Ruling

17921-17 Maguire v The Sunday Times

    • Date complaint received

      21st December 2017

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 17921-17 Maguire v The Sunday Times  

Summary of complaint 

1.    Michael GP Maguire complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sunday Times breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Corbyn secured salary for convicted IRA terrorist”, published on 28 May 2017. The article was also published online. 

2.    The article reported that the newspaper had found files in the London Metropolitan Archives which showed that in the 1980s, Jeremy Corbyn MP had lobbied the Greater London Council (GLC) to fund a group called the Irish in Islington Project. The article reported that the project’s two employees were a man who was a convicted IRA terrorist and Sinn Fein’s principal representative in Britain, and the complainant, who was referred to as “another key republican in London”. The article claimed that “The GLC duly approved a payment of more than £31,000, the first in a series of payments from the GLC and Islington borough council that totalled at least £77,000”, and claimed that documents showed that most of this was paid as salaries to the project’s two employees.  The article claimed that “In 1984, the project was raided by police and Maguire was detained under anti-terrorism laws.  Yet the payments continued”. 

3.    The complainant said that it was inaccurate to report that the Irish in Islington Project had been raided by the police. He said in 1984, he had been arrested and detained by officers from the Anti-Terrorist Squad under a section of the Prevention of Terrorism Act concerning “eliciting support for a proscribed organisation”.  He said that the offence he had allegedly committed related to an article he had written in the Sunday Tribune, which he had written in his capacity as the newspaper’s London correspondent, and that neither the arrest nor the police investigation related to the Irish in Islington Project. The complainant said that the project’s financial records had been kept at his home when he was arrested in 1984 and the police had searched them when investigating the allegation about his journalism.

The complainant added that he was not charged, and received an unofficial apology for the length of his detention. 

4.    The complainant said that the project had three, not two employees. He said that where the article reported the size of the GLC’s grants, the reference to two employees implied his salary was excessive, which was not the case. The complainant said the reference to payments from the GLC and Islington Borough Council was inaccurate, as the project had been funded solely by the Greater London Council (GLC). 

5.    The complainant said it was inaccurate to refer to him as a “key republican in London”.  He said that while he continued to believe in the re-unification of the island of Ireland, which he said was the central tenet of Irish republicanism, he had been expelled from Sinn Fein in 1978, and he was not a member of any republican organisation and had not exerted influence on republican movement supporters through speeches or writings. 

6.    The newspaper said the complainant had written a letter to the GLC in December 1984, in which he had explained that there had been a delay in his correspondence because “The Project filing system, containing all our financial records, was severely disrupted and left in a state of chaos as a consequence of my recent detention under the Prevention of Terrorism Act by the Special Branch”. It provided IPSO with a copy of this letter, which it said appeared to be a statement that the project and its filing system were subject to a raid. In response to the complaint, the newspaper said it would be willing to address the complainant’s position that the arrest actually took place at his home by publishing the following clarification: 

Our report "Corbyn secured salary for convicted IRA terrorist" (News, May 28) said that the Irish in Islington Project was raided by police in 1984 and one of its employees, Michael Maguire, was detained under anti-terrorism laws. Dr Maguire has asked us to clarify that he was arrested at home, that the project’s office was not actually raided, and that he was released without charge.  We are happy to do so. 

7.    The newspaper said the article reported on a letter written by Jeremy Corbyn in August 1983, which lobbied the council to fund two employees. It said the addition of a third member of staff in December 1983 was irrelevant.  The newspaper noted that the complainant had been secretary of Sinn Fein’s London central committee. It said that the fact he had left Sinn Fein did not mean that the complainant had abandoned republicanism. It said that the complainant had made clear his support for republicanism in an unpublished manuscript paying tribute to his late wife, who had been involved with the IRA. 

Relevant Code provisions 

8.    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 

9.    The newspaper had reasonably relied on the letter from the complainant to the council in claiming that the project had been raided by the police. There was no failure to take care not to publish inaccurate information on this point. The claim that the project had been raided, rather than the complainant’s home, where some of the project’s filing happened to be kept, was significant in the context of the article, as it provided further grounds to question the award of public money to the project. A correction was required under the terms of Clause 1 (ii). 

10. The wording proposed by the newspaper identified the inaccuracy, and set out the correct position. The complainant had initially made his complaint directly to the newspaper on 1 July 2017, and it was unfortunate that the newspaper did not respond to the complaint. The Committee therefore welcomed the newspaper’s apology for this. The newspaper first offered to publish a clarification on the complainant’s arrest in its first substantive response to the complaint, and the Committee did not find that the newspaper had failed to offer a correction promptly. To avoid a breach of Clause 1 (ii), the newspaper should proceed to publish the clarification in its corrections and clarifications column. It should also be published as a footnote to the online article, with an amendment to the article to make clear that it was the complainant’s home that had been raided by police. 

11. The Committee acknowledged the complainant had left the organised republican movement before he began working for the Irish in Islington project. However, he had previously been the secretary of the central committee of the London branches of Sinn Fein, and on the complainant’s own account, he maintained his republican beliefs, despite his expulsion from Sinn Fein. The Committee did not consider it was misleading to refer to him as “another key republican in London”, and this aspect of the complaint did not raise a breach of Clause 1. 

12. The newspaper had reported that the Irish in Islington project had two workers, because Jeremy Corbyn’s letter to the GLC, supporting their application for funding, had stated that he “urged their application of two project workers should be met”. There was no failure to take care not to publish inaccurate information on this point. The Committee acknowledged the complainant’s position that after a subsequent decision, there was one full time worker, and two part time workers, but considered that the reference to the project having two workers was not significantly inaccurate, such as to require correction under Clause 1 (ii). 

13. The article did not specify periods of time for which the project received the GLC grants, and the Committee considered that the article did not contain a significantly misleading impression of the complainant’s, or the other volunteer’s salary. The Committee noted the complainant’s position that until at least 1985/86, the project only received grants from the GLC, and not the Islington Borough Council, but it did not consider that any particular significance attached to the precise source of public money received by the project.  These aspects of the complaint did not raise a breach of Clause 1.  

Conclusions 

14. The complaint was not upheld. 

Remedial Action Required 

15. N/A

Review

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. 

Date complaints Received: 22/08/2017

Date decision issued: 15/11/2017