Ruling

20112-23 Kayani v manchestereveningnews.co.uk

  • Complaint Summary

    Rais Kayani complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that manchestereveningnews.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Man who pretended to be Greggs bakery swindled councils out of nearly £200,000”, published on 5 July 2023.

    • Date complaint received

      15th February 2024

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 20112-23 Kayani v manchestereveningnews.co.uk


Summary of Complaint

1. Rais Kayani complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that manchestereveningnews.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Man who pretended to be Greggs bakery swindled councils out of nearly £200,000”, published on 5 July 2023.

2. The article – which appeared online only – reported on the complainant’s sentencing in a criminal court case. The subheading stated “Rais Kayani pleaded guilty previously to a single count of entering into a money laundering arrangement”. The article said that “a ‘sickening’ fraudster who scammed Rochdale council and two other local authorities out of nearly £200,000 through a Covid-19 support scheme has avoided prison” and the “three councils were defrauded of £35,000, £85,000 and £75,000 respectively – leading to a total loss of £195,000.” It further said that the complainant “pretended to be the well known bakery Greggs as he made claims for small business grants via the relief scheme designed to help struggling businesses during the pandemic.”

3. The article said: “Investigators were unable to identify who submitted the fraudulent applications but the requested payments were all transferred for the benefit of the bank account of [a named business] […] Kayani is the sole director of the company” and the “frauds were perpetrated by unknown individuals impersonating genuine ratepayers” and quoted a Councillor who said: “I hope that all of this gang are eventually brought to justice and that all of the money stolen can be recovered somehow.”

4. The complainant said that the article and headline were inaccurate, misleading and distorted in breach of Clause 1. Firstly, he said that the headline and the claim that “a ‘sickening’ fraudster who scammed Rochdale council and two other local authorities out of nearly £200,000 through a Covid-19 support scheme has avoided prison” had implied that he was the sole perpetrator of the criminal activity.

5. Secondly, he said that the article had breached Clause 1 as he considered the headline and claim that he “pretended to be the well known bakery Greggs as he made claims for small business grants via the relief scheme designed to help struggling businesses during the pandemic” implied that he had personally made the unlawful applications. The complainant said he had not completed any, nor had he had any knowledge of, the applications. The complainant said this was significant as the article had overstated and exaggerated his involvement in the criminal activity and omitted the involvement of other individuals which may have led a reader to conclude he was the “ringleader” or “mastermind”.

6. The complainant also said the article’s URL contained the words: “man-who-pretended-greggs-bakery” which also implied he was the sole perpetrator of the applications.

7. The complainant provided a Crown Prosecutions Service (CPS) press release, which stated that “the frauds were perpetrated by unknown individuals impersonating genuine ratepayers”, rather than that he was the sole perpetrator of the criminal activity. He further said that the press release did not state he had any knowledge or involvement in the fraudulent applications but that “investigators were unable to identify who submitted” the applications. He also said that the press release did not say he had personally received any money as a result of the criminal activity, but rather explained that the funds were received by the bank account of a company, of which he was the sole director.

8. The complainant said that the article had ignored the basis of his guilty plea. He explained that he was not convicted of any fraud or theft offences. He said the fraud was committed by others who were at large and his plea recorded that he was not involved in the act of defrauding the authorities and had no knowledge that they had been defrauded. He was, however, instructed to transfer money by those who had committed the fraud, and he was suspicious of the origins of the funds – hence he pleaded guilty to a money laundering offence. He said his conviction was for handling proceeds of fraud, not fraud itself. The complainant said that suggesting he “defrauded” the authorities was a euphemism for stating that he was the one who submitted the applications.

9. The complainant requested the publication remove the alleged inaccurate statements, as well as amending the article to give a more accurate account of: his involvement in the unlawful arrangement; that he received no financial gain; and that a compensation order of £6000 was made despite him not having gained financially from the arrangement. The complainant requested an apology. He also produced a statement which he said the publication could publish for the purpose of setting the record straight.

10. The publication said that the article was based on a CPS press release which described the complainant as a “fraudster who sought to exploit the taxpayer through a COVID-19 support scheme”. It said that the publication was entitled to rely on this report and this demonstrated it had taken sufficient care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information.

11. In regard to the applications, it said it accepted that it was inaccurate to report that the complainant pretended to be Greggs bakery, as the CPS report acknowledged that “investigators were unable to identify who submitted the fraudulent applications”. In its first substantive response regarding the complaint, the publication confirmed it had amended the article’s headline and opening paragraph accordingly, and published a correction at the top of the article:

“A previous version of this article incorrectly reported that Kayani 'pretended to be Greggs bakery' and that he 'made claims for small business grants'. In fact, investigators were unable to identify the individuals who submitted the fraudulent applications, although all the requested payments were transferred to the bank account of a company of which Kayani was the sole director. We are happy to clarify this and the article has been amended accordingly.”

