Ruling

15321-20 Foster v Daily Mail

    • Date complaint received

      12th May 2022

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 15321-20 Foster v Daily Mail

Summary of Complaint

1. Peter Foster complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Daily Mail breached Clause 1 of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Final CRUEL SECRET OF Cherie Blair's conman”, published on 28th July 2020.

2. The article was an interview with a woman who claimed that the complainant had fathered her twins and that she was “speaking for the first time now, exclusively to the Daily Mail”. It described the complainant as “emollient, duplicitous and utterly without principle” and said that he had “famously duped Page 3 girl Sam Fox… and persuaded the Duchess of York to endorse his bogus slimming products”. The sub-headline also claimed that he had “ruined the life of the teenage diet queen”. The article reported that the complainant had “earned millions from defrauding the gullible, but his crimes against [the woman], now 51, were far more heinous”. It explained that she had said that she met the complainant after winning “Young Slimmer of the Year” and they created a company to promote her diet and slimming pills. The article said that the woman described the complainant’s mother as “a ‘Ghislaine Maxwell figure’”. The article reported that the woman had moved into the complainant’s house and that she said the complainant took her to “posh restaurants” and gave her money to buy expensive clothes. The article explained that the woman had said she had been “seduced” by the complainant who “proposed” and gave her “a ring with a huge, pink Chopard diamond in the shape of a heart”. After the engagement, the article reported, the complainant “fled”.  It explained that the woman was charged with offering the diet “under a false trade description” and that the woman had said the complainant had “left [her] standing alone in the dock at Liverpool Crown Court pregnant with his twins. He never saw them and now he denies they are his”. The woman said the twins met the complainant’s mother in a hotel room that contained “dozens of cuddly toys… alongside an envelope stuffed with thousands of pounds in cash”. The complainant’s denial of these allegations came at the end of the article. It reported that the complainant “insisted he is not the father of [the woman’s] twins, claiming he left England for Australia in 1988 when a warrant was issued for his arrest. ‘Unless I sh***ed her from 18,000 miles then it’s complete bull****,’ he says, claiming he has also offered to take a DNA test.”.

3. The article also appeared online under the headline “Final cruel secret of Cherie Blair's conman: How fraudster Peter Foster 'ruined the life of the teenage diet queen' who claims he groomed and abandoned her, leaving her 'pregnant with twins'”. The bullet points beneath the sub-headline stated that “His crimes against [the woman] were far more heinous and she is speaking for the first time now”.

4. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 because it was physically impossible for him to have fathered the woman’s children. He explained that, given their ages, they would needed to have been conceived in 1990 but he had been out of the UK for six years, between 1988 and 1994. He said this was evidenced by his passport which showed he was thousands of miles away at the time of the twins’ conception. He had explained this to the newspaper prior to publication, but it had still proceeded with publishing the woman’s account. Furthermore, the complainant said that in an article published by a different publication in 2002, the woman had said that he had met the twins on a single occasion, yet in the article under complaint, the woman had said he had never met the children; this demonstrated her unreliability. He also said that as his rebuttal to the claims was published at the very end of the article, it was limited in its effect.5.    The complainant also disputed the woman’s claims reported in the article that he had proposed to her; that he had invited many people to meet her, including his “girlfriend, glamour model Sam Fox” as the two were not together at the time; that his mother was “a ‘Ghislaine Maxwell Figure’” as the woman never met his mother; that he took the woman to “posh restaurants and London casinos”; and that he sent the woman “on shopping sprees with wads of cash with his security guard”.

6. The complainant also said the article was inaccurate as it referenced his “heinous crimes” against the woman. He said this was inaccurate as he was not charged with any crimes against this woman. He also stated it was inaccurate to describe him as “utterly without principle” as in 2020 he was awarded a plaque by the police for “bravery in the pursuit of justice” for his role in a murder investigation.

7. He further said the article was inaccurate because he had never “duped” Sam Fox and that Ms Fox’s own autobiography made no claim that he had “duped” her. Similarly, he said that he had never contacted the Duchess of York or persuaded her to purchase or endorse his tea and so it was inaccurate for the article to state that he “persuaded the Duchess of York to endorse his bogus slimming products”.

8. The complainant also said the woman had previously spoken to a different publication and so it was inaccurate for the article to claim that she was “speaking for the first time now, exclusively to the [publication]”.

