Ruling

12126-22 Nash, Waugh, and The Lighthouse Group v Daily Mail

    • Date complaint received

      13th July 2023

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 2 Privacy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 12126-22 Nash, Waugh, and The Lighthouse Group v Daily Mail


Summary of Complaint

1. Chris Nash, acting on his own behalf and on behalf of Paul Waugh and The Lighthouse Group, complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Mail breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “EXPOSED: Trendy life coach group accused of fleecing and threatening its trusting middle class devotees”, published on 20 April 2022.

2. The article reported that a “life coaching group” – the Lighthouse Group, founded by Paul Waugh – had been “accused of abusing, exploiting and fleecing vulnerable victims”. Bullet-points beneath the article headline reported that “people were allegedly pressured to give money without a written agreement” and that, “[i]n one case, a mother says she remortgaged her home to raise over £200,000”. It also reported that “recordings shown to the Mail show that when people start questioning the value of the group's methods, Mr Waugh's happiness vanishes and he turns to abuse”, and set out that:

“[S]essions which are recorded and stored by the group’s leaders […] turn into ‘abusive relationships’ with members later ‘pressured’ into ‘investing’ tens of thousands of pounds, often by taking a loan which plunges them deep into debt, without any formal written financial agreement or receipt, it is alleged.

“Some members asking for their money to be returned were reminded their innermost secrets had been recorded in coaching sessions – which made them feel as if they were being threatened.

“In one case, a mother says she remortgaged her family home to help raise over £200,000 for her two sons to invest in the group, which they were promised would be repaid. She says she has not received a penny back.

“Ex-members said they were told to isolate themselves from friends and family who criticised Lighthouse, with the group's leaders even urging husbands to sue wives and children to sue their parents.

“An environmental consultant who questioned the value of the mentoring with other members said she was left 'terrified' and in tears after Mr Waugh bombarded her with abuse during a two-hour phone call.

“Lighthouse strongly denies this was the intention, saying it referenced the recordings to 'remind [her] of the level and extent of work Lighthouse had done with her'.

[…]

“Primary school teacher [name] asked for a receipt for her £19,000 'investment' and evidence of what it had been spent on, only to receive a reply from Mr Waugh calling her a 'psychopath' and 'malevolent' and implying her behaviour made her a danger to the children she taught.”

3. The article then expanded on the alleged experiences of some ex-Lighthouse members, reporting that after one woman – “a 48-year-old consultant” – “raised concerns about the mentoring with other members, Mr Waugh turned on her and during a two-hour call branded her “nasty”, “pernicious”, “selfish”, “horrible”, “vindictive”, “broken”, “very damaged”, “stupid”, “dishonest”, “duplicitous”, “misleading”, “f*****g deluded”, “seriously f****d up”, “sinister”, a “cynical little old witch”, a “weasel”, a “negative, self-defeating, self-sabotaging automaton”, “the worst, weirdest, sickest f**k”, having “an ego like a feral dog” and being an “emotional, mental and spiritual toddler”. It then reported that: “When she broke down in tears, he berated her for ‘crying for herself’, saying: 'It's all about you.'”

4. The article was also accompanied by a video, showing a three-minute edited version of this call.

5. The article reported on another Lighthouse member’s account of his experiences, including his claim that “Lighthouse leaders branded [his] wife 'destructive' and wanted to sue her after she supported her husband's decision to quit the group.” It then reported that the ex-member had “sa[id] after investing he was expected to attend group calls lasting up to six hours with Lighthouse leader Paul Waugh.” It went on to report that the man had said:

“'I went back to Lighthouse respectfully and said: 'I would like to ask for my investment back.'

The request prompted a message on November 11 last year, in which [another group member] blamed the decision on the 'animosity and destructiveness' of his wife towards the group.

He added, if Lighthouse had to refund the cash 'we would have to make a legal compensatory claim for that money' from his wife 'plus legal costs'.

'Do we hold [your wife] accountable for that or you? Let us know because with your permission (in writing to our solicitors) we will hold her accountable by law.'

On November 24, [another group member] messaged to say no refund was possible and Lighthouse would be passing the content of [the ex-member’s] texts to their solicitor, whom he said would 'act accordingly in connection with yourself as they have with others who have behaved unlawfully as you are behaving'.”

