Ruling

10780-22 Raeburn v southwalesguardian.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      5th January 2023

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of correction

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 10780-22 Raeburn v southwalesguardian.co.uk

Summary of Complaint

1. Philip Raeburn complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that southwalesguardian.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Tycroes stalker found guilty by magistrates”, published on 8 March 2022.

2. The article reported on the complainant’s court case, and the headline described him as a “stalker” who had been found guilty by magistrates. The article did not state the specific offence of which the complainant had been found guilty; it reported that he had been found guilty of “pursuing and pestering a woman despite her wishes to avoid all contact with him” by “Llanelli magistrates”.

3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. He said that he had originally been charged with stalking, assault, and criminal damage, however, those charges were dropped after his first hearing, and he was instead charged and eventually convicted of “harassment without violence”. The complainant supplied his charge sheet to support this, and said it was therefore inaccurate to report that he was a “stalker”, as this was a separate and more serious charge which the court had dropped. He provided his charge sheet to the publication on the same day he made a complaint to IPSO. He noted that, as the term featured in the headline, it was also visible in search engine results and when the post was shared on social media. The complainant also said it was inaccurate to report he had been tried in Llanelli Magistrates Court, and the correct position was that the court was West Glamorgan Magistrates Court in Swansea.

4. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code, as it said the headline was drawn from the charge the complainant had been found guilty of in court. The publication said the story was taken from court documents using an online service, however it was unable to provide evidence for this as it no longer had access to this service. It said the headline was accurate as it considered the word “stalker” was not misleading where the complainant had been found guilty of harassment and where it said stalking could be defined as persistent and unwanted attention that makes the victim feel pestered and harassed. However, the publication amended the headline of the article to “Tycroes man found guilty by magistrates”. The publication did not amend the headline of the online article until nearly three weeks after the complainant sent it his charge sheet, and 10 days after IPSO referred the matter as a possible breach of the Editors’ Code.

5. Almost two months after the complainant had initially made it aware of his concerns and almost six weeks after IPSO referred the complaint, the publication added a correction to the online article and amended the reference to Llanelli in the text. It added the following correction: CORRECTION: A previous version of this article headlined ‘Tycroes stalker found guilty by magistrates’, published on March 8, was incorrect. In fact, the charge of stalking was dropped. The case was also heard at Swansea Magistrates and not Llanelli, as previously stated. We are happy to clarify.

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

6. The complainant had originally been charged with stalking, but the charge had been dropped; the complainant provided the publication with his charge sheet on the same day as making a complaint to IPSO. The publication did not consider the term “stalker” to be significantly inaccurate as it considered this to be synonymous with “harassment”. However, the Committee considered that distinction to be meaningful given that stalking was itself defined as a separate offence in law. In addition, as the charge of “harassment without violence” was not referred to in the article itself readers were not able to ascertain what crime the complainant had been found guilty of, nor that the separate charge of stalking had been dropped. As such, the characterisation of the complainant as a “stalker” was misleading as to the nature of his conviction. This represented a failure to take care not to print inaccurate information and was therefore in breach of Clause 1(i).

7. In addition, the article had reported that the complainant had been tried in Llanelli magistrates rather than Swansea Magistrates' Court – this was clearly inaccurate as per the complainant’s conviction and charge sheet and represented a breach of Clause 1(i).

8. The Committee considered that misreporting the complainant’s conviction and the court at which it had been handed down were significant inaccuracies and therefore assessed whether the corrective action taken by the publication was sufficient to avoid a breach of Clause 1(ii). The publication did not offer a correction when the complainant shared his charge sheet that confirmed the correct position, prior to the matter being referred to it by IPSO, nor during direct correspondence with the complainant after the matter was referred to it by IPSO. A correction – which appeared below the headline and addressed both inaccuracies – was only published two months after the publication was made aware of the correct position. As such, the Committee found the correction was not sufficiently prompt and there was a breach of Clause 1(ii).

Conclusion(s)

9. The complaint was upheld under Clause 1.

Remedial Action Required

10. Having upheld the complaint under Clause 1, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required. Where the publication had taken steps to mitigate the effects of the breach by offering to publish a correction, the Committee considered that the appropriate remedy was the publication of a further correction, rather than an upheld adjudication.

11. Where a correction had already appeared on the original article, but the inaccuracy had appeared in the headline of the article, the Committee found that a new, standalone correction would be proportionate with a link to that correction appearing on the website’s homepage. The wording of this correction 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: 01/08/2022

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 19/12/2022