Ruling

17786-23 Mills-Nanyn v Mail Online

    • Date complaint received

      17th August 2023

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 6 Children

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 17786-23 Mills-Nanyn v Mail Online


Summary of Complaint

1. Oliver Mills-Nanyn complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Mail Online breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 6 (Children) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “‘Predatory' yachtsman launched social media harassment campaign against Tinder match who rejected him... then tried to get her kicked off her medical degree by telling university SHE was stalking him”, published on 21 July 2022.

2. The article – which appeared online only – reported on a High Court judgment involving the complainant.  It reported how the complainant – who was, according to the article, from “Oldham” – had launched a “harassment campaign” against a woman. It stated that the Court “handed him a suspended six-month jail term for breaching his undertaking to stop bothering [the woman]”. It reported that “the aspiring merchant seaman, who currently works as a deckhand on a yacht, now face[d] a £130,000 court bill”, stating that he will have to “pay [the woman] £30,000 damages and faces a £98,154 court bill after being ordered to pay her legal fees”.

3. The article reported that the complainant and the woman had “met on Tinder” in 2019. It said that the woman’s lawyer “told the London Court” how she had “cut off contact” with the complainant in “July 2020” and described how he had then “began a serious campaign of harassment, including contacting her friends and family via social media and via various accounts”. It reported that the complainant had agreed to "cease and desist" from contacting the woman in March 2022 but had then contacted her university accusing her of "stalking and harassing" him. It detailed: how the complainant had claimed to the woman’s university that she “had been stalking and harassing” him; how he had needed to “take out a non-molestation order on her” and the situation had “left [him] scared to leave home”; and how he had asked that she be removed from her course.

4. It reported that the complainant had “ultimately admitted 20 breaches of his March 2021 undertaking to not harass or contact” the woman, with his representative telling the court that his client “accepted his conduct was 'inappropriate - and by his admission he recognises that he should not have conducted himself in the manner as alleged or at all”. The article added that his representative had told the court he was “currently working on a yacht destined to be at sea for the rest of the year [and as such] there would be scant chance of him again breaching the undertaking”.

5. The article was accompanied by a series of photographs of the complainant, including one which showed the complainant at the helm of a boat.

6. The complainant said the article breached Clause 1 by referencing the “suspended sentence” and “exchange of money” as these requirements were later removed by the court – though he provided no evidence to support this position. This, he said, was inaccurate and misleading. Further, he disputed the accuracy of quotes attributed to his barrister within the article; he said he had defended his innocence on the matter and did not have a criminal record.

7. He also denied that he and the woman had met on “Tinder” or that this had been referenced during court proceeding; they had first met at a party. In addition, the complainant denied that he was: from “Oldham”; an “aspiring merchant seaman”; and had been employed as a ”deck hand”. He also disputed the chronology provided by the article: he said the alleged incidents had occurred in 2019, not 2022.

8. The complainant also said the article breached Clause 6 (Children) by including photographs of him when he was a “minor”.

9. The publication did not accept a breach of the Editors’ Code. It said the article copy had been supplied by a press agency and published in good faith, and was based on the publicly available court judgment, which it provided to IPSO. It said that the judgment clearly set out the complainant’s sentence: six months imprisonment which was suspended for a period of two years. Further, the publication denied that the article referred to an “exchange of money”. Instead, the article reported that the complainant had been ordered to pay the woman’s court fees – the judgment stated that he “been ordered to pay [the woman’s legal costs] in the sum of £98,154.63”. It also noted that the complainant had not provided any evidence to support his position that these penalties were later “removed” by the court.

10. The publication also said the article provided an accurate account of the arguments made by both parties during proceedings and these were clearly attributed to the relevant legal representatives. The publication provided a copy of the relevant contemporaneous shorthand notes taken by the reporter to support this. It also noted that the publicly available judgment detailed how the complaint “did in recent weeks accept his guilt and contempt in all the particulars alleged, avoiding the unpleasantness and expense of a contested trial”.

11. The publication also did not accept that the article was inaccurate to refer to “Tinder” where the woman’s barrister had made explicit reference to this app during court proceedings and in a blog about the case following the judgment. Regardless, the publication said that the specific name of the dating app was not significant in the context of the article.

12. Further, the publication did not accept that the article was inaccurate to report that the complainant was from “Oldham”. It said that the court heard this information and provided a copy of the reporter’s contemporaneous notes in order to demonstrate this. It added that this was supported by the fact that the complainant’s mother was listed on the electoral roll as residing in “Oldham”.

13. Though the publication said that the reporter’s notes did not support the references to the complainant as a “deckhand” or an “aspiring merchant seaman”, it noted that the complainant’s social media accounts and LinkedIn profile showed that he at least aspired to work in the yachting industry. Further, the publication noted that all references to the dates within the article could be found in the judgment.

