Ruling

15588-23 Palin v liverpoolecho.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      27th July 2023

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 2 Privacy, 3 Harassment, 9 Reporting of crime

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 15588-23 Palin v liverpoolecho.co.uk


Summary of Complaint

1. Ryan Palin complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that liverpoolecho.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 3 (Harassment), and Clause 9 (Reporting of crime) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in:

· An article headlined “Cocaine kingpin brought down by Conor McGregor mural on wall”, published on 20 June 2022;

· An article headlined “Conor McGregor, selfies and the fatal mistakes that landed EncroChat dealers in jail”, published on 21 June 2022;

· An article headlined “Fallen cocaine kingpin tells court he has no money for lawyers”, published on 8 February 2023. 

2. The first article reported on the complainant’s court case. It said that the complainant was “found guilty of conspiracy to supply 700kg of cocaine, 15kg of heroin and 40kg of amphetamines”. It also stated that the complainant had been “brought down by a mural of UFC superstar Conor McGregor painted on his wall” after images had been found of it by police on his EncroChat device – an encrypted mobile phone. The article included the complainant’s street level address and a photograph of a mural of Mr McGregor.

3. The second article reported on criminals who had used the EncroChat phone network, and included the complainant. It reported that the complainant had been “jailed for 29 years for conspiracy to supply cocaine, heroin and amphetamines”, and described him as a “high-level cocaine, heroin and amphetamines trafficker”. It stated that a “mural of UFC superstar Conor McGregor, selfies, pictures of cheese and the sharing of personal information have all been used to bring otherwise hardened criminals to justice”. It also contained the complainant’s street level address and a photograph of the same mural which appeared in the first article under complaint.

4. The third article also reported on the complainant’s court case. It said he had been “identified as a major supplier of cocaine, heroin and amphetamines”, “was found guilty of conspiracy to supply Class A and B drugs”, and a picture caption reported that he had been “jailed for 29 years for conspiracy to supply cocaine, heroin and amphetamines”. The article also stated that a “a bizarre, garish mural of Irish UFC star Conor McGregor” had been found at the complainant’s home. It further stated that images of the mural matched with those shared on the complainant’s “EncroChat device” which had also been “used to arrange the supply of 700kg of cocaine, 15kg of heroin and 40kg of amphetamines”. The article contained the complainant’s street level address and the photograph of the mural.

5. The complainant said that the articles were all inaccurate in breach of Clause 1, as he said that he had never been convicted of any charges relating to heroin. He also said the image of the mural included in the articles was not the image of the mural at his house, and that he didn’t have a mural of Conor McGregor in his home. He sent an image of the mural in his home, which was not the image shown in the article; instead, the mural had been partially removed and featured a different person. The complainant said that the same incorrect image had been given to the jury as evidence during his trial. The complainant then said that the first and second articles were inaccurate, as both made reference to an EncroChat “device”. The complainant said this was not accurate as no such device had been found in his possession.

6. The complainant also said he considered the articles were in breach of Clause 2 and Clause 9. He said that the publication of his street level address intruded into his privacy and also had an effect on his family. He considered that the article might inspire readers to burgle his home.

7. The complainant also said that the articles breached Clause 3, as she considered the three articles under complaint amounted to harassment and persistent pursuit.

8. The complainant also said he considered the three children who lived at the address to be victims of crime. He said that the inaccuracies in the articles, as well as the fact that the publication had allowed members of the public to comment on the article under complaint, had led to them being bullied. He said this demonstrated that the newspaper was not taking regard for victims of crime under 18.

9. The complainant also said that allowing members of the public to comment on the articles also breached Clause 2, as he said that there were a multitude of offensive and personal comments that he considered breached the newspaper’s ‘house rules’. The complainant provided a selection of the comments, which included comments insulting him, mocking his personal appearance, congratulating the police and calling him a “rat”. Several of the comments mocked the quality of the mural shown in the articles.

10. The complainant first contacted the publication on the 8 February – the same day as the publication of the third article – to make it aware if his concerns. He then contacted IPSO on the 9 February.

11. Two days after the publication of the third article under complaint, and two days after the complainant raised the inaccuracies with the publication, it amended the articles to remove the references to “heroin” and added the following as a footnote to all three articles under complaint:

An earlier version of this article stated that Palin had been convicted of conspiracy to supply cocaine, heroin and amphetamines. In fact, although the police said data from the encrypted Encrochat communication service indicated he had been involved with heroin supply too, he was convicted only of conspiracy to supply cocaine and amphetamines. We are happy to clarify this matter.

12. On 22 March, after the publication had been notified of a formal complaint by IPSO, the publication moved the correction to the top of the article, beneath the headline.

13. The publication accepted that it had inaccurately reported that the complainant had been convicted of conspiracy to supply heroin, and that his convictions instead related to cocaine and amphetamine. It said that the article had been based on a press release from the police, which it provided to IPSO. The press release stated that “using the handle Titch.com, [the complainant] was involved in a conspiracy to supply 700kg of cocaine, 15kg of heroin and 40kg of amphetamine”, however, in relation to his sentencing the press release stated that he “was sentenced “for conspiracy to Supply Class A and B drugs (cocaine and amphetamine)”.

14. The publication did not accept that the publication of a photograph showing a mural was inaccurate. It provided an email from the police, which stated that the photograph published in the article had been shown in court and had been unchallenged by the complainant’s legal representative during court proceedings. It also stated that the sentences in the articles relating to the mural being found in the complainant’s home were accurate. In addition, the publication provided two articles from different publishers who had also published the photo of the same mural in news articles about the complainant.