6. The article included several comments and responses from the Lighthouse Group and stated that:

“In a 17,000-word response to the Mail, Lighthouse described the allegations as 'false and baseless', said it was a 'healthy community' that does not tolerate abuse or bullying and was a victim of 'persecution' and 'trolling' from ex-members with whom it had financial disputes. It said the group offered 'life coaching' rather than therapy, and was supportive of stronger regulation for the 'personal development industry'.”

It also said that “[c]urrent Lighthouse members told the Mail Mr Waugh had generously supported them in times of need and they had benefitted greatly from his mentoring”. 

7. The article also reported on the experiences of a fifth ex-member, who was described in one instance as a “web designer” and in another as a “computer graduate”.

8. The article contained details about Paul Waugh and stated that he lived in “a £2 million, six-bedroom, secluded country home — complete with a sauna — set on the northern edge of the Cotswold Hills”. The article was accompanied by images showing the exterior of this house, which appeared to be taken from outside the driveway. The article also included a photograph of Paul Waugh, showing him holding a drink and smiling.

9. Two months prior to the publication of the article under complaint, a journalist acting on behalf of the publication contacted Paul Waugh “about a story we are doing about you and Lighthouse International Group (LIG) to see if you wish to make any comment.”  This email summarised some of the “details expected to be in the article”; these included:

· “Ex members said LIG’s [Lighthouse Group] mentoring became like an ‘abusive relationship’ with members bullied and belittled by Mr Waugh who they are expected to effectively worship.

· “LIG members said they were often urged to cut relationships with their families and in some cases encouraged to sue parents, partners or other relatives.

· “Recordings of LIG members are passed on by the group to third parties without their approval.

· “A member who challenged and questioned the leadership said they were reminded that the group has recordings of them describing things such as child abuse, in what they took as an implicit threat.

· “The group also threatens to report members trying to leave to the police – and send the police details of their ‘therapy’ - and /or take legal action against them.

· “Ex members say they were encouraged to take out loans for ‘investments’ in LIG worth tens of thousands of pounds but not given any receipts or financial agreement.“

10. As part of its response to the above email, Paul Waugh sent a 17,000 word document. This response referred to the claims included in the request for comment as “false and baseless information”. It also said that:

“Legal action would always be a last resort in any such instances as the main intention and aim would always be to offer every opportunity for an abusive / offending family member, spouse or partner to take responsibility for their actions and to reform and regenerate themselves.”

11. The complainant contacted the publication directly to complain about the article six months after its publication. This email set out the complainant’s position that the article was “biased” and part of a “malicious smear campaign”. The complainant requested the removal of the article; the publication of an apology by two journalists and two senior members of the newspaper’s editorial staff; and the republication of a new, revised version of the article.

12. The complainant said that the article contained several inaccuracies in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy). It said that the article included no “substantial proof” that the quoted ex-members were “victims”, which was how they were described in the article. It also said that the article contained no evidence to substantiate the article’s claim of “abusive relationships” at Lighthouse, or of people being “pressured” into investing “tens of thousands of pounds”. It said that, in fact, the ex-members quoted in the article had expressed satisfaction and appreciation of Lighthouse and Paul Waugh before “leaving or demanding a refund”, and no one had been encouraged to isolate themselves from family members or take legal action against them. It also said that none of the people quoted in the article was entitled to any of their money back from Lighthouse, and therefore the article had breached Clause 1 by referring to “refunds”.

13. The complainant also denied the article’s claim that “a mother says she remortgaged her family home to help raise over £200,000 for her two sons to invest in the group, which they were promised would be repaid. She says she has not received a penny back.” It said that this was inaccurate for several reasons: it was not a “family home”, rather the mortgage was on two inherited rental properties; the loan was not to the Lighthouse Group, but was rather a personal arrangement between a mother and her children; and she had in fact received “upwards” of £50,000 towards repayments.

14. The complainant also said that the recording of the phone call included in the article had been “maliciously edited, misrepresented and manipulated”, and that it was not the case that “recordings […] show that when people start questioning the value of the group’s methods, Mr Waugh’s happiness vanishes and he turns to abuse.” It said that, during the phone call in question, the woman had not “question[ed] the value of the group’s methods” but was in fact “being held accountable for bullying [a group member] and spreading toxicity among other” members. It said that the recording included in the article left out the parts of the call which related to this element of the conversation, and also said that the woman on the call “was known to be cynical, resentful, manipulative and toxic in her behaviour”.  It also said that phone calls with Paul Waugh were not compulsory, and it believed the article gave the impression that they were.

