Ruling

17778-23 Hancock v Daily Mirror

    • Date complaint received

      25th October 2023

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 17778-23 Hancock v Daily Mirror


Summary of Complaint

1. Matt Hancock complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Daily Mirror breached Clause 1 of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Hands face..space”, published on 25 March 2023.

2. The article reported on the complainant’s house-move, and the sub-headline said: “Hancock claims extra £13k for pad”. The article expanded on this, reporting that the complainant was “claiming an extra £13,200 a year in expenses from the taxpayer to rent a love nest after quitting his marital home.” It added that “the former Health Secretary has been claiming £3,300 a month for a property in London since September” and that “in October, his accommodation claim increased by £1,100 a month”. The article went on to report that the MP had been seen with his partner “shopping for household items with Mr Hancock in a Homebase store around the time he switched his expenses claim to London,” and that this had “sparked speculation the pair were living together, but Mr Hancock’s spokesman refused to comment.” The article also reported that the complainant “still [owned a] £2.2m home” with his ex-partner.

3. The article also reported that, “in October, his accommodation claim increased by £1,100 a month. His spokesman confirmed to the Mirror that this was for a new second home in London.” The article closed with a claim that it “was alleged Mr Hancock rejected [the Chief Medical Officer’s] April 2020 advice that there should be testing for ‘all going into care homes’. But Mr Hancock said the messages were released in a ‘biased account to suit an anti-lockdown agenda’”.

4. The article also appeared online in substantially the same format under the headline “EXCLUSIVE: Matt Hancock claims extra £1,100 a month in expenses to rent love nest after marriage split”.

5. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 and disputed he had claimed an “extra £13k”, or that this figure had ever been “confirmed” by a spokesman. He said that £13,000 was the amount that he would pay if he claimed for an entire year – but, in fact, he had only been at the property for 6 months and so had claimed half this figure.

6. The complainant also denied his spokesman had “refused to comment” when asked by the reporter about his expenses. He said the spokesman had given a comment: he’d asked what the public interest was in publishing this information. He provided an exchange by text between the reporter and the spokesman, where the reporter had stated “am assuming this is a new place with [the complainant’s current partner] rather than an old address he shared with [the complainant’s ex-partner]” and the spokesman made further comments “on background”, which he made clear were not intended for publication. The reporter had responded “Everything is declared properly and there is no public interest in publication or mention of [the complainant’s current partner].”

7. The complainant denied that he still owned a home worth £2.2 million in London, although he would not explain to the Committee why this was inaccurate.

8. The complainant also said it was inaccurate to refer to the home he’d moved into as a “love nest”. He said he did not live with his partner there, although he did not dispute that his partner had visited and/or spent time at the property. He said the misleading impression that he and his partner lived together was heightened by the reference to them shopping at Homebase together.

9. The complainant disputed the article’s statement that he’d ignored the Chief Medical Officer’s April 2020 advice that there should be testing for "all going into care homes". He said this story had been proven “wrong by the health minister”.

10. The complainant also said the article was not balanced or fair.

11. The publication did not accept a breach of Clause 1. It said the spokesman had confirmed that Mr Hancock would be spending an extra £1,100 a month on rent – and had claimed this amount as expenses – and that £1,100 rent a month was around £13,000 a year. It provided material from the IPSA (Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority) website to support its position. Parts of the website presented monthly spending rounded up to yearly figures.

12. The publication did not accept it was inaccurate to report Mr Hancock owned a home worth £2.2 million. To support its position, it provided a copy of the Land Registry from 2 May 2023, showing the complainant was a registered owner of the property in question.

13. The publication also did not accept it was inaccurate to refer to the home the complainant lived in as a “love nest”. It said “love nest” is a commonly used tabloid term to describe a place where two lovers may spend time together. It said the complainant had an affair, left his family home, and moved to a new home nearby. He was still with the woman he had had an affair with, and she was able to stay at this property, and it was not inaccurate to state that they were spotted shopping for household items together.

14. The publication did not accept including allegations about the complainant’s handling of the pandemic breached the Code. It said, by presenting the statement as an allegation rather than a claim of fact, the disputed statement that it “was alleged Mr Hancock rejected [the Chief Medical Officer’s] April 2020 advice that there should be testing for ‘all going into care homes’” was clearly distinguished between comment, conjecture and fact. It added that the article had put the complainant’s position on record by reporting “Mr Hancock said the messages were released in a “biased account to suit an anti-lockdown agenda”.”