15. The publication did not accept that it was inaccurate to report that the complainant had an EncroChat device, as the police press release had stated: “An image on the encrypted phone showed a distinctive mural of the Ultimate Fighting Champion star Connor McGregor”.

16. The publication did not accept a breach of Clause 2 for publishing his address, as it state that this formed part of his legal identity and the addresses of defendants were always published in its court reporting.

17. The publication did not consider that Clause 3 or Clause 9 were engaged. With regards to Clause 9, it said it was sorry that the complainant’s daughter was affected, but considered the public reaction was due to the complainant’s decision to break the law, rather than the publication of the articles.

18. Finally, the publication said that none of the comments under complaint engaged the Code.

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.

Clause 3 (Harassment)*

i) Journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit.

ii) They must not persist in questioning, telephoning, pursuing or photographing individuals once asked to desist; nor remain on property when asked to leave and must not follow them. If requested, they must identify themselves and whom they represent.

iii) Editors must ensure these principles are observed by those working for them and take care not to use non-compliant material from other sources.

Clause 9 (Reporting of Crime)*

i) Relatives or friends of persons convicted or accused of crime should not generally be identified without their consent, unless they are genuinely relevant to the story.

ii) Particular regard should be paid to the potentially vulnerable position of children under the age of 18 who witness, or are victims of, crime. This should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings.

iii) Editors should generally avoid naming children under the age of 18 after arrest for a criminal offence but before they appear in a youth court unless they can show that the individual’s name is already in the public domain, or that the individual (or, if they are under 16, a custodial parent or similarly responsible adult) has given their consent. This does not restrict the right to name juveniles who appear in a crown court, or whose anonymity is lifted.

Findings of the Committee

19. The Committee first considered the articles’ reference to  the wording of the charges which the complainant had been convicted of. All three articles had referred to the complainant having been found guilty of conspiracy to supply heroin. Prior to the publication of all three articles under complaint, the newspaper had access to the police press release report which clearly stated that the complainant was sentenced “for conspiracy to Supply Class A and B drugs (cocaine and amphetamine)” – and which clearly did not refer to heroin. Where the publication had sight of the press release prior to publication which clearly stated the complainant’s conviction – and which it had, by its own account, used as the basis for its reporting and without making any independent checks – this represented a failure to take care not to publish inaccurate information, and a breach of Clause 1(i).

20. Two days after the complainant contacted the publication directly, it had amended the articles under complaint to remove the reference to heroin, and had published a correction which identified the inaccuracy and put the correct position on record. The inaccurate information had only featured in the text of the articles, and therefore the publication of the correction as a footnote represented due prominence. In addition, the publication of the correction two days after complaint represented due promptness. There was no breach of Clause 1(ii).

21. With regards to the image of the mural included in all three articles under complaint, the Committee 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. Where it was not in dispute that the images published in the article had formed part of the evidence which led to the complainant’s conviction, the Committee did not consider that the article was an inaccurate summary of the complainant’s court case. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

22. Where the police press release stated that complainant had been found guilty due to images found on “the encrypted phone”, it was not inaccurate to refer to a “device” and there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

23. The complainant had also said that publishing his address was a breach of Clause 2 and Clause 9. In accordance with the principle of open justice, newspapers are generally entitled to report information that has been disclosed in open court and is not subject to a reporting restriction. A defendant’s address would typically be given in court, and the publication of a street address helps to accurately identify defendants. In these circumstances, there was no breach of Clause 2 or Clause 9.

24. With regards to Clause 3, the Committee noted that there was no suggestion of inappropriate behaviour on the part of journalists acting on behalf of the publication. Considering the articles together, it did not consider that the publication of three articles referring to the complainant, including one which was a summary of several criminals who had been convicted due to EncroChat, amounted to intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit. There was no breach of Clause 3.

25. The Committee was sorry to hear that children in the complainant’s family had been affected by the publication of the article. However, Clause 9(ii) relates to children who were witnesses to, or victims of, crime. Simply being related to a convicted criminal does not constitute being a victim of crime, and the fact a convicted criminal has relatives under the age of 18 does not mean that newspapers are automatically prohibited from publishing information in relation to their crimes. The Committee also noted that the children were not referred to in any of the articles. There was no breach of Clause 9.

26. Finally, the Committee turned to the comments made by members of the public that the complainant had said breached the Editors’ Code. For the reasons in paragraph 25, it did not consider that Clause 9 was engaged by the complainant’s concerns. Turning to the other breaches of the Code alleged by the complainant, the Committee understood that the comments were rude and offensive to the complainant. However, none contained information which related to the complainant’s private life, or otherwise engaged the Editors’ Code. It also reiterated that the Committee could not force the publication to remove the ability for readers to comment from articles. There was no breach of the Code on this point.

Conclusions

27. The complaint was upheld under Clause 1(i).

Remedial action required

28. The published correction put the correct position on record and was offered promptly and with due prominence. No further action was required.

 

Date complaint received:  09/02/2023

Date complaint concluded by IPSO:  06/07/2023

 

Independent Complaints Reviewer

The complainant complained to the Independent Complaints Reviewer about the process followed by IPSO in handling this complaint. The Independent Complaints Reviewer decided that the process was not flawed and did not uphold the request for review.