Ruling

15098-23 Djanogly and Silk v Sunday Mirror

    • Date complaint received

      3rd August 2023

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 2 Privacy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 15098-23 Djanogly and Silk v Sunday Mirror


Summary of Complaint

1. Jonathan Djanogly MP and his wife Rebecca Silk, complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Sunday Mirror breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in two articles in the Sunday Mirror, the first headlined “My Hell as Tory MP’s Slave”, published on 5 February 2023 and the second headlined “EXCLUSIVE: Four more come forward over Tory MP and wife”, published of 12 February 2023.

2. The first article (which appeared on the front-page of the newspaper and continued on page 4) reported on the experiences of two women who had successfully brought claims in two employment tribunals against one of the complainants – Rebecca Silk – after having been employed as housekeepers at the complainants’ home. One housekeeper was named, pictured, and quoted extensively throughout the article, with one picture of her appearing next to the front-page headline.

3. The article stated in a bullet point underneath the headline that “housekeepers at Djanogly’s home had wages withheld” and went on to report that a “Tory MP’s housekeeper today says she was treated like a slave, suffered insults, was reduced to tears and had to take legal action against the politician’s wife to get paid”. The article described how the housekeeper in question was “one of two women who successfully took Mrs Djanogly – under her maiden name of Silk – to court for pay due to them.” The interviewee was quoted describing her experience of working for the complainants as “slavery... especially when she used to click her fingers, that’s slavery right there... I’ve got a name, use my name”. The woman was also quoted as having said: “the easiest way to describe [her experience working at the properties] is how you think a slave would work”, and as having said: “I worked sometimes to 10 or 11 at night to complete all tasks because I would be told off if I didn’t complete them. There were pages and pages of tasks. I felt like I was working in a prison. I would break down in my room.” The article reported the interviewee said “she once told Rebecca: ‘You can’t treat people like this. This is worse than a slave, this is worse than prison.’”

4. The article said that the former housekeeper “said she also asked the MP for his help, but none was forthcoming”. It quoted from an email to the interviewee sent by Mr Djanogly, after “she wrote to the MP to chase unpaid wages”, in which Mr Djanogly had replied “sorry to see that things did not work out for you. I am neither the employing person nor do I have knowledge of the issues you discuss in your message. The employer is Ms Rebecca Silk.”

5. The article also reported the outcome of the woman’s employment tribunal: “a judge ordered [she] be paid £886”. It also reported on the outcome of the employment tribunal brought by a second, unnamed, housekeeper, who “was awarded £3,148 in unauthorised wage deductions, overtime and annual leave”. The article finished by stating that Mr Djanogly “did not respond to a request for comment”.

6. Similar versions of the articles also appeared online under the headlines “EXCLUSIVE: Tory MP's extraordinary avocado fruit bowl demands to housekeeper 'treated like slave'” and “EXCLUSIVE: Tory MP Jonathan Djanogly and wife face complaints from four more fed-up housekeepers”.

7. Two days before the article was published, at approximately 11am on Friday 3 February, the reporter sent a ten-page email to Mr Djanogly’s parliamentary email address with a detailed outline for the basis of the article. This included quotes attributed to the two housekeepers, links to and quotes from the employment tribunal – as well as a link to the judgment - , and questions for Mr Djanogly. At around 5pm on the same day, the reporter sent another email requesting acknowledgement of receipt. The complainants did not respond to either email.

8. The second article reported on the negative experiences of four additional women who were not named and who had also worked as housekeepers at properties owned by the family. It included several allegations from the housekeepers, including that they had been paid less than minimum wage and were owed unpaid wages. The article also reported “Mr and Mrs Djanogly dispute the claims, stating that all workers were treated and paid properly and that they ‘do not recognise the upsetting and ugly picture now painted’. They also say they do not recall receiving any complaints”.

