Ruling

16626-23 Busby v Leicester Mercury

    • Date complaint received

      20th July 2023

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 16626-23 Busby v Leicester Mercury


Summary of Complaint

1. Mark Busby complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Leicester Mercury breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Pre-Christmas drinks saw driver heading on to wrong side of A46”, published on 18 January 2023.

2. The article reported on a court case, during which the complainant had “pleaded guilty to failing to provide a specimen on December 23 last year”. The article stated: “A witness called 999 after spotting [the complainant] who had been drinking heading the wrong way onto the A46 dual carriageway near Leicester.” It then said: “After he failed a roadside breath test, he was arrested and taken to a police station. There he was required to give another specimen of breath, but failed to do so after what was described in court as a ‘fairly lame attempt’”.

3. The prosecutor in the case was quoted in the article as having said: “At 9.30pm, the police received a report the defendant was driving the wrong way along the sliproad onto the A46. […] There was a strong smell of alcohol and Busby was unsteady on his feet.” The article explained that “the roadside breath test – which cannot be used for a drink-driving conviction but can be taken into account by the magistrates – was 81 microgrammes per 100ml of breath. The legal limit is 35 microgrammes.”

4. The article quoted the chair of the bench, who reportedly told the complainant: “We accept you didn’t refuse to give a specimen but 81 is a high level of impairment and there was an element of dangerous driving – you could have killed someone.”

5. The article also appeared online in substantially the same format under the headline “Drunk driver goes wrong way on the A46”.

6. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 as he was not prosecuted as a “drunk driver”. Rather, he had failed to produce a suitable specimen of breath, and this was what he had been prosecuted for.

7. He also said that there had been no 999 call made by a ”witness” as reported by the article, and that he had not been on the A46. He said that the police officer who attended the scene happened to be exiting the A46 on the sliproad and had spotted him turning his car around on the sliproad. He said that the article’s explanation that it was a sliproad that he had been driving on came many paragraphs into the article and that the article gave the impression he was speeding down the dual carriage way for a “few miles”. He also said that the reference to “dual carriageway” had not been heard in court. The complainant contacted the publication directly on 18 January to raise his concerns about the article.

8. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that the reporter’s notes had referred to the police receiving a “report” and that, after receiving this report, “officers made their way to the location”. It accepted that the 'report' could have been made via a 101 number or online – rather than via 999, as reported by the article – however, it did not consider this represented a significant inaccuracy in need of correction. Nevertheless,  as a gesture of goodwill the publication amended the article following contact from the complainant, to state that a witness had contacted the police rather than “called 999” – it did this the day after the article’s publication.

9. In regard to the references to “drunk driver” which appeared in the online headline and “drink-driving” – which appeared in both versions – the publication said that the prosecutor had made reference to “a strong smell of alcohol and he was unsteady on his feet” during court proceedings. The publication said that the complainant had accepted that he blew 81 microgrammes at the roadside which is more than twice the legal limit and was considered a “high” reading when breathalysed, and that the only reason the complainant was not prosecuted as a drink driver is because he failed to provide a suitable specimen. It said the article did not state that the complainant was charged with drink driving, but rather quoted the Chair of the bench, who said “81 is a high level of impairment and there was an element of dangerous driving – you could have killed someone.”

10. The publication said that the sliproad on the A46 was part of the A46– it further said that the article later made clear that the complainant was on the sliproad, not the actual carriageway. It said that the prosecutor had referenced the complainant “driving the wrong way along the sliproad of the A46” and that “there was a very dangerous piece of driving going the wrong way on a dual carriageway and attempting to turn on a slipway.” This was also supported by the reporter’s notes the publication had provided. The publication did not, therefore, consider this term to be inaccurate or misleading.