15. The publication said the complainant’s concerns that the article was unfair and not balanced did not engage 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.

Findings of the Committee

16. The Committee first considered whether it was inaccurate to report that the complainant was “claiming an extra £13,200 a year in expenses from the taxpayer” for his new home. The Committee noted that this figure was the yearly calculation for the increase of expenses claimed by the complainant, rather than the amount claimed by the complainant so far. It was not inaccurate to calculate the overall yearly cost on the rental of the property based off the monthly cost, provided it was made clear to readers that this calculation was based on the yearly cost and that he had not yet lived there for a year, particularly in light of the fact the IPSA website also presented monthly spending as its yearly total. The fact this was a calculation was made clear in the article’s first paragraph: “the former Health Secretary has been claiming £3,300 a month for a property in London since September”. The article went on to make clear that this meant the complainant’s “accommodation claim increased by £1,100 a month”, which the publication had been able to demonstrate was the case and the complainant did not dispute. As such, the Committee considered the article as a whole made clear the “extra 13k” was a calculation based on the monthly increase of £1,100 to the complainant’s accommodation claim. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

17. Furthermore, where the complainant did not dispute his spokesman had not denied, when questioned on the additional money, prior to publication, that the additional money was for a new property, it was not inaccurate for the article to report that the “spokesman confirmed to the Mirror that this was for a new second home in London”.

18. The Committee then considered whether it was inaccurate to report the complainant’s spokesman had “refused to comment” when asked whether the complainant was living with his partner. The spokesman had stated “everything is declared properly and there is no public interest in publication or mention of [the complainant’s current partner].” Where the spokesman was clearly not willing to publicly confirm, via a comment for publication in the article, whether the complainant was living with his current partner, the Committee did not consider it inaccurate or misleading to state he’d “refused to comment” on the matter; there was no breach of Clause 1.

19. The Committee then considered whether it was significantly inaccurate to report that the complainant still owned a home worth £2.2 million in London. The Committee noted that the publication had relied upon documents which were available at HM Land Registry, and that the complainant said that the information was inaccurate because its records had not been updated. However, HM Land Registry is a reputable official source for such information and in relying upon its records, there was no failure to take care on the part of the publication. The focus of the article was the additional expenses claim being made by the complainant following his change of circumstances and the article expressly reported that MPs are allowed to claim for the costs of running a second home. In these circumstances, the fact that the complainant had sold his London home by the date of publication of the article was not a significant inaccuracy which required correction. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

20. The Committee then turned to the matter of whether it was inaccurate to refer to the property the complainant was currently renting as a “love nest”. The phrase “love nest” is clearly informal and has no set meaning – different individuals will have different views on what constitutes a “love nest”. However, it may be inaccurate, misleading, or distorted to use the term without some factual basis for the description. The publication’s basis for the use of this term was that the complainant had left his former family home to live in the new property and had a new partner – and it followed that she was able to spend time in the new property. As such, the complainant did not present the Committee with any reason to consider the “love nest” description to be misleading, inaccurate, or distorted, and there was no breach of the Clause on this point.

21. Moreover, while the complainant said the article gave a misleading impression that him and his partner were living together by mentioning that they’d shopped at Homebase together around the time he’d moved, he did not dispute that the couple were seen shopping together or that it had been around the time he’d moved. Publications are entitled to choose what information to include in their articles, provided the Code is not breached. Where there were no specific inaccuracies identified on this point, the publication was entitled to report on it.

22. Turning to whether the publication had breached Clause 1 by reporting it “was alleged” the complainant “rejected” the Chief Medical Officer’s “advice that there should be testing for ‘all going into care homes’”, the Committee noted this was clearly presented as an allegation against the complainant, rather than a claim of fact – and it was not in dispute that such allegations had been levelled against him. Although the Committee appreciated the complainant’s position that the allegation had been disproven, the publication had not stated as fact that the complainant had rejected the advice, and had included a quote from the complainant which referred to a “biased account to suit an anti-lockdown agenda” behind the allegations. This further demonstrated these were allegations the complainant disputed. As such, the Committee was satisfied there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point. 

23. The Committee then considered whether the article was in breach of the Code because it was not balanced. Under the Editors’ Code, articles do not need to be balanced, as long as publications take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information. As the complainant did not identify any significant inaccuracies within the article, his concern that the article was not balanced did not raise a breach of Clause 1. 

Conclusion

24. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

25. N/A


Date complaint received: 29/03/2023

Date decision issued: 25/08/2023