9. Two days before the publication of the second article, at around 11am on Friday 10 February, the reporter emailed Mr Djanogly’s parliamentary email address seeking comment. The email was over seven pages long and included quotes from the interviews with the four additional housekeepers, and questions for Mr Djanogly. A response was requested before midday the following day. Mr Djanogly’s solicitors sent a response at before 10am the day after the email had been received, requesting the names of the housekeepers mentioned in the email. The publication did not respond to this request, and another letter was sent by Mr Djanogly’s solicitors later the same day, denying the allegations made by each ex-housekeeper in turn.

10. The complainants said the headline of the first article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. They denied the headline was an accurate reflection of the employment tribunal, which they said had not found the housekeepers to be “mistreated, let alone slaves”. The complainants also said that the headline – “My hell as Tory MP’s slave” – was presented as a statement of fact, rather than as an unverified claim made by the former housekeeper.

11. The complainants also said the first article breached Clause 1 because it did not include evidence to support the claims made by the housekeepers. They also said that Ms Silk had been the respondent in the tribunal, rather than Mr Djanogly, and that this was not made clear in the article’s framing.

12. The complainants also said the first article was inaccurate because the ex-housekeeper who had been named in the article had gone by a different name while she was employed in the household.

13. The complainants also said the article had breached Clause 2 because it concerned the private home life of their family.

14. Turning to the second article, the complainants said it breached Clause 1 as the publication had approached him for comment without revealing the names of the housekeepers quoted, nor that they were employed seven to ten years ago.

15. The complainant also said the second article breached the Code because it omitted to include information that would have made the article more balanced, such as: one housekeeper had said that Mr Djanogly “was really nice and polite when I was there”; details about the written contracts between the housekeepers and the Djanogly family; that one of the housekeepers had returned to work for the family after she initially left her housekeeping position; and that, at one point, one of the housekeepers had been “overpaid due to amount of holiday taken/unpaid leave […] to focus on her new property business”.

16. The complainants also said the publication failed to take care over the accuracy of the second article because it was published at 10:23pm, six hours after the complainant’s email sent in response to the journalist’s request for comment. The complainants suggested that this was not enough time for the publication to have considered the points made in his response.

17. The publication did not accept that either article breached Clause 1. Turning to the first article under complaint, it said the statement in the headline was clearly distinguished as a claim made by the former housekeeper by the use of the first-person: ”My hell as Tory MP’s slave”. It also noted that the former housekeeper had not said that the headline was an inaccurate summary of her words, and that she was the individual best placed to say whether her words have been accurately reported. It then said that the article did not report that the tribunal had made a finding that the women had been mistreated, and this word was not used in the article - which explored the ex-housekeepers’ experiences as a whole, including their efforts to reclaim wages.

18. The publication also did not accept that it was significantly inaccurate to refer to the housekeeper in the article by a different name than the one she had used while working in the complainant’s properties; this was the name she had given the publication.

19. The publication did not accept the omission of the additional information provided by the complainant rendered the article significantly inaccurate or misleading. It also noted that it had approached Mr Djanogly for comment prior to the publication of both articles and provided the emails requesting comment. It also did not accept there was no evidence for the claims made by the treatment of the housekeepers.

20. The publication also did not accept that referring to the employment arrangements between the complainant and the housekeepers was an invasion of their privacy. It said the article was based on an employment tribunal that was in the public domain.

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

21. The Committee first considered the complainant’s concerns that the headline of the first article under complaint was inaccurate and did not reflect the findings of the tribunal. The Committee noted that the headline in question – “My hell as Tory MP’s slave” – was presented as a comment from a former housekeeper, rather than the findings of a tribunal. This was made clear by the use of the first-person and emphasised by the inclusion of a photograph of the woman in question next to the headline. The findings of the tribunal itself, that the ex-housekeepers were owed wages, were outlined clearly in a bullet point below the headline: “Housekeepers at Djanogly’s home had wages withheld”, and the complainants did not dispute the accuracy of this. The article went on to outline the ex-housekeeper’s basis for considering herself to be a “slave”, presented in her own words: she worked long hours and felt that she had been poorly treated. The headline was therefore distinguished as the woman’s first-person summary of her experience, with the article setting out why she felt this way. Taking this all into account, the Committee considered the headline to be an accurate summary of the text of the article, and clearly distinguished as the woman’s comment. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

