Ruling

12114-15 Tooze v The Sun

    • Date complaint received

      5th May 2016

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 12114-15 Tooze v The Sun

Summary of Complaint

1. Steve Tooze complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sun breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Coke in loo at Jez bash”, published in print on 21 December 2015, and “Hard left Labour group in drug shame as Sun investigation finds coke in loos at Corbyn bash”, published online on 21 December 2015. 

2. The articles reported that traces of cocaine had been found in the toilets of a pub where Momentum members – a group which it said had close links to Jeremy Corbyn – held a Christmas party. It said that its reporter had used special detection wipes in the toilets at the end of the party which confirmed the presence of Class A drugs. It said that the party was a “private” Christmas party and “ticket-only”. The article reported that Momentum had declined to comment on the publication’s findings.

3. The articles were identical in print and online except for the headline.

4. The complainant said that the headline on the online article, the sub-headline on the print version – which read “drug shame” – and the article itself implied that the Momentum members in the pub that night were users of Class A drugs. He pointed out that the venue was a busy urban pub and that the traces of cocaine found could well have been present from other events. He said that the event was not only open to Momentum members, and that members of the public without any links to the group could have paid on the night to attend. While he accepted that it appeared as though the wipes detected the presence of Class A drugs, he said that this on its own did not prove that the drug use was recent, or that it was linked to Momentum members attending the event. He said that the article was a classic example of “smear-by-implication”, and part of the publication’s attempts to undermine Jeremy Corbyn.

5. The newspaper denied that the online headline, sub-headline on the print version and the article itself implied that Momentum were responsible for the drugs found at the venue. It said that the word “shame” in the headline referred to the fact that traces of cocaine were found at the event, and did not state that Momentum members had taken the drugs; however, it said that somebody at the party had. It said that the reporter had used the wipes, reported the results and presented the facts; it said that readers of the article were perfectly capable of coming to their own conclusions on this basis.

6. The newspaper explained that the pub’s manager had confirmed that the toilets had been thoroughly cleaned before the Momentum event, and did not believe it was credible that traces of the drug would still be left on the cisterns from previous events after the toilets had been cleaned. It also said that it was unlikely that strangers with no affiliation with Momentum would have turned up on the night of the event and paid an entrance fee. It pointed out that the complainant had not been at the event in question.  

Relevant Code Provisions

7. Clause 1 (Accuracy)

i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures.

ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and - where appropriate - an apology published. In cases involving the Regulator, prominence should be agreed with the Regulator in advance.

Findings of the Committee

8. The article reported that traces of cocaine had been found in the toilets at the venue at which the Momentum Christmas party had taken place, and implied that drugs had been taken by an attendee of the party: this was the “shame” referred to in both versions of the article. The Committee acknowledged that the test used by the newspaper could not conclusively show that drugs were taken by an attendee at the party that night. However, the manager of the pub had said that the toilets had been cleaned before the party, the only attendees present in the venue that night were attending the Momentum event, and traces of drugs had been detected. This was a reasonable basis on which to infer that drugs had been used by an attendee. In these circumstances, the Committee was satisfied that the newspaper had not failed to take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information. There was no breach of Clause 1.

Conclusions

9. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

N/A

Date complaint received: 21/12/2015
Date decision issued: 14/04/2016