Ruling

13427-16 Turner v thesun.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      11th May 2017

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 13427-16 Turner v thesun.co.uk

Summary of Complaint

1. Richard Turner, on behalf of Levi Bellfield (now known as Yusuf Rahim), complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that thesun.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “SERIAL KILLER’S SICK LIES: Levi Bellfield may have lied about other murders to put tortured families through more misery says cop”, published online on 10 November 2016.

2. The article said that after a two-year investigation into Levi Bellfield's “supposed confessions” to other murders, the police had found no evidence to back them up. It reported the comments of a retired detective who had helped put Mr Bellfield in prison who said “he likes this kind of attention, and to inflict pain on other people”. It said that Bellfield “told police in early 2015 that he was guilty of other attacks”, but had then retracted his statement. It said that the latest investigation “centred around his confession that he was guilty of other attacks”, and reported a statement from police saying that there was no evidence to link him to any case for which he had not already been convicted. This article followed other reporting of the case, including that in the Daily Mirror which has separately been the subject of a ruling by IPSO’s Complaints Committee following a complaint from Mr Turner.

3. The complainant said that Mr Bellfield had never confessed to other murders. He said that the police assumed that he might be responsible for other unsolved murders, and began a number of investigations. He said that the reason why this claim had not been challenged by Mr Bellfield when first published in early 2016 was because the initial report about the “confessions” went unnoticed by the family, who were under a lot of strain in relation to other publicity concerning Mr Bellfield. He provided press releases from the Metropolitan Police which referred to the “alleged involvement of Levi Bellfield” in a number of serious crimes; however, he said that none of these press releases said that Mr Bellfield had confessed to these crimes.

4. The publication said that its story was based on comments made by a retired police officer, reported in the Daily Mirror, who believed that the police investigation had been sparked by alleged confessions from Mr Bellfield that were later withdrawn. It said that the article had used the words “may have lied”, and referred to “supposed” confessions. It said that The Times newspaper had reported in January 2016 that Mr Bellfield had confessed to other murders to the police, and had reported a source saying that “he was singing like a canary”. It said that while the source of the story was unclear from this distance in time, journalists were of the belief that confessions from Mr Bellfield had led to the investigations. It said this “confession” had been reported in a number of different articles since, and had remained unchallenged.

5. The publication accepted that no official statements from police had used the word “confessions”; however, it cited an article from The Independent in January 2016 which reported that the term was not used because the police did not want to inflict further torment on the families of victims. In any event, it said that the complainant had no way of knowing for certain whether his brother did or did not “confess” to the murders, but said it was clear that the police would not have spent 10 months investigating these matters if they did not have a strong suspicion that he was involved. It said that it did not try to verify the claims that Mr Bellfield confessed to other murders, and had not considered it necessary to contact Mr Bellfield in prison before publication, or contact his representatives, about the “confessions”, because his word could not be relied upon. Nonetheless, it offered to remove the original story from its website, put a warning on Mr Bellfield’s name in connection to “confessions to further murders”, and to publish the following footnote to a previous story:

On another story about Levi Bellfield, we stated that he confessed to police about further murders. We have been informed by his family that he denies ever having confessed to further murders.

Relevant Code Provisions

6. 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.

Findings of the Committee

7. The fact that there had been a further police investigation, in January 2016, into allegations that Mr Bellfield had been involved in further offending was not disputed by the complainant. The existence of that investigation had been confirmed, on the record, by the Metropolitan Police, as had the fact that the investigation had subsequently been closed. These facts had already been the subject of reports in other publications.

8.In reporting that this investigation had resulted in Mr Bellfield having “confessed” to other murders, the newspaper had relied on the fact that this claim had been widely reported in January 2016, without challenge, and had been repeated by other publishers in reporting that the police investigation had been closed.

9.The newspaper had not, in publishing the article under complaint, taken any additional steps to verify the accuracy of the claim that Mr Bellfield had “confessed”. Nonetheless, given that the allegation was a significant one, which had been widely reported, the Committee concluded that the newspaper was, in these particular circumstances, able to take account of the absence of any challenge by Mr Bellfield or his family to the accuracy of the earlier reports in taking the care required under Clause 1.

10. In coming to this view, the Committee acknowledged the difficulties which would have been faced by the newspaper in seeking additional information which could corroborate the “confessions”, given the nature of the police investigation and the fact that Mr Bellfield is in custody.

11. The Committee was therefore satisfied that, in republishing the claim, the newspaper had taken a reasonable level care over the accuracy of the material published, such that there was no breach of Clause 1 (i).

12. The Committee was not in a position to reach a finding as to whether or not Mr Bellfield had made any confession or admission in his interviews with police. In the circumstances, and in the absence of a breach of Clause 1 (i), it did not consider that a correction was required under Clause 1 (ii). Nonetheless, it welcomed the newspaper’s offer to put the complainant’s denial on record. It trusted that this would now be published, and that the newspaper would have regard for the fact that the complainant had now denied making any confession, when considering future coverage. The Committee noted that its decision on this complaint related to circumstances in which the newspaper had been unaware of the complainant’s denial.

13. The article did not suggest that Mr Bellfield was guilty of further offending, and the allegation that Mr Bellfield had “lied…to hurt families” was clearly presented as conjecture on the part of a retired police officer, who was not involved in the further investigation. There was no breach of Clause 1.

Conclusions

14. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

15. N/A

Date complaint received: 21/11/2016
Date decision issued: 20/04/2017