15. The complainant said that the article omitted to mention the fact that one of the ex-members quoted – who had, according to the article, been told that “no refund was possible” – had in fact been offered a compassionate refund, which he had ignored. It provided texts to the man to support its position on this point; an excerpt from the texts read as follows:

May 2021, sent from a Lighthouse Group member to the ex-Lighthouse Group member

“[…] Paul [Waugh] has never done this for any Associate or Associate Elect, but he is ready to give you your Associate Elect Investment of £25,000 back if circumstances around your investment are going to have a massive detrimental affect [sic] on your health. Whether you want your investment back or not, he has encouraged and invited you to come up and meet him and his family and after seeing him, he will write you a cheque and give you your investment back if you both agree on that […]”.

October 2021, sent from the ex-Lighthouse Group member to the above Lighthouse Group member

“[…] I’ve decided it’s time to choose a way forward and would like to respectfully ask if you would consider unconditionally returning my investment in L[ighthouse]? […] Paulie [Waugh] did state on WhatsApp that my involvement had been light and that the funds would be returned…”

­October 2021, sent from the Lighthouse Group member to the ex-Lighthouse Group member

“[…] I was surprised you never replied to the numerous messages a few months ago from both Paul and I. […] In those messages, Paul offered to return your investment to you on more than one occasion. Had you taken the opportunity then, you would have received it. […] Until we know that no damages and or loss to Lighthouse or it’s [sic] people have been caused by anyone from your quarters, we cannot calculate a refund at all or any part thereof […] Until we are clear as to exactly what damage has been done and by whom through [an] investigation we cannot proceed with considering any form of refund. We will however contact you once we know…”

­November 2021, sent from the Lighthouse Group member to the ex-Lighthouse Group member

“[…] We advise you […t]hat after careful consideration a refund is not possible in your case. […] We will be passing the content of your texts to our solicitor who will act accordingly in connection with yourself as they have with others who have behaved unlawfully as you are behaving […] please do not contact me or anyone at Lighthouse again.”

16. The complainant also said the article was inaccurate as it reported Paul Waugh had referred to a former Lighthouse Group member as a “psychopath”. In fact, he had called her behaviour “psychopathic”. In addition, the complainant said that this had not been prompted after she “asked for a receipt for her £19,000 'investment' and evidence of what it had been spent on” as reported by the article, as she had not formally requested a receipt in writing.

17. The complainant considered that the article omitted additional information rendering it inaccurate and misleading. It said that the following information should have been included in the article: the ex-members quoted in the article had ignored attempts to reach a resolution; the Lighthouse Group had encouraged the ex-members to take legal action against it, but they had not done so; two of the quoted ex-members were friends; and positive testimonials from satisfied Lighthouse Group members, which had been shared with the newspaper prior to publication. The complainant also said that the article was not in the public interest, and should therefore not have been published, and raised concerns – also framed under Clause 1 – that the journalist who had written the article had not met members of the Lighthouse Group and Paul Waugh in person.

18. The complainant also said that the article inaccurately implied that investments from Lighthouse Group members had been used to purchase shares in a company. It then said that the article referred to single individuals in the article with varying descriptors, therefore giving the misleading impression that there were more people who had been quoted in the article as critics of the Lighthouse Group.

19. The complainant also considered that the article was intrusive and breached Clause 2 (Privacy), first noting its position that the article included photographs of Mr Waugh’s home which had been shared without his consent, threatening his family’s safety and affecting their mental wellbeing. It also said that the photograph included in the article showing Mr Waugh was private and had again been published without his consent. It then said that the recording included in the video accompanying the article was private, and that the article included excerpts of a text message which had been shared without the consent of the Lighthouse member who had sent the texts.

20. The publication did not accept that the article breached the Code. It said that the article was accurate and clearly distinguished claims as such. It said that the article made clear the basis for reporting that the ex-Lighthouse Group members were “victims” who had been “pressured” into investing “tens of thousands of pounds”. This included, said the publication, “the abusive treatment of members who questioned the value of the group by Lighthouse Group leaders; the designation of friends and family who questioned the group as ‘toxic’ and to be avoided; the encouragement of members to hand over huge amounts of money to the group without written terms; and threats to report members to the police and their employers and to sue them and their family members”.

