Ruling

17788-23 Mills-Nanyn v thetimes.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      17th August 2023

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 6 Children

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 17788-23 Mills-Nanyn v thetimes.co.uk


Summary of Complaint

1. Oliver Mills-Nanyn complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that thetimes.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Yachtsman Oliver Mills-Nanyn faces £100,000 bill after trying to get Tinder match expelled”, published on 22 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 “campaign of harassment” against a woman. It stated that the judge “imposed a suspended six-month jail term on the yachtsman for breaching his undertaking to cease contact”. It also said that the complainant “will also have to pay [the woman] £30,000 in damages and faces a bill of more than £98,000 after being order to pay her legal fees”.

3. The article detailed how the complainant had initially connected “with [the woman] through [Tinder] in 2019”, with the High Court told that, “after a brief correspondence online” she decided to “cut off contact with the deckhand after several months”. It reported that the woman’s barrister said how the complainant had “created puppet accounts on social media to contact” the woman and to “follow her friends and family”. It reported that the woman had brought the “civil claim” against the complainant after he had agreed to “cease and desist” from contacting her but then had 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. The article concluded by reporting the judge’s remarks on the complainant’s conduct and her explanation that the “jail sentence for contempt of court was suspended owing to a lack of previous convictions and the effect of jail on [the complainant’s] future maritime career.”

5. The article was accompanied by an image of the complainant, shown 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 him 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” and had been employed as a “deckhand”. 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 a photograph 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 that it 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 contempt proceedings were heard in the civil courts and therefore would not have created a criminal record. It further 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 during proceedings. It noted that the disputed quotes were clearly attributed to the relevant legal representative and distinguished as such. The publication provided a copy – and transcription – of the relevant contemporaneous shorthand notes taken by the reporter to support this. In further support of this, the publication contacted the woman’s barrister who provided a copy of his skeleton argument prepared before court (which it later shared with IPSO) and who confirmed that the publication’s coverage of proceedings – and its report of his argument on behalf of his client – was accurate. It noted that the judge drew on the barrister’s argument in the published judgment when referring to the complainant “contacting [the claimant’s] university in a disgraceful attempt to pose as her victim, engage the university’s safeguarding systems, and have her expelled”.

11. Further, the publication did not accept that the article was inaccurate to refer to “Tinder” where the woman’s barrister had made explicit reference to this app in his skeleton argument and in a blog about the case following the High Court judgment. In any event, it said that this detail was not significant in the context of the article: the complainant had been found in contempt of court.

12. In addition, the publication did not accept that the article was inaccurate to report that the complainant was from “Oldham”. It said that this information had been included within the barrister’s skeleton argument; had been widely reported at the time of proceedings; and noted that the complainant had been featured within an article for an Oldham-based publication in 2017. This information was also included in the reporter’s contemporaneous notes from court proceedings. While the publication considered that this point was inconsequential, it offered, upon receipt of the complaint, to amend the online article on this point as a gesture of goodwill.

13. The publication also said that the complainant’s reported position as a “deckhand” had been included within the barrister’s skeleton argument. It also referenced the following statement on his LinkedIn page: [I have] “worked aboard on both a 53m Private sailing yacht and a 50m charter motor yacht”. The complainant, however, denied that this information was sourced from his LinkedIn profile. While the publication did not accept that this represented a failure to take care or a significant inaccuracy requiring correction, particularly within the context of the article, it offered to amend the online article to record the complainant’s role at the relevant time, upon receipt of the complaint.

14. The publication also noted that all references to the dates within the article could be found in the judgment: the complainant and the woman had met in “2019”; a settlement Order was agreed in March 2021 for the complainant not to harass or contact the woman; the complainant had then breached those undertakings in the weeks or months after them, including by contacting the woman’s university; and court proceedings at the High Court took place in “2022”.

15. With regard to Clause 6, the publication said the complainant 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, 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 disputed quotes. It noted that the article detailed the points made by the woman’s representative during proceedings as well as comments made by the complainant to the woman’s university. The Committee also 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 as well as the barrister’s skeleton argument 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 toward 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” 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 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 had 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