Ruling

14050-23 Kausar v express.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      25th October 2023

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 14050-23 Kausar v express.co.uk


Summary of Complaint

1. Hifza Kausar complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that express.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Dozens of drivers 'paid scammers to make speeding tickets go away', published on 19 November 2022.

2. The article reported that “[f]ive drivers have been banned from the roads” after using a service it called “NIP-farms”, a reference to “Notices of Intended Prosecution, which are automatically served by Greater Manchester Police (GMP) after a driving offence, such as speeding, is committed”. The article described these “farms” as organisations which were “part of a prolific nationwide scam, where driving offences are pinned on fictitious people” and said that “a GMP investigation has revealed that certain addresses are repeatedly being submitted on these forms, with an array of different names. However, extensive checks show that the nominated drivers are fictitious”.

3. The complainant was one of the five drivers who had reportedly been “banned”. The article reported she “was banned for six months after her [car] was caught on M66 cameras speeding twice in two days”. It stated that her NIP was returned to the police, “with the same […] address as” another individual referred to in the article who “admitted that he paid someone £150 ‘to try and deal with the ticket’”. It also said that the form submitted on behalf of the complainant included “the name of a different fictitious person”. The article reported that, “as there were two offences, these were totted up and [the complainant…] was banned from driving for six months. She was also told to pay £812 in fines and costs.”

4. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. She said that the article gave the false impression that she had paid criminals to avoid paying for her speeding tickets. She said the correct position was that she was convicted for failing to supply details, and that it was heard in court that the NIP form had been completed by a third party, who had used the address referred to in the article. She said her case was distinct from the others referred to in the article on this basis.

5. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that it was correct that the complainant had been convicted of failing to supply details. However, it said this was a direct result of the fact she used a “NIP farm” to provide information which was not consistent with her actual details. It said that this was made clear within the article, which specified that her NIP had been returned but with the same address as another person referred to in the article who had been convicted, and a fictitious name. It also said the article did not state that the complainant was convicted on the basis of paying criminals to get rid of her speeding tickets. Whilst the publication did not consider that the article was misleading, it offered to amend the article to clarify the two offences were “for failing to provide her correct driver details”.

6. The publication said that a journalist had taken contemporaneous notes of the court proceedings which acted as the basis of the article under complaint, but it was not able to provide these notes as they had since left the newspaper. However, the newspaper said that the police prosecutor had stated in court that, following the receipt of a NIP, the complainant paid monies to facilitators of NIP farms in order to avoid a driving conviction. To support its position on this point, it provided two emails from the police, sent to the publication after publication which confirmed the details of the prosecution’s case . The first email stated that the basis of the statement served on the complainant was that she had “paid monies to facilitators of NIP Farms in order that she avoided any form of a driving conviction” and stated that the address on the complainant’s NIP had been used on more than 30 occasions. The second email stated that many drivers who provided false details using NIP farms were prosecuted for failing to provide details rather than attempting to pervert the course of justice, as this would be too burdensome on resources.

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.

Findings of the Committee

7. The Committee first made clear that newspapers are responsible for accurately reporting what is heard in court; they are not responsible for the accuracy of what is heard by the court. The article reported on the practice adopted by some drivers of providing false names when completing Notices of Intended Prosecution (NIP) and the prosecutions which have been brought by the Greater Manchester Police in such circumstances for “failing to give information relating to the identification of the driver when required”. The opening sentence explained that the drivers had been banned from the roads “after attempting to avoid prosecution by using an illegal service which it claims it can make parking tickets and speeding fines “go away””. The article then reported on a number of cases, one of which involved the complainant. The complainant accepted that she had been banned from driving for six months after her car was caught on cameras speeding on two occasions, as reported in the article. She also accepted that her NIP had been completed with a false address – though she stated that a third party had done this rather than herself, which she said had been accepted in court. The Committee noted that the article did not state that the complainant had completed the NIP form or that she had been convicted of an offence relating to the completion of the NIP.  Rather, the article reported that the NIP had been completed with a false name and address, which the complainant did not dispute. Where the offence for which the complainant had been convicted had been reported accurately and it was not in dispute that, before the hearing, a NIP had been completed in which a false address had been provided, the Committee did not consider the article to be an inaccurate summary of the complainant’s conviction, and there was no breach of Clause 1. It did, however, note its concern at the newspaper’s lack of contemporaneous notes, and reiterated that such notes are an important part of taking care not to publish inaccurate information.

Conclusion

8. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

9. N/A


Date complaint received:  25/01/2023

Date decision issued:  04/10/2023