21. It provided a text from a senior Lighthouse member to one of the ex-members quoted in the article. This included the following:

“I don’t think you leaving Lighthouse because of [the ex-member’s wife]’s extreme reaction and anti-Lighthouse stance is positive or amicable […] After all, [the wife] has effectively persecuted and destabilized you that you’ve had to leave […] You wanting your investment back alone is already a loss […] If we had to give you the funds back then we would have to make a legal compensatory claim for that money from [the wife] plus legal costs.

“Do we hold [the wife] accountable for that or you? Let me know because with your permission (in writing to our solicitors) we will hold her accountable by law. We will want her to prove in court that her toxic statements and beliefs about us are false, defamatory, cruel etc.”

22. It provided screenshots of messages between the “primary school teacher” referred to in the article and Paul Waugh; in these messages Mr Waugh called the teacher “hateful” and “toxic”, said she was displaying “deeply psychopathic behaviour” and “malevolent intent”, and said that she had a “evidently disturbed psychology”. It said that these messages had been prompted by a phone call to Mr Waugh in which the teacher had asked him for a receipt.

23. It also provided a recording of a phone call between a senior Lighthouse member and the teacher, during which she was told that she would have to “contribute money to this”; that the “amount” [£25,000] was “significantly less than the deposit for a mortgage […] when you think of the returns you get a house compared to this, for me it’s a no-brainer”; and that the investment would give her “year-on-year returns financially”. It noted also that the agreement between the mother, her sons, and Lighthouse – which it provided – promised significant profits within two years of investing and that the “family as a whole [will be] incredibly affluent and successful”.

24. The newspaper said that, prior to publication, it had sight of numerous examples of “senior members of Lighthouse designating any friend or family member who questions the organisation’s value as ‘toxic’ and ‘destructive’”. It also said that it had a recording of Mr Waugh telling a woman to get a lawyer so she could sue her parents, as well as copies of messages between a current Lighthouse member and one of the ex-members quoted in the article, asking for the ex-members support to sue the latter’s wife. Finally on this point, it noted that this claim had been put to the complainant for comment prior to publication, who had not denied it and had only said that such action would only be advised as a “last resort”.

25. The newspaper turned next to the article’s claim that that “a mother says she remortgaged her family home to help raise over £200,000 for her two sons to invest in the group, which they were promised would be repaid. She says she has not received a penny back.” It said that, contrary to the complainant’s position that this financial arrangement did not involve the Lighthouse Group, a written agreement drawn up setting the parameters of the transfer of money – and which the newspaper had sight of prior to publication – included Paul Waugh as a signatory, described him as a “performance guarantor”, and included an obligation for the Lighthouse Group to “step in” and fulfil the sons’ financial obligations in the event they failed to do so. It also had an email, sent from Mr Waugh to the mother, stating that she had “invested in Lighthouse and invested in me.” It also provided a video and accompanying transcript; in the video, Paul Waugh had said that the mother “gave us money to try and win [sic]” her sons. It therefore did not accept that the article inaccurately reported on Lighthouse’s involvement in the transaction.

26. The publication also said that it was not inaccurate to report that the mother “sa[id] she has not received a penny back” as she had not received any money to repay the capital of the money she had given her sons – the £200,000. Rather, she had received only some payments which were promised to her in the agreement as an “additional £2k income per month for the next 5 years”. Further to this, the newspaper said that Mr Waugh had “himself acknowledged on video that the money has not been repaid and that it may not be for ‘many, many years’”, and had told the mother in February 2020 that “the loan must be paid off in full in the next 12 months” – and it had not been. It also said that, regardless of whether the mother lived in the home or rented it out did not affect the central point that she was “persuaded to raise this extraordinary amount of money by taking out a mortgage so that her sons could give this money to Lighthouse”.

27. The newspaper said that, while the audio of one of the phone calls with an ex-member had indeed been edited for publication – as would be expected, where the original phone call lasted over two hours – the editing had not rendered the published audio misleading. It said that it had reviewed the entirety of two “lengthy” phone calls – one of which appeared in truncated form in the article under complaint – between the woman and Paul Waugh prior to publication. It was satisfied that the clip included in the article accurately represented the content of these calls. It also said that the context of the call was accurately reported: the woman’s questioning of the value of Lighthouse’s methods with other members was, in fact, the “spreading[of] toxic dissent” which the complainant described. It said that the recordings showed that Paul Waugh had “subjected this woman to a sustained torrent of the most appalling abuse”, and that this had not been described in an inaccurate or misleading manner in the article under complaint.

