Mordaunt on another occasion, it was not significantly inaccurate to report that the two had met at least three times to discuss trans rights issues. The Committee also did not consider it to be significantly inaccurate to describe the length of the meeting as five minutes, whereas the complainant thought it was closer to three – particularly where this was reported in the context of a statement by a witness. Finally, the Committee found that the term “key backer” did not have a specific meaning, and where the complainant was a prominent, well-known individual in the Conservative Party who had publicly supported Ms Mordaunt, it was not inaccurate to report that she was a “key backer” of Ms Mordaunt. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

33. The complainant had also said it was inaccurate to report a quote from the author which stated that she “should be disciplined by the Tory Party”. The Committee noted that the article did not state that she had been disciplined by the Party – but rather that the author had said she “should” be. Where this was clearly set out as a quote and the opinion of the feminist author as something that she wished to happen rather than something that had happened, the Committee did not consider this to be inaccurate. There was no breach of Clause 1.

34. The complainant had also raised concerns under Clause 2 about the questions asked by the reporter; the newspaper’s acquisition of her phone number; and the publication of the photo, without her or Ms Mordaunt’s consent. The questions asked of the complainant regarded her support of a political candidate, and what they had discussed within their respective political roles. This did not represent an intrusion into her private life. Furthermore, the complainant’s phone number had been acquired in order to put questions to her ahead of the publication of an article, and her phone number was not published. The acquisition of a phone number via an online contact details database, that was not published, in order to speak to the subject of the article did not amount to an intrusion into her privacy. Finally, the photograph had been published on Twitter publicly and was already in the public domain and simply showed the complainant’s likeness. She, therefore, did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy over the photograph. There was no breach of Clause 2.

35. With regards to Clause 3, the Committee noted that the complainant disputed that the transcript provided by the publication was accurate or complete. However, the further information the complainant said she could recall from the conversation that did not appear in the transcript did not amount to a request to desist. Further, neither the transcript, nor the additional details the complainant provided amounted to behaviour that was intimidation, harassment, or persistent pursuit. There was no breach of Clause 3.

36. The complainant also had concerns that the publication may have tried to access her emails, which the publication strenuously denied. The Committee made clear that IPSO had not contacted the publication about the matter until the 2 August, being several weeks after the complainant had received the alerts described in paragraph 14. It also noted that the alerts originated from the US – not the UK where the publication was based. Taking this information into account, the Committee considered that there no cogent evidence to support the allegation that the publication had attempted to access the complainant’s emails. There was no breach of Clause 10.

Conclusion(s)

37. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

38. N/A


Date complaint received: 18/07/2022

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 11/01/2023