9. He said the headline of the online article and sub-headline of the print article were inaccurate as he had not “ruined the life of the teenage diet queen”.

10. The publication said it did not accept a breach of the Code. It stated that the woman had a right to share her experiences. It argued that the claim that the complainant was the father of the woman’s children was never adopted as fact in the article and was clearly presented as the allegations of the woman, who also accepted in the course of the article that the complainant had denied that her children were his. The publication explained that the discrepancy over whether the complainant had met the twins or not had been noted by the writer who had pressed the woman further on this, and stated that it was responsible for the accuracy of its own article, rather than that of an article by a different publication much earlier. It added that the writer spoke to another reporter who had been following and reporting on what the complainant had been doing for the past few decades to see if the timeline provided by the woman was substantiated. A third journalist from Australia had informed the publication that he had evidence that the complainant had been in the UK at the time the woman became pregnant. As such, the publication said that there was substance to the woman’s allegations, and this showed that care had been taken when publishing them. It also said that it had taken care by contacting the complainant prior to publication and his denial had been included in the article.

11. Similarly, the publication stated that the woman’s claims about her relationship with the complainant were clearly presented as such. In addition, the publication stated that the allegations of the woman that he had bought her expensive clothes and proposed were not significant in the context of the article where the focus was on the woman’s claims that the complainant had fathered her twins.

12. The publication also said that it was not inaccurate or misleading for the article to suggest that the complainant’s “crimes against [the woman] were far more heinous” as this represented a summary of the article and was an accurate reflection of the woman’s comments on the issue. Equally, whilst it apologised for any offence that might have been caused, the publication said it was not inaccurate to describe him as “utterly without principle” as it was a matter of subjective opinion rather than a statement of fact, and the article made clear the basis for this description.

13. The publication stated that the claim that the complainant had “duped” Sam Fox had been based on contemporaneous coverage. It provided a link to one such article that was an interview with Ms Fox and reported that she had been misled and that the complainant had faked a nursery. The publication also provided an additional article that included a quote from Ms Fox three years ago where she said: “"I'm old enough now to know that I'd never be taken in again by the likes of [the complainant]". The publication stated that, therefore, it was not misleading or inaccurate to report that she had been “duped”. Likewise, the claim in the article that the complainant had “persuaded the Duchess of York to endorse” his slimming tea was also based on press coverage from the time. The publication again provided links to articles demonstrating the multiple reports that had appeared at the time. As there appeared to be no complaint or correction regarding this historic material, the publication said it was entitled to report these claims. It also argued that this demonstrated the care that had been taken not to publish inaccurate, misleading, or distorted information.

14. Regarding the complainant’s concern that the woman had previously spoken to a separate publication, the publication stated that the article under complaint was very different in style and tone to the previous article published in 2002. It stated that it was the first time that the woman had recounted her story in full and, regardless, this claim did not render the article misleading given that the focus of the article was on whether the complainant had fathered the woman’s children.

15. The publication also said that the claim the complainant had “ruined the life” of the woman featured made in the sub-headline of the print article, and the headline of the online article, needed to be read in the context of the article in its entirety. It said that this made clear that this was a summary of the claims made by the woman and highlighted the quote where the woman had said “He ruined me but I want him to know I’m not broken”.

16. The complainant said that Ms Fox’s biography made no reference to the story about him faking a nursery in his house and stated that the allegation was false. He also said that Ms Fox’s biography referred to him as “the only man [she] has ever loved” and that the pair rekindled their relationship in 1994 until 1995. He stated that she would not have said this or renewed their relationship if she believed he had “duped” her. He also said the coverage relating to the Duchess of York promoting his slimming tea was based on a photograph of her lady-in-waiting purchasing the tea and this had led to the assumption it was for the Duchess of York. The complainant emphasised he had never spoken to the Duchess of York about the issue and was not aware if she had ever even consumed the tea. He said he had raised numerous complaints with editors over the years but that it was difficult from the other side of the world and so he had been unable to correct this information.