28. The publication provided the full recording of the call included in the article, and highlighted excerpts from the call which it considered supported the article’s descriptions, these included: “You’re damaged, very damaged, you’re seriously fucked up and you need help”; “You’re like a negative, self-defeating, self-sabotaging automation, that’s what you are”; “You’re way too liberal with your shit. You’re smearing it all over our walls here. Our clean, white Lighthouse walls. You’re smearing your shit all over it and I’m not putting up with it”; “Nasty, nasty, pernicious, nasty”; “You’re a cynical little old witch”; “You’re crying now. You weren’t crying when you were bleeding poison into people in the group the other day”.

29. The publication said that the positive testimonials from Lighthouse members, which the complainants had argued had been inaccurately omitted from the article, had been provided with the proviso that “The following witness statements are private and confidential and not for the public domain under any circumstances. Nor are they to be included in any media articles published.” At any rate, the publication noted that the article made clear that “[c]urrent Lighthouse members” had told it that they had been “generously supported them in times of need” and “benefitted greatly” from mentoring with the group. It said, therefore, that the omission of such positive statements was not misleading.

30. The newspaper did not accept that the article contained any implication that money paid by Lighthouse members had gone towards purchasing shares in a company. It noted that the thrust of the article was that investments paid had been made without written agreements or receipts – which would not have been the case had shares been purchased. Turning to the complaint that the article had omitted information which rendered it inaccurate, it said that there was no requirement under Clause 1 for the inclusion of specific information within articles, other than where doing so renders the article significantly inaccurate – which was not the case.

31. The publication said that the article did not say that the calls with Mr Waugh were “compulsory” but that, at any rate, the complainant did not appear to dispute that Lighthouse members were expected to participate in calls.

32. The publication did not accept that the terms of Clause 2 had been breached. It said that Mr Waugh did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy over photographs which merely showed his face, and the newspaper did not require his permission to publish such photographs. It further said that a general description of the location of his home was not enough to allow readers to discover the exact address and that the article did not breach Clause 2 by including these details. At any rate, it noted that the images of the home had been taken from a publicly accessible estate agent’s website, and that images of the home were freely available on the Lighthouse Group’s website and YouTube account.

33. Turning to the question of whether the publication of the recording of the phone call breached Clause 2, the publication noted that the Clause is subject to a public interest exemption – meaning that, in cases where there is a proportionate public interest in the publication of the information which represents a possible breach, and the publication can demonstrate it took this into account prior to publication, there would be no breach of the Code.

34. The publication considered that there was a clear public interest in publishing the recording, given that it was “important evidence in support of allegations of serious impropriety and unethical conduct”. It said that whether or not the inclusion of the recordings was proportionate and in the public interest was considered prior to publication, by way of a memo from a journalist to an editor – which the publication provided – explaining why there was a public interest in the material being published, and what specific information was necessary and proportionate to serve the public interest. The article as published aligned with this memo, said the newspaper. However, it said that it was the newspaper’s position that the recording did not breach the terms of Clause 2 at any rate – alleging that the complainant had “repeatedly threatened to share its own recordings of complainants”, indicating that the complainant itself did not consider the recordings to be private.

35. Regarding any payments which had not been made to the mother in respect of her remortgage and subsequent payment to her sons, the complainant said that the agreement between the mother and her sons “required her support and encouragement in enabling her son’s ability to live in peace and develop their business interests unhindered by her” and that she had “failed” to do this. In addition, several other factors limited the sons’ ability to repay their mother: the Covid-19 pandemic, the “malicious online smear campaign” which it said the Lighthouse Group was subject to; and alleged “harassment” from the mother. It also said that the written agreement between the mother and her son’s made in 2019, set out a 2-5 year time-frame for the money to be repaid. Therefore, they had until 2024 to repay their mother. At any rate, it said that the “main purpose of the arrangement […was] to enable family restoration and for the family to become stronger”.

36. The complainant said that, of the money obtained by the remortgaging process, while the sons had received £200,000 the mother had also received £44,000 to meet her own living expenses. The complainant initially said that her sons had paid “almost £10,000 in mortgage payments”, but later clarified that the mortgage payments made to the mother were repayments on an interest-only basis - and that the mother had not, at the time of the article’s publication, received any money earmarked as repayment for the principle sum of £200,000.

37. The complainant accepted that Lighthouse members may have referred to “certain” family members as “toxic” and/or “destructive”. However, it said that this would only have been done in response to the “past actions and behaviours and abuses” of these family members, rather than being prompted by their “health[y]” criticism of the Lighthouse Group.