22. The Committee noted the article at no point said Mr Djanogly was the respondent in the tribunal and made clear that the tribunal claim was against his wife. Additionally, the article reported the housekeepers had to “take legal action against the politician’s wife to get paid”, and described the ex-housekeeper as “one of two women who successfully took Mrs Djanogly – under her maiden name of Silk – to court for pay due to them”. It also made Mr Djanogly’s position on this point clear, quoting an email from him to an ex-housekeeper in which he’d stated “I am neither the employing person nor do I have knowledge of the issues you discuss in your message. The employer is Ms Rebecca Silk.” The Committee also noted that the complainant did not dispute that the woman in question had been a housekeeper in his home while he was resident there – regardless of whether she had been employed by his wife, she was also his housekeeper. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

23. The Committee then turned to the question of whether it was significantly inaccurate or misleading to use a different name for the ex-housekeeper than the one the complainants had called her by. Regardless of what name the former housekeeper went by during her time with the complainants, it was not in dispute that she had worked for them and had successfully brought legal action against them. In such circumstances, her first name did not represent potentially significantly inaccurate information, and there was no breach of Clause 1.

24. The Committee next considered the complainants’ position that the article did not contain evidence for the claims made by the housekeepers. It noted that there was support for the ex-housekeepers’ claim – the publicly available employment tribunal, which the article referred to. The Committee did not, therefore, consider the article to be inaccurate in the manner suggested by the complainant on this point, and there was no breach of Clause 1.

25. The Committee then considered whether the publication not telling the complainants the name of the ex-housekeepers and publishing the story a few hours after Mr Djanogly’s email was received could demonstrate a lack of care taken not to print accurate information. The complainants did not identify any inaccuracies that arose from the housekeepers’ names not being revealed, nor from the article being published soon after the email from the complainant was sent. In any event, the complainants were apparently able to identify the women mentioned, as in the post-publication responses to the publication, the solicitors gave detailed comments on each of the claims of each of the women. The Committee further noted that the complainant’s concern that his email was not read properly was speculative and not linked to any specific claims of inaccuracy. There was no breach of the Clause on this point.

26. The Committee then considered whether it was inaccurate to omit to include the extra information the complainant considered would have made the article more balanced. The Editors’ Code of Practice does not address issues of bias, nor omission. It makes clear the press has the right to report one side of events, as long as it takes care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, and to distinguish between comment, conjecture and fact. In this case, the publication was entitled to focus on the negative aspects of the housekeepers’ experiences, and the employment tribunals, where the complainants were unable to identify any specific inaccuracies in their accounts. There was no breach of the Clause on this point.

27. The final point under consideration by the Committee was whether Clause 2 had been breached in reporting on the home life of the family. The Committee first noted that the information disclosed in the employment tribunals was all in the public domain and the complaints had no reasonable expectation of privacy over this information. The Committee then noted the complainants had not identified any information specifically in the article that they considered private, rather their concern appeared to be that the article represented a general intrusion into their private home life. However, the information in the article did not reveal any personal or intimate details about the couple’s home life. Rather, the article focused on the behaviour of the couple in a professional rather than personal context - their roles as employers of the ex-housekeepers. Finally, it noted that the women in the article had a right to talk about their experiences, and the publication had a right to report on these experiences, provided it did so in a way that did not breach the Code. Taking these factors into account, the Committee did not find that the terms of Clause 2 had been breached.

Conclusions

28. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

29. N/A

 

Date complaint received:  07/02/2023

Date complaint concluded by IPSO:  13/07/2023