Ruling

12130-21 Reeve v The Daily Telegraph

    • Date complaint received

      10th November 2022

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 12130-21 Reeve v The Daily Telegraph

Summary of Complaint

1. Jasmine Reeve complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Daily Telegraph breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “‘Soft touch’ justice blamed for one in 1,000 conviction rate for illegal entry to the UK”, published on 26 November 2021.

2. The article reported on the conviction rate of individuals who had “arrive[d] in the UK illegally”. It stated that “only 61 migrants have been charged and 51 convicted for illegally entering the UK ‘without leave’ in breach of the 1971 Immigration Act since December 2019 according to official figures obtained under Freedom of Information laws.” The article compared this figure to “more than 46,000 [migrants] who entered the UK illegally over the same period, including 16,500 ‘irregular’ entrants confirmed by the Home Office in 2020 and nearly 30,000 via small boats across the Channel or smuggled into the UK on lorries.” The article also stated these figures represented “a conviction rate of only one in 1,000”.

3. The article also appeared online in substantially the same form under the headline “Failure to prosecute migrants arriving illegally leaves UK looking like ‘soft touch’”.

4. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy, as it was not illegal to enter the country via irregular means in order to claim asylum. Therefore, reporting that it was illegal to cross the channel via irregular means was inaccurate. She then said that the “vast majority” of those who entered the country by irregular means, particularly those who crossed the channel on dinghies, went on to claim asylum, and claiming asylum was a human right in international law and refugees are not criminals. As such, she said characterising the CPS as “soft touch” for not prosecuting people who had not broken any laws was also inaccurate.

5. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It cited the Section 24 (1) (a) of the Immigration Act 1971: “a person who is not a British citizen shall be guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction […] if contrary to this Act he knowingly enters the United Kingdom in breach of a deportation order or without leave”. The publication said that this meant that anyone who knowingly entered the UK without leave (without permission to do so) was entering illegally. As such, it did not consider its presentation of the figures to be inaccurate, misleading or distorted.

6. To support its position, the publication provided a Freedom of Information (FOI) request made to the Home Office in respect of convictions for illegal entry. The response to the FOI request from the Immigration Enforcement Secretariat showed there were 46,313 detected arrivals during the period from 1 December 2019 to 31 October 2021. The publication also provided a report from the from the Border Inspectorate and pointed out that it used “illegal entry” throughout, basing its use on the Immigration Act.

7. The complainant disputed the publication’s position. She said that the publication was misrepresenting how the law worked, and that relevant case law should be considered. The complainant also said that other relevant statutes, such as the Refugee Convention, and human rights legislation, would affect how this law was interpreted. She said that statutes cannot be indiscriminately applied to thousands of people without further context.

8. The complainant also cited an article from a fact-checking website, which referenced Article 31 of the UN Refugee Convention; this states that refugees cannot be penalised for entering the country illegally to claim asylum if they are “coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened” provided they “present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence”. The fact-checking article elaborated further and stated that people who enter the UK by illegal means can legitimately make a claim for asylum, even after passing through other “safe” countries, provided they do so directly after arriving.

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 acknowledged the complainant’s position that those who enter the UK via irregular means may apply for asylum or later be granted leave to remain in the UK. However, the article reported on the method of entry into the UK by “migrants” generally; it was the manner of arrival into the UK which was described as “illegal”, rather than the legal status, or future legal status, of migrants once in UK territory. Therefore, the Committee needed to consider whether it was accurate for the article to describe migrants as “arriving illegally” in reporting the figures obtained by the publication under Freedom of Information (FOI) laws.

10. The Committee reviewed the figures provided in response to the FOI request and the Border Inspectorate report, both provided by the publication, alongside a fact-checking article provided by the complainant. The Committee also had regard to the provisions of the 1971 Immigration Act – specifically cited in the article – which provides that “a person who is not a British citizen shall be guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction […] if contrary to this Act he knowingly enters the United Kingdom in breach of a deportation order or without leave”. The Committee therefore did not find that characterising entry into the UK without leave as “illegal” amounted to significantly inaccurate information in breach of Clause 1, or that the publication had not taken care over the accuracy of the information; the article had focussed on the means of entry into the UK, and not the legal status of the migrants themselves. Furthermore, the 1971 Act provides that an offence committed under the Act is punishable on summary conviction, which can equate to a prison sentence of up to six months, which the article accurately reported. As such, there was no breach of Clause 1.

11. The Committee considered the complainant’s position that it was misleading to describe the Crown Prosecution Service as a “soft touch”. The article set out the basis for this characterisation, namely that there was a “‘hands off’ approach to Channel migrants adopted by the CPS and included criticism of the stance: “however, Tory MPs and migration campaigners said the decision was removing a key deterrent to the deadly cross-Channel trade”. The Committee found that where the basis for the “soft touch” characterisation was made clear in the article, there was no breach of Clause 1.

Conclusion(s)

12. The complaint was not upheld.


Date complaint received: 14/04/2022

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 25/10/2022