Ruling

10769-22 Edwards v gazette-news.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      26th January 2023

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of correction

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 10769-22 Edwards v gazette-news.co.uk

Summary of Complaint

1. Ryan Edwards complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that gazettenews.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an online article headlined “Man, 40, spared jail despite assaulting pregnant woman”, published on 1 October 2021.

2. The article was a court report of the complainant’s conviction for what was described as “assaulting a pregnant woman” and damaging the wing mirror of a car. The first line of the article said the complainant was “spared jail despite admitting to assaulting a pregnant woman”. The article then went on to report that the complainant “denied assaulting the woman and child” but was “found guilty”. There was a user comment section underneath the article where another, separate serious criminal allegation had been made against the complainant by a reader, which referred to the complainant by name.

3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 because he had never “admit[ted]” to assaulting the woman or child – he said that he had been found guilty of a non-contact assault. He also said the article was inaccurate because it omitted to mention that the assault he had been found guilty of was “non-contact” by way of an “unintentional push”, and that the word “assault” was misleading as it implied he had physically beaten the woman and child.

4. The complainant also said the article was in breach of Clause 1 because it omitted other biographical pieces of information about the woman that he considered to be important. The complainant also said the article was in breach of Clause 1 because he said the serious and criminal accusation made in the user-generated comment was inaccurate – he had not committed the crime the comment alluded to. The complainant sent an email to the publication on 30 July 2022 at 1.05AM in which he set out his position regarding the accuracy of the article and reported the comment. As the comment remained online for nearly three weeks after it was reported it fell within IPSO’s remit. It was in that same email, that the complainant had set out that the article was inaccurate for the reasons outlined in point three.

5. The publication acknowledged there was an error in the text of the article that suggested that the complainant had admitted to the offence; it accepted that the correct position was that the complainant had not admitted assault but had been found guilty and said the mistake was down to human error. Two days after IPSO referred the complaint back to the publication, and three weeks after the complainant had initially contacted the publication, the publication removed the reference to the complainant having “pled guilty” and offered to publish the following clarification to the online story:

Mr Edwards: Clarification Mr Edwards has asked us to clarify he did not admit the offence of assault. He was found guilty of assault at Colchester Magistrates’ Court on September 21, 2021.

Later in the investigation - around two and a half months after IPSO referred the complaint to the publication - the publication amended the clarification to be a correction published above the text of the article and offered to publish a standalone correction which stated:

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article reported that Ryan Edwards admitted to assaulting a pregnant woman. This was inaccurate; Mr Edwards denied assaulting the woman but was found guilty.

6. The publication accepted that that the user-generated comment was unsubstantiated, and that it had been reported to the publication on 30 July 2022 but had remained online. The publication noted that the comment had been reported by the complainant through an email to the editor that was sent at 1.05AM, rather than through the “report comment” function on the publication’s website. The publication said that the report of the comment had been missed in consideration of the wider complaint, partly because the email had been sent so late at night and the report was not made through the website’s “report comment” function. IPSO made the publication aware of the comment on 19 August 2022, nearly three weeks after the complainant had reported the comment. The publication deleted the comment the same day.

7. In addition, on 24 October 2022, the publication offered to add the following paragraph to the correction: Furthermore, a user comment left on this article alleged Mr Edwards had committed a more serious crime. This comment was unsubstantiated, and it has now been deleted.

8. The publication did not accept that it was inaccurate to report that the complainant had been found guilty of assault, where he accepted that he was found guilty of non-contact assault. It said it did not consider that “assault” gave the misleading impression that the complainant had physically beaten the woman and child referred to in the article. The publication supplied the Sentencing Council’s definition of common assault to support its position, which made clear that a person does “not have to be physically violent” to be found guilty of common assault, and that it covered both “intentional and reckless acts”. The publication said that there was no obligation for a report to explain what a charge means in law, where the charge itself is reported correctly, which it said was the case in this circumstance.