38. The complainant also provided examples of what it said was examples of the toxic and destructive nature of the quoted ex-Lighthouse Group members and their families, though it did not specify how this related to its complaint against the publication.

39. The complainant then said that the positive testimonials of Lighthouse members had in fact been accompanied by a top-note that said:

“It’s also important to note that you do not as YET have our permission to publish any of this information or any of the signed statements that will accompany this document WITHOUT OUR PRIOR APPROVAL AND CONSENT”

It said that the publication should have checked prior to publication whether it could obtain permission to publish the testimonials. It also said that there were positive testimonials in the public domain, which the publication had failed to quote.

40. To further support its position, the complainant also provided messages from the “primary school teacher”, sent one day before her final call with Paul Waugh and before she “suddenly withdrew” from the company. In these messages, the woman said:

“[…] I ask, what are the tangible aspects of ‘moving forward’? Not a vision but actual real steps […] I have tried to clarify with you along the way. I did try and ask this is a Saturday call a few weeks ago […] It was this which moved me to do my own research about the investment made and whether I really would ever see a return […] I’ve invested a lot of money, and I still have a hole in my finances and a loan that I am paying for…”

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.

Findings of the Committee

41. The Committee wished to be clear from the outset that there is no obligation under the Editors’ Code for newspapers to be impartial or unbiased in their reporting; the press is entitled to criticise organisations and people, to publish negative comments about organisations, and to question an organisation’s purposes and practices. In and of itself, such published information does not represent a possible breach of the Code.

42. Having addressed the question of bias and negative reporting, the Committee turned next to the specific information within the article which the complainant alleged was inaccurate. The complainant had first said that the article had inaccurately described Lighthouse’s ex-members as “victims” of “abusive relationships” at Lighthouse, some of whom had been “pressured” into investing “tens of thousands of pounds”. The Committee first noted that there was a clear factual basis for reporting that people had invested “tens of thousands of pounds” into Lighthouse; it was not in dispute that some Lighthouse members had paid this figure to the organisation. The Committee further noted that the article contained many claims about the alleged behaviour of Lighthouse; such claims were attributed to the individuals who had been members of the Lighthouse group. This set out the basis for people feeling “pressured” into investing money, where individuals had expressed this view, with extensive quotations from some of the ex-members who claimed to have been “pressured”. In addition, the newspaper had taken care over the accuracy of this characterisation, where the Lighthouse Group was provided the opportunity to comment on specific allegations made by the ex-members. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

43. The article, read as a whole, also made clear the basis for reporting that former members were “victims” of “abusive relationships”, with former members alleging that they felt that “they were being threatened” and “were told to isolate themselves from friends and family”. While the complainant disputed this assessment of its activities, the publication was entitled to publish the views and experiences of its former members and to characterise their experiences as set out above. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

44. The complainant had said that the article had inaccurately used the term “refund”, as none of the quoted ex-members in the article were entitled to receive any money back. The Committee noted that it was not within its remit to decide whether any of the quoted ex-members were entitled to their money back, rather, it could only determine whether the use of the phrase “refund” was inaccurate, misleading, or distorted. Considering the word in the context of the article as a whole, the Committee did not consider that it was: in the context of the article, the word “refund” referred to money being returned to members from the Lighthouse Group; it was clear that there was a dispute over whether they were legally entitled to its return. Where no claim was made within the article as to the legal standing of any claim for a refund, the publication was entitled to use the term “refund”. There was no breach of Clause 1.

45. The complainant had also disputed that members of the Lighthouse Group had been encouraged to isolate themselves from family members and take legal action against them. However, where correspondence provided by the publication showed that the complainant had told an ex-member that “with your permission (in writing to our solicitors) we will hold [the ex-member’s wife] accountable by law. We will want her to prove in court that her toxic statements and beliefs about us are false, defamatory, cruel etc” – setting out that the organisation had asked one of its ex-members to provide written permission for it to pursue legal action against his wife – the Committee considered that there was a clear basis for reporting that ex-members had been encouraged to pursue legal action against family members. In addition, the complainant had said, prior to publication when this allegation was put to it, that [l]egal action would always be a last resort” – it had not denied it. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

46. In addition, during the investigation, the publication provided texts and messages from senior Lighthouse Group members to other members, in which family members were described as “toxic” or “destructive” and members were encouraged to distance themselves from such family members; this was accepted by the complainant, who had said that it would only encourage members to distance themselves from family members in responses to “past actions and behaviours and abuses”. The complainant had also, during IPSO’s investigation, provided examples of what it said was toxic behaviour from family members of Lighthouse Group members – demonstrating to the Committee that the complainant did use this language to refer to the family members of Lighthouse Group members. Taking all of these factors into account, the Committee did not consider that the article was inaccurate, misleading, or distorted on this point, and there was therefore no breach of Clause 1.