14. While the publication did not accept that the article’s references to “Tinder”, “Oldham” or his aspirations to work as a “merchant seaman” constituted significant inaccuracies, upon receipt of the complaint from IPSO and in a gesture of goodwill to resolve the matter, it offered to amend the online article to remove these details. It added that these details were inconsequential and had no bearing on the essential facts of the story: the complainant was found to have breached an undertaking to desist from harassing the woman by the High Court.

15. With regard to Clause 6, the publication noted that the complainant was an adult both during the proceedings at the High Court and at the time he broke the undertaking. It added that he was no longer a child and therefore the terms of this Clause were not engaged.

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 6 (Children)*

i) All pupils should be free to complete their time at school without unnecessary intrusion.

ii) They must not be approached or photographed at school without permission of the school authorities.

iii) Children under 16 must not be interviewed or photographed on issues involving their own or another child’s welfare unless a custodial parent or similarly responsible adult consents.

iv) Children under 16 must not be paid for material involving their welfare, nor parents or guardians for material about their children or wards, unless it is clearly in the child’s interest.

v) Editors must not use the fame, notoriety or position of a parent or guardian as sole justification for publishing details of a child’s private life.

Findings of the Committee

16. The newspaper’s obligation under the Editors’ Code was to report the findings of the High Court accurately, and to take care over the accuracy of any report of the legal proceedings; it was not responsible for the accuracy of the Court’s findings. Therefore, the Committee turned first to the question of whether the newspaper had demonstrated that it had taken care over the accuracy of its report, and whether it included any significant inaccuracies in need of correction.

17. The newspaper had provided contemporaneous shorthand notes taken during the proceedings and a copy of the judgment. These set out how the complainant had breached legal undertakings not to harass the woman and had been found guilty of contempt of court, and had received a six-month custodial sentence suspended for two years as a result. The judgment also set out how the complainant had “accept[ed] his guilt and contempt in all the particulars alleged”, with the witness statement supplied to the court “admitting the breaches”; the article did not claim that the complainant had a criminal record as a result of the case, as he had alleged it did. The Committee also noted that the article made no reference to an “exchange of money”; rather, the article detailed how the complainant had been ordered to pay the woman’s legal costs in the sum of “£98,154.63” and this was supported by the judgment. While the complainant claimed that these penalties were later removed by the court, he had been unable to substantiate this or supply any evidence that there had been an appeal of the judgment. In such circumstances, the Committee did not consider that the report of the findings of the High Court was inaccurate or misleading. There was, therefore, no breach of Clause 1 on these points.

18. The Committee next considered the “quotes” attributed to the complainant. It noted that the article detailed the points made by the complainant’s representative during proceedings. Further, it noted that the judgment detailed how the complainant’s representative had accepted all “of the allegations levelled against” his client; and did “in recent weeks accept his guilt and contempt in all the particulars alleged”. The publication also provided a copy – and transcription – of the relevant contemporaneous shorthand notes taken by the reporter to support its reporting of these quotes. In these circumstances, the Committee was satisfied that the article was not inaccurate in the manner suggested by the complainant on this point. There was no breach of Clause 1.

19. The complainant said the article was inaccurate to report that he and the woman met on “Tinder”. In the view of the Committee, any inaccuracy on this point was not significant taking into account the context of the claim within the article as a whole, which focused on the complainant’s conduct to the woman and his breaches of undertakings to the court, and where the judgment stated the pair had “met through online dating in the autumn of 2019” and had got “to know each other on social media” before meeting up. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

20. The Committee next considered whether the article was inaccurate to report that the complainant was from “Oldham“. The publication had provided contemporaneous shorthand notes and a transcript of these notes which showed that this had been heard during court proceedings. As the article reflected the notes taken by the reporter at the hearing, the Committee found that it had taken care over the accuracy of the article on this point and there was no breach of Clause 1 (i). In any event, the Committee did not consider that this was significant and thereby requiring correction where it did not materially affect the accuracy of the article: that the complainant was found to have breached an undertaking to desist from harassing a woman. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

21. In addition, the Committee did not consider that the article’s description of the complainant as a “deckhand” or an “aspiring merchant seaman” rendered the article inaccurate or misleading. It did not appear in dispute that the complainant was involved, or had been involved, in some capacity in the maritime industry. In any event, the complainant’s previous or future employment did not make a significant difference to the main thrust of the article, which was a report of the High Court judgment. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

22. The Committee then considered the complainant’s concern that the article inaccurately reported that the incidents occurred in “2022” rather than in “2019”. The Committee noted that all references to the dates within the article could be found in the judgment and did not, therefore, consider that the article misrepresented the chronology of events. As such, there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

23. Clause 6 of the Code seeks to protect children and their welfare. It makes clear that children under the age of 16 should not be photographed without the consent of a parent or guardian. Where the complainant was now over the age of 16, the terms of Clause 6 were not engaged by his concerns. There was no breach of Clause 6.

Conclusion

24. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

25. N/A

 

Date complaint received:  29/03/2023

Date complaint concluded by IPSO:  31/07/2023

 

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.