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

9. The Committee first considered whether it was inaccurate to report that the complainant had admitted assault. The Committee noted that as well as stating that “a man has been spared jail despite admitting to assaulting a pregnant woman in Harwich,” the article also reported that the complainant “denied assaulting the woman and child” – this was a clear contradiction, and it was not clear which account of events was correct. It was accepted by the publication that it was inaccurate to state that the complainant had admitted to the offence and there was a breach of Clause 1(i) on this point. As the inaccuracy related to the complainant’s criminal conviction in a court report it was significant and therefore required correction under Clause 1(ii). 

10. The Committee then turned to whether the user-generated comment was in breach of Clause 1. The Committee acknowledged that due to human error, and the complainant reporting the comment outside of the usual pathway for reporting user comments, the initial complaint regarding the comment had been missed by the publication. However, where a complaint had been made via email, and the comment remained online, the Committee found that it fell within the IPSO’s remit. The Committee further found that where the comment made an unsubstantiated allegation of a serious crime, that formed no part of the complainant’s court case, it was inaccurate and the publication’s failure to remove this represented a failure to take care not to publish inaccurate information in breach of Clause 1(i). As it was an unsubstantiated claim about a criminal conviction, the inaccuracy was clearly significant and therefore required correction under Clause 1(ii).

11. The Committee then considered whether the remedial action taken by the publication in relation to both the above breaches was sufficient to avoid a breach of Clause 1(ii). In relation to the inaccurate claim that the complainant had “admitted” the assault, the Committee noted that this was first drawn to the publication’s attention on 30 July 2022 and while it was not made through their designated reporting channels, the publication appeared to accept having received it. It was also the case that, for the reasons discussed above, the presence of two clearly contradictory pieces of information in the article would have made clear at that time that it contained at least one inaccuracy in relation to the reporting of the complainant’s conviction. While the Committee accepted that the publication had responded promptly at the point of IPSO’s involvement, this was not sufficiently prompt and there was a breach of 1(ii). However, the Committee noted that the substance of the publication’s proposed remedial action involved the publication of both footnote and standalone corrections which identified the original inaccuracy and put the correct position on record. The Committee considered that the publication of those corrections would fulfil the publication’s obligations under the terms of Clause 1(ii).

12. In relation to the user comment, the Committee welcomed the publication deleting the comment as soon as IPSO’s investigation began. However, the Committee was concerned that the comment had remained online for nearly three weeks after it had been reported, and that the correction did not appear until two and a half months after the inaccuracy had been posted. The Committee found that the error in the comment had not been corrected sufficiently promptly and there was a breach of Clause 1(ii). However, the Committee again noted that the publication proposed to address this issue by way of a correction within the article and also as a standalone correction which put the correct position on record. The Committee considered that this would fulfil the publication’s obligations under the terms of Clause 1(ii).

13. The Committee then considered whether it was in breach of Clause 1 for the article to report that the complainant had been found guilty of “assault”, rather than a non-contact assault specifically and that the push was accidental, as well as details about the woman referred to in the article. The Committee wished to make clear 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 case, omitting to include that the assault was “non-contact” did not make the article inaccurate or misleading, where the article had reported the conviction correctly, nor was it necessary to provide further information about the victim of the crime. The Committee did not find a breach of Clause 1 on this point.

Conclusion(s)

14. The complaint was upheld under Clause 1.

Remedial Action Required

15. Having upheld the complaint, the Committee considered what remedial action was appropriate. In circumstances where the Committee establishes a breach of the Editors’ Code, it can require the publication of a correction and/or adjudication. The nature, extent, and placement of which is determined by IPSO.

16. The Committee concluded that the publication had published inaccurate information and had not corrected it sufficiently promptly. In such circumstances, the Committee decided that the appropriate remedy was the publication of the corrections proposed by the publication. The wording of this correction should state that it was published following an upheld ruling by the Independent Press Standards Organisation. The full wording and position of this correction should be agreed with IPSO in advance.


Date complaint received: 29/07/22

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 10/01/23