47. The Committee next addressed the alleged inaccuracies relating to the “mother” who “sa[id] she remortgaged her family home to help raise over £200,000 for her two sons to invest in the group, which they were promised would be repaid. She says she has not received a penny back.” Where it was accepted by both parties that homes inherited from the mother’s family had been remortgaged to raise the funds, the Committee did not consider that it was significantly inaccurate, misleading, or distorted in the context of the article to describe this as “remortgaging [her] family home”; regardless of whether it was two houses or one, it remained the case that she had taken out a mortgage on properties which were owned by her family.

48. The complainant had also said that the woman had in fact received over £10,000 in repayments, and that the mother had received £44,000 for her own needs; however, where the complainant agreed that the £10,000 covered only the interest-only mortgage payments – rather than repaying the £200,000 which the mother was owed – and that the £44,000 was in addition to the £200,000 that she had given her sons (because she had kept some of the remortgaged funds to one side to meet her own needs) the Committee did not consider it was inaccurate to report that she had not “received a penny back”; at the time of publication, the mother was still owed the £200,000 which she had paid to her sons to invest in the group.

49. The complainant had also said that the claim was inaccurate because the money had not been paid directly to the Lighthouse Group. The Committee noted both that the article made clear that the money was “for her two sons to invest in Lighthouse”, and that it was clear from the emails, text messages, and financial agreement provided by the publication that the complainant took an active role in facilitating the transfer of funds and promising the mother that she would be repaid – by the Lighthouse Group if not by her children. There was no breach of Clause 1 arising from the article’s reporting of the mother’s claims.

50. The Committee did not consider that the telephone call which was included in the article had been edited in a manner which rendered it significantly inaccurate, distorted, or misleading; regardless of the events which led to the call, it was not in dispute that during the call the woman was referred to as “nasty”, “pernicious”, “selfish”, “horrible”, “vindictive”, “broken”, “very damaged”, “stupid”, “dishonest”, “duplicitous”, “misleading”, “fucking deluded”, “seriously fucked up”, “sinister”, a “cynical little old witch”, a “weasel”, and “the worst, weirdest, sickest fuck”. It was also not in dispute that the woman had cried during the call. The Committee did not consider that the use of the edited version represented a breach of Clause 1.

51. The complainant had disputed that it was accurate to report that “when people start questioning the value of the group's methods, Mr Waugh's happiness vanishes and he turns to abuse” as the call which the video showed had happened as a result of the woman in question “bullying” other group members and “spreading toxic dissent”. The publication maintained that the woman had in fact been questioning the group’s methods. The Committee was not in a position to make a finding on the precise events which led to the phone call in question, but considered that – regardless of what prompted the call – it contained language which the publication was entitled to characterise as “abuse”, that the basis for this characterisation was made clear by way of the inclusion of the actual recording in the article, and that “questioning the value of the group’s methods” can cover a wide variety of behaviour, including what the complainant described as “spreading toxic dissent”. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

52. The article did not claim that calls with Paul Waugh were compulsory, and the article did not therefore breach Clause 1 on this point.

53. Regardless of whether one of the quoted members in the article had been offered a compassionate refund at one point, it was not in dispute that he had not received any such refund. Where the offer of a compassionate refund had not been actioned, there was no obligation for the publication to include this information in the article, as its omission did not render the article significantly inaccurate, distorted, or misleading, and there was no breach of Clause 1.

54. While the complainant had denied that one of the quoted members had “formally” asked for a receipt, it did not appear to be in dispute that she requested one verbally, and that she had not been provided with one. The Committee did also not consider that there was a material difference between referring to an individual as a “psychopath” or referring to their behaviour as “psychopathic”, particularly given that in the same message she was referred to as “hateful” and “toxic”. The Committee therefore did not consider that the article breached Clause 1 on this point.