12. The publication also offered the following standalone correction on the homepage for 24 hours in the interest of resolving the complaint:

“Rais Kayani - A correction A previous version of our article published on 5 July, was headlined 'Man who pretended to be Greggs bakery swindled councils out of nearly £200,000'. The headline and article incorrectly reported that Rais Kayani 'pretended to be Greggs bakery' and that he 'made claims for small business grants'. In fact, although all of the requested payments were transferred to the bank account of a company of which Kayani was the sole director, investigators were unable to identify the individuals who submitted the fraudulent applications, therefore it was inaccurate to report that Kayani 'made the claims' by 'pretending to be Greggs'. We are happy to clarify this and the article has been amended accordingly.”

13. The publication said that the CPS report clearly stated that he was “the cynical beneficiary of a series of false applications to local authorities in different parts of the country from where his business operated. Having dishonestly benefitted from the fraudulent applications for the Small Business Grant Fund, he transferred the proceeds overseas.” It said that, given it was accepted that the complainant was the beneficiary of the false applications; that he “dishonestly benefitted from the fraudulent applications”; and that he “transferred the proceeds overseas”, the article was not inaccurate to report he “scammed” and “swindled councils out of nearly £200,000”.

14. In response, the complainant said that it was not sufficient for the publication to rely on the information contained in the CPS report. The complainant said that the CPS report had quoted the prosecutor and had not provided any additional facts to substantiate their characterisation that he was the “cynical beneficiary” and “dishonestly benefited”. He said, therefore, it was not accurate to conclude that he was the individual who “scammed” or “swindled” the local authorities, or that he was enriched in any way. The complainant further said the publication had not amended all the references under complaint.

15. The complainant did not accept the publication’s correction wording on the article and offered alternative correction wording for the top of the first article and alternative wording for the standalone correction.

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 emphasised the importance of accurate court reporting in the public interest. The Committee considered the complainant’s concerns that the article had stated he had personally made the fraudulent applications. It had regard for the CPS press release which stated that “investigators were unable to identify who submitted the fraudulent applications” and the complainant’s position that he had not submitted or had any knowledge of the applications. The Committee noted that the article had made clear that “the “frauds were perpetrated by unknown individuals impersonating genuine ratepayers” and “investigators were unable to identify who submitted the fraudulent applications”. However, the article’s headline had claimed, he “pretended to be Greggs”. In this instance, the publication had not taken sufficient care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information with the headline and article claim, and there was a breach of Clause 1(i) on this point.

17. The Committee next considered whether this was significantly inaccurate and in need of correction in line with the terms of Clause 1 (ii). Where the complainant claimed he had no knowledge of the applications and the CPS were unable to identify who was responsible, claiming the complainant had “pretended to be Greggs” and therefore implying he had made the fraudulent applications, which he had not pleaded guilty to. The Committee concluded there was a significant inaccuracy, particularly where this had appeared in the headline of the article. A correction was therefore required in accordance with Clause 1 (ii).

18. The Committee noted that the publication had confirmed it had amended the articles, published a correction under the headline, and offered a standalone correction at the beginning of the investigation. The Committee were content that the inaccuracies were addressed in its first substantive response to the complainant and therefore this was sufficiently prompt. Further, where the original inaccuracy had appeared in the headline as well as the text of the article, the Committee considered the offer of a standalone correction and a correction which would appear below the headline to be sufficiently prominent. The Committee had regard for the wording of the correction and noted that it identified the original inaccuracy that the complainant had pretended to be the bakery Greggs, and that in fact investigators were unable to identify the individuals who submitted the fraudulent applications. The Committee was satisfied the correction had corrected the record. Therefore, there was no breach of Clause 1 (ii).

19. The Committee next turned to whether the article had inaccurately reported the degree in which the complainant was involved in the criminal activity and suggested he was the “sole perpetrator”. The Committee noted the article had quoted a councillor who had referred to a “gang” which suggested there were multiple individuals involved in the criminal activity. The Committee acknowledged the text of the article made clear the “frauds were perpetrated by unknown individuals impersonating genuine ratepayers”. It was also not in dispute that the complainant’s company had received the money as a result of the fraudulent applications. The Committee did not consider it to be misleading for the article to focus on the complainant – particularly in the circumstances where he had pleaded guilty to money laundering and the article was a report on his sentencing. The Committee did not consider the articles to be inaccurate or misleading on this point.

20. Turning to the URL which the complainant said was inaccurate. It noted that this URL did not form any coherent claim and acted as a summary of the articles. It was also not in dispute that an application which had been submitted in relation to this crime had posed as Greggs bakery. In the view of the Committee it was not significantly inaccurate and there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

Conclusions

21. The complaint was upheld under Clause 1.

Remedial action required

22. The published correction put the correct position on record and was offered promptly and with due prominence. The standalone correction which was offered, clearly put the correct position on record, and was offered promptly and with due prominence, and should now be published.


Date complaint received: 17/07/2023

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 05/12/2023


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.