11. The publication provided a copy of the court reporter’s notes and a transcript of the complainant’s sentencing to support its position. The reporter’s notes indicated the prosecutor had said there was  a “report of [the] defendant driving [the] wrong way along [the] sliproad of A46” and that “officers made their way to the location. [The complainant] would have been facing towards the oncoming traffic.” It said he had failed the breath test, that there was a “strong smell of alcohol” and that “he was unsteady on his feet.” The notes said  it was “a very dangerous piece of driving going the wrong way on a dual carriageway and attempting to turn on a slipway”.

12. In response, the complainant said that the official police report from the night supported his position that it would have been impossible for a member of the public to: spot him on the road; call 999 or report him to the police; and for the police to then attend the scene all while he was still turning around. He provided a witness statement from the police officer who attended the scene and also the police report. It did not make any reference to a 999 call or member of the public.

13. The publication was satisfied that it had taken care not to publish inaccurate information and that the reference to the 999 call was heard in court, although this was not included in the court transcript it had provided. In any case, it reiterated that any inaccuracy was not significant. However, it offered the following correction on page 2 of the print newspaper on what date:

Our article '[HEADLINE], [DATE], reported how Mark Busby, from Birstall, had been taken to the police station after drink-driving up the wrong side of A46 dual carriageway. The article reported that he was spotted by a witness who called 999, which was based on the information given in court. However, in fact, Mr Busby had been spotted and stopped by the police. We are happy to clarify this.

And the following correction online:

A previous version of this article reported that Mark Busby was spotted by witness who called 999, which was based on the information given in court. However, in fact, Mr Busby had been spotted and stopped by the police. We are happy to clarify this.

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

14. The Committee considered the article’s use of the term “drunk driver” and noted that the complainant had pleaded guilty to failing to provide a specimen – which the article itself had made clear. The article further made clear that the complainant’s initial roadside specimen was 81 microgrammes per 100ml of breath, which was over double the legal limit; it also noted that the prosecutor had said in court “there was a strong smell of alcohol and Busby was unsteady on his feet.” This was also supported by the court reporter’s notes, which the publication had provided. While the complainant had not been convicted for “drink-driving”, the Committee considered it was acceptable to characterise his driving in this way for the reasons noted above, where the complainant had accepted he had driven after drinking earlier with customers and where the article itself made clear the exact crime for which the complainant had been convicted. The publication had taken sufficient steps to take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading, or distorted information and there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

15. Turning to the article’s claim that “a witness called 999 after spotting a driver” and that “at 9.30pm, the police received a report the defendant was driving the wrong way along the sliproad onto the A46“. The Committee noted that a 999 call had not been referenced in the court reporter’s notes and that this reference was inaccurate. The court reporter’s notes did however, suggest that there had been a “report” and further the publication did not have access to the witness statement – which had been provided by the complainant during the IPSO investigation – to suggest otherwise. In this instance,  the Committee did not consider who saw the complainant to be significant given that it was not in dispute that police had attended the scene of the incident and where the article had accurately recorded the offence to which the complainant had pleaded guilty to. For this reason, the Committee did not consider this to represent a significant inaccuracy and for this reason there was no breach of Clause 1.

16. The Committee next considered the article’s references to the road the complainant had turned his car around on. It noted that the two versions of the headline had described the complainant as having driven the “wrong way” and “wrong side” of the A46 and the article had further described this road as a dual carriageway. The complainant said that this was inaccurate as it had implied he had been driving along the wrong side of the A46 for several miles. The Committee noted that the article made clear that  the complainant had been “heading the wrong way onto the A46 dual carriageway near Leicester” and that the prosecutor had said: “At 9.30pm, the police received a report the defendant was driving the wrong way along the sliproad onto the A46.” The Committee considered that the article had made sufficiently clear the circumstances in which the complainant turned his car around, and that this was on a sliproad into the A46. It was not significantly inaccurate for the article to describe the road as the A46 or a “dual carriageway”. The Committee further noted that these terms had also been heard in court, and the publication was able to provide court reporter’s notes to support this. For this reason, there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

Conclusions

17. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

18. N/A

 

Date complaint received:  14/02/2023

Date complaint concluded by IPSO:  05/07/2023