55. The complainant had said that the article implied that Lighthouse Group members were purchasing shares in a company. However, the article described the Lighthouse Group as a “life coaching group”, made clear that it coached and mentored members, and did not claim that the group was any form of financial company which sold shares or stocks. In addition, the article’s use of the term “invest” mirrored the group’s own description of the payments its members made; these were described in such terms in many of the texts, emails, and recordings by group members. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

56. The complainant had said that the article referred to ex-Lighthouse Group members using several descriptors, therefore giving the impression that there were more critics of their organisation than there actually were – by referring first to an “environmental consultant” and then to a “consultant”; referring to two former-members by name and also by their profession; and referring to the same individual as a “web designer” and a ”computer graduate”.

57. The Committee did not consider that referring to the same individual as a “consultant” and “environmental consultant” implied in a misleading manner that these were two separate individuals. The job description was the same, absent a single word, and the description of this individual’s experiences – that they had been subject to an allegedly abusive phone call – were consistent in the article. The article also made clear the jobs of the two former members throughout. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

58. Regarding the “web designer” who was also a “computer graduate”, the Committee did note that the article could give the impression that these were two separate individuals. However, it did not consider that this rendered the article significantly misleading on this point; whether the article quoted five individuals or six individuals, it remained the case that serious allegations had been made against the group by several former members, and the Committee did not think that the difference between five or six individuals rendered the thrust of the article inaccurate. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

59. The complainant had also said that the article had omitted additional information, in breach of Clause 1. 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, for example, by making the article misleading or inaccurate. Having reviewed the omitted material which the complainant referred to, the Committee did not consider that its omission from the article represented a breach of Clause 1.

60. Newspapers have the right to choose what information to publish, provided the Code is not otherwise breached, and there is no obligation for a publication to demonstrate that an article is in the public interest, except where it would otherwise breach the Code (and this exemption applies only to certain Clauses of the Code). The Committee had not found any breach of the Code in relation to the article’s presentation of claims about the complainant, and therefore the complainant’s concerns that the article was not in the public interest did not represent a possible breach of the Code.

61. There is no obligation under the terms of Clause 1 for journalists to meet article subjects face-to-face. While the complainant considered that the publication should have apologised for its reporting, Clause 1 requires the publication of apologies only in certain cases where an article includes significantly inaccurate, misleading, or distorted information. The article contained no such information, and therefore no published apology was required.

62. With regards to Clause 2, the photographs showing Paul Waugh included in the article merely showed his likeness and did not reveal anything private about him. In addition, the pictures showing his home merely showed its external façade; had been taken from publicly available pictures which had originally appeared on an estate agent’s website, and did not disclose the precise location of the home. The photographs included in the article did not intrude into the complainant’s private or family life, and there was therefore no obligation on the part of the publication to obtain the consent of the complainant to publish these photographs. There was no breach of Clause 2 on this point.

63. The recording included in the article was part of a phone call which Paul Waugh had partaken in as part of his role at the Lighthouse Group; the call related to his work life – specifically, his concerns about and treatment of one the Lighthouse group members – rather than his private life. The Committee considered that, as the complaint related to private telephone calls between two individuals, the terms of Clause 2 were engaged. However, the call did not disclose any private information about Mr Waugh; while he may have been uncomfortable with the call entering the public domain, and considered it to be embarrassing, this did not mean that the contents of the call related to his private or family life – the excerpt of the calls as published in the article, rather, were about another individual and their experience of the Lighthouse Group and allegations about their conduct and behaviour. In any event, there was a clear public interest in the publication of this material as it illustrated the claims in the article about alleged “abusive” behaviour, which the publication had demonstrated that it had considered prior to publication. There was, therefore, no breach of this Clause.

64. The complainant had also said that the article breached Clause 2 as it included excerpts from texts sent by a Lighthouse Group member. The complainant was not acting on behalf of the Lighthouse Group member. IPSO is only able to consider complaints made under Clause 2 should they be made with the consent of the individual personally and directly affected by the alleged breach of the Code – which, in relation to this alleged breach, was the Lighthouse Group member. As the complainant was not acting on their behalf, the Committee was unable to consider this aspect of the complaint.

Conclusions

65. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

66. N/A


Date complaint received:  31/10/2022

Date complaint concluded by IPSO:  14/06/2023


Independent Complaints Reviewer

The complainant complained to the Independent Complaints Reviewer about the process followed by IPSO in handling this complaint. The Independent Complaints Reviewer decided that the process was not flawed and did not uphold the request for review.