Ruling

14667-23 Bishti v The Times

    • Date complaint received

      6th July 2023

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy


Summary of Complaint 

1.Pamela Bishti complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Times breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Club owner's mother 'bribed sergeant with call girl'”, published on 10 January 2023. 

2.The article reported on accusations of bribery against the complainant. It said the “mother of the owner of one of London’s most exclusive nightclubs has denied bribing a police officer with the ‘service of a professional escort’ and house renovations”. The article reported that she was “alleged to have bribed […] a police officer in the Westminster licensing unit, between February 2013 and June 2015” and that the bribes “included ’entertainment at [a nightclub], tickets to the Wireless music festival and a Metallica concert, food and drinks, hotel accommodation, the ‘services of a professional escort’ and renovation of the police sergeant’s house”. It also reported that the complainant “denied four charges of bribery and conspiracy to commit bribery during a short hearing at Southwark crown court”. The article stated that the “defendants were charged in November 2021 following what the Met said was a long-running investigation by the anti-corruption command. The defendants are accused of providing a financial advantage to [the police officer] with the intention that he would ‘perform a relevant function or activity improperly’”. 

3. The article also appeared online under the headline, “Club owner’s mother ‘bribed sergeant with call girl’”. 

4.The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 because she was only charged with bribery and conspiracy to commit bribery in relation to the claims regarding interior design and renovations carried out on the police officer’s house. She stated that, at no point, did the charges against her involve professional escorts. The complainant said the indictment had been unclear, but that those specific allegations related only to the other defendant. The complainant said that she had written to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) asking it to alter the wording of the indictment to make this clearer but, nonetheless, the true position had been made clear during the application hearing where the charges put forward did not relate to an escort service. 

5.The complainant provided the indictment, which stated: 

COUNT 15 
An individual “accepted financial and other advantage(s) from [other defendant] and/or Pamela Bishti, namely: 
(a) Entertainment at CLS, 
(b) Tickets to Wireless Festival, 
(c) Food and/or drinks at various locations, 
(d) Transport 
(e) Hotel accommodation, 
(f) Metallica tickets, 
(g) The services of a professional escort, and/or 
(h) Renovation of [named police officer’s] house […] 

COUNT 16 
[Other defendant] and PAMELA BISHTI, between the 1st day of February 2013 and the 25th day of June 2015, gave [name], a police officer, financial and other advantage(s), namely: 
(g) The services of a professional escort, and/or 
(h) Renovation of [name]’s house 

COUNT 17 
[Name], being a police officer, between the 1st day of February 2013 and the 25th day of June 2015, accepted financial and other advantage(s) from [other defendant] and/or Pamela Bishti, namely: 
[…] 
(g) The services of a professional escort, and/or 
(h) Renovation of [named police officer’s] house 

COUNT 18 
[Other defendant] and PAMELA BISHTI, between the 1st day of February 2013 and the 25th day of June 2015, gave [name], a police officer, financial and other advantage(s), namely: […] 
(g) The services of a professional escort, and/or 
(h) Renovation of [named police officer’s] house. 

6. The complainant said there had been a further hearing at the end of January, after the publication of the article, in which the counsel for the CPS stated: “…Count 15, we understand the position regarding the little (g) and may I touch on that issue, in relation to counts 16 and 18 and [the complainant] – Court will notice insertion of the word and/or in both those counts although that particular little g is in the indictment, as things stand, Prosecution do not advance that against [the complainant] and never have advanced that against her.” The complainant provided an attendance note of the January hearing which was taken at the time by the other defendant’s solicitor, who was in court. The note said “Given reporting already taken place. Insertion after G after both those counts. And or. All I will say. Although that is in the indictment, the Crown does not advance G against Pamela Bishti and never has.” 

7. The publication did not accept a breach of Clause 1. It said that the relevant counts in the indictment, counts 16 and 18, had stated the charge as being against both the complainant and her son; otherwise, it would have used the phrase “and/or”, as it had in other charges. It said that in these counts the complainant and the other defendant were charged both jointly and severally. It said the reporter who attended the hearing had confirmed that the charges heard in court reflected those of the indictment, and that no representative present had sought to correct what had been heard. 

8. The publication said that, regardless of whatever indication the CPS gave regarding its intentions in the hearing which occurred after the publication of the article, the complainant had submitted a plea in relation to charges regarding the provision of “the services of a professional escort”. It asserted, therefore, that the prosecution was able to pursue this element of the charges at any time. 

9. The publication stated that neither the memo from the CPS nor the attendance note from the complainant’s representative altered its position. It said that the eight “advantages” [services or benefits offered during the alleged bribe] were all listed in the alternative – not just the count in relation to the “services of a professional escort”. This simply came after this “advantage”, as it was the penultimate in the list. The publication said that it could be assumed that during trial, the prosecution would set out its arguments in relation to which of the “advantages” it believed it could prove. Whilst the CPS had provided an indication of the current evidentiary position in regard to one “advantage” and which defendant it applied to, the publication stated the prosecution could still advance its case with respect to any of the other “advantages”. 

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 

10. The Committee firstly noted the role of the newspaper was to report accurately on court proceedings; it was not responsible for the accuracy of allegations advanced through those proceedings. 

11. The Committee noted that it was not necessary for it to consider counts 15 and 17, as these did not refer to charges advanced against the complainant, but rather the police officer who did not form part of this complaint. It therefore focused on whether the counts pertaining to the complainant – counts 16 and 18 – were reported accurately. 

12. The Committee considered whether the “and/or” formulation in counts 16 and 18 meant the article had reported the indictment incorrectly, in stating that the charges were against the complainant. It noted the formulation appeared in every list in the indictment, and considered it to be a drafting convention rather than an indication that only certain charges against the complainant were being advanced. Though the solicitor’s note appeared to show that the prosecution had stated that it would not be advancing this particular element of the charge against the complainant, this information was not available to the newspaper at the time of publication. It did not consider that there was a failure to take care over the accuracy of the indictment. 

13.The Committee then considered whether the note from the complainant’s solicitor, which resulted from court proceedings that occurred after the publication of the article, rendered the article significantly inaccurate, and whether the publication was therefore obliged to print a correction of the article, in line with the terms of Clause 1 (ii) – notwithstanding that it had taken care over the accuracy of the article. The Committee noted that while the complainant had invited the CPS to amend the indictment, it had not done so. Taking all these factors into account, the article was not significantly inaccurate and therefore in need of correction under the terms of Clause 1 (ii). 

Conclusions 

14. The complaint was not upheld. 

Remedial action required 

N/A 

Date complaint received: 02/02/2023 

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 16/06/2023