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

17. The article took the form of an interview with a woman, who made a series of claims about the complainant, including that he was the father of her children; the romantic nature of their relationship; and his treatment of her during the “relationship”. These claims dated back to the 1980s. The Committee recognised the inherent difficulty in verifying the veracity of these claims and made clear it was not in the position to rule on whether these claims amounted to an accurate account of the situation between the complainant and the woman. It could, however, make a finding as to whether the newspaper had taken sufficient care not to publish inaccurate or misleading information, and whether the presentation of the claims was significantly misleading, such as to require correction.

18. The claim that the complainant had fathered the woman’s children was clearly a significant allegation that formed the main focus of the article. The publication had attributed this claim to the woman, and she was quoted directly throughout. It had consulted with other writers who had covered the topic to try and verify the claims. It had also presented these claims to the complainant prior to publication and his denial had been quoted within the article. This denial was positioned at the end of the article; however, the fact of his denial was referenced near the beginning of the print article, where the woman was quoted as saying: “He never saw [the twins] and now he denies they are his”. Where his position was put on record, and where the claims were clearly attributed to the woman, the Committee was satisfied the publication had taken sufficient care not to publish inaccurate, misleading, or distorted information. There was no breach of Clause 1 (i) on this point.

19. Similarly, the article had clearly attributed the woman’s claims about her relationship with the complainant, such as that he had proposed and provided her with expensive clothes, to her. It quoted the woman directly on these points and so distinguished between comment, conjecture, and fact. Taking into account the nature of the claims and the way they had been presented, there was no breach of Clause 1.

20. Whilst the complainant objected to the article describing him as “utterly without principle” and suggested that his “crimes” against the woman had been “heinous”, the article had set out the bases for these descriptions. The woman’s claims had been reported in detail and there had been no suggestion that the complainant had committed criminal offences against her. The reference to “heinous crimes” was a reflection of the woman’s allegations that he had abandoned her after she became pregnant and so the publication had set out the basis for this characterisation. The suggestion in the article that the complainant was “utterly without principle” was also a comment based on the allegations set out in the article. There was no failure to take care over the accuracy of these claims.

21. The complainant had highlighted that the woman had previously spoken to publications and so that it was inaccurate for this article to suggest she was speaking “for the first time”. The Committee noted that, during IPSO’s investigation, the publication had explained that this was the first time the woman had shared her story in such detail and that the previous article had been published in 2002. The Committee also concluded that this was not a significant detail in the article that reported her claims and focused on her allegation that the complainant had fathered her twins. There was no failure to take care and no breach of Clause 1.

22. Regarding the claim within the article that the complainant had “duped” Sam Fox, the Committee noted that the publication had provided an historic article which reported that Ms Fox had said she would “never be taken in again by the likes of [the complainant]”. In light of Ms Fox’s public comments on the matter, the article did not appear to misrepresent her position and, in addition, given the length of time that had passed, it was not a detail that was significant in the context of the article. Similarly, whilst the complainant denied any connection between him and his tea and the Duchess of York, the coverage at the time did report a link and there was not a failure to take care by the publication on this point.  Given the limited significance of this point in the article- being a passing reference to a connection with the Duchess in connection with another of the complainant’s business ventures – a correction was not required.  There was no breach of Clause 1 in respect of these points.

23. The complainant had expressed concern that there was an inconsistency between the woman’s claim within the article that he had never met her children, and a previous article, published by a different publication, that he had. The Committee noted the publication’s explanation that it had been aware of this inconsistency prior to publication and had pressed the woman on this point. However, it appeared that the complainant was in agreement with the woman’s position set out in the article under complaint: that he had not met the two children. He was not, therefore, suggesting that this claim was significantly inaccurate or misleading, and so this was not a point which engaged the terms of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code. The publication could not be held responsible for the accuracy of an historic article published by a different publication.

24. The complainant also objected to the sub-headline of the print version and the headline of the online version of the article that stated he had “Ruined the life of the teenage diet queen”. Clause 1 requires that publications must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text. When considered in the context of the article as a whole, the suggestion that the complainant had “ruined the life of the teenage diet queen” represented a summary of the claims made in the article: namely, the woman’s allegations that he had abandoned her after she fell pregnant. The sub-headline of the print article also stated that it was the woman “tell[ing] her story” and so made clear that the article represented her position. As such, there was no failure to take care and no breach of Clause 1.

Conclusion(s)

25. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

26. N/A


Date complaint received: 16/08/2020

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 14/04/2022