Ruling

20233-23 Khan v Daily Mail

  • Complaint Summary

    Rashid Khan complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Mail breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 10 (Clandestine devices and subterfuge) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in articles headlined “Lawyers charging up to £10,000 to make fake asylum claims” and “‘Don’t admit you came here to work – they will send you back’”, both of which were published on 25 July 2023.

    • Date complaint received

      18th January 2024

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 10 Clandestine devices and subterfuge

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 20233-23 Khan v Daily Mail


Summary of Complaint

1. Rashid Khan complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Mail breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 10 (Clandestine devices and subterfuge) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in articles headlined “Lawyers charging up to £10,000 to make fake asylum claims” and “‘Don’t admit you came here to work – they will send you back’”, both of which were published on 25 July 2023.

2. The articles reported on an undercover investigation the newspaper had carried out into immigration law firms.

3. The first article appeared on the newspaper’s front page, accompanied by a sub-heading which read: “Mail’s undercover reporters expose UK immigration law firms that brief clients on what lies to tell to win the right to stay in Britain”. It reported that lawyers were “charging thousands of pounds to submit false asylum and human rights claims for illegal immigrants.” The article continued on to page 2 of the newspaper and described how the investigation had been carried out and its findings. In doing so, it reported that in a number of cases, the solicitors, “who charge between £4,000 and £10,000 for their services, invented elaborate fake stories to back up the [claims for asylum]”. It also directed readers to the second article under complaint, using the phrase “The lying lawyers”.

4. The second article, which appeared on page 7, said that two reporters – “one posing as the illegal migrant [from India], the other as his UK-based uncle” – had attended a meeting with the complainant at his legal firm. It went on to report that the complainant had agreed to “help file an asylum claim to the Home Office for a cost of £4,000”.

5. The article quoted a number of comments said to have been made by the complainant at the meeting. It reported the complainant had asked: “What was the problem you were facing back home? Political?”, and that one of the reporters had responded: “No, not political. Just work. I needed a job”. It then stated that, in response, the complainant said, “You say that and they’re going to send you back”. It also reported that the complainant had asked the reporter to “write down the reasons why he was no longer safe in India, only minutes after he was informed that there were none”, and that he had told the reporter: “You write one page and bring it to me. I’ll turn it into four pages”. It also said that the complainant told the reporter “’to make up something’ for the immigration authorities”; and that “he can’t help [the reporter] apply for asylum if he doesn’t say ‘his life is in danger back home’”; and “tells [the reporter] to lie to the Home Office”.

6. The article also reported that “speaking discreetly in Punjabi”, the complainant told reporters: “’Just write why he’s come here illegally. Like, he’s taken a loan from someone, who that party is. See, everyone who enters illegally has a reason. Some political reason. Some fight with someone. He’ll have to make up some story. If he doesn’t say anything, he will get nothing’”. It also stated that the complainant said: “he would appeal if the case was rejected and take the fight to court, adding ‘I’ve dealt with many people like [the reporter]’”.

7. The article then reported that, when “[a]pproached by the Mail”, the complainant “denied that he or his firm offered to help an illegal immigrant submit fabricated asylum claim to the Home Office” and had said: “’We are always advising people according to their circumstances, under immigration rules and outside immigration rules (human rights). I always act with integrity, honestly – according to my code of conduct’”. It also stated that the complainant “said the £4,000 cost he quoted the undercover reporter included extensive fees to the Home Office and other authorities, and his charge was only £1,000 of this amount”.

8. The second article was accompanied by an image of the complainant, which showed him sat behind a desk.

9. The two articles also appeared online in substantially the same format, under the respective headlines: “EXCLUSIVE Lawyers charging £10,000 to make fake asylum claims: Special investigation exposes staff at immigration law firms briefing clients on how to LIE to the authorities to win the right to stay in Britain” and “'You're a political exile… trafficked, sexually tortured, enslaved and in fear of your life': The cynical story spun by a legal advisor to undercover reporters posing as an economic migrant who arrived on a small boat to help them beat the system”.

10. The online versions of articles also included excerpts of video footage of the complainant’s meetings with the undercover reporters; both videos were titled “Staff at law first brief clients on how to LIE to stay in UK”. The video included the following text: “Solicitor Rashid Khan from Rashid & Rashid says they will concoct a problem [the undercover reporter] faced in India to claim asylum”. It also included subtitles of the conversation between the complainant and the reporters, including an exchange where the reporter informed the complainant that he had arrived in the UK for work purposes, and the complainant had responded, in Punjabi, while shaking his head and making a gesturing upwards with his hand. The subtitles during this part of the video read: “You say that and they’re going to send you back”.

11. On 10 July – 15 days before the publication of the articles – the publication contacted the complainant for comment, via e-mail. The e-mail set out that reporters acting on behalf of the publication had “covertly” visited the complainant “after receiving allegations of suspected wrongdoing against [the complainant’s] firm”, and also noted the content of their conversations. It stated that, when told that the reporter did not face political problems back in India but rather came to the UK to find a job, the complainant responded: “You say that they’re going to send you back” and suggested that he make a “human rights application”. It also stated that, despite being aware of the real reason the reporter came to the UK, the complainant “agreed to help him submit a false asylum and application for £4,000 and gave suggestions of what to tell the Home Office”, and had said : “Just write why he's come here illegally. Like, he's taken a loan from someone, who that party is... see, everyone who enters illegally has a reason. Some political reason. Some fight with someone. He'll have to write these things to make up some story. If he doesn't say anything, he will get nothing.'” The e-mail also stated that, when the reporter tried to clarify exactly what he should tell Home Office officials on the application, the complainant responded: “Political, yes. Anything, just take name of a party”. It also stated that, despite knowing that it was a false claim, the complainant said that if the claim was rejected by the Home Office, he would appeal the decision. The e-mail set out that the article would include the above and allege that the complainant was in breach of the Solicitor’s Code of Conduct. The e-mail also requested the complainant’s comments on the conversation by the following day.

12. In response, sent via e-mail on the following day and prior to the articles’ publication, the complainant denied the publication’s allegations of wrongdoing. In a further e-mail sent the same day, the complainant also denied that he charged £4,000 to make an application for asylum or leave to remain, and said that any person instructing him would have to pay “just under £4,000” to “set things in motion”, with […] “£2,925” of that sum covering application costs to the Home Office; he charged a £1,000 flat fee for his services.

13. After the publication of the articles, the complainant made a complaint to IPSO. He said the articles were inaccurate and misleading in breach of Clause 1, and denied any wrongdoing; he said he had not charged £4,000 to “make fake asylum claims”. Rather, he charged clients £1,000 to prepare legitimate asylum claims. For this reason, he also said that the reference to £10,000 in the headline and text of the print and online versions of the first article was inaccurate and misleading.

14. The complainant also said the articles misrepresented the advice that he had given to the undercover reporters. He denied that he briefed his clients to lie to the authorities or that he had told the undercover reporters to “lie to the Home Office”. He said that his comments to the reporters were taken out of context by the publication, and that had intended to tell the reporters to draft a story for the authorities, rather than “make something up”. The complainant said his level of English was poor and that he generally used simple language when communicating the rules relating to asylum and immigration to potential clients, which was why he had used the phrase ”make something up”. He denied that he had encouraged the reporters to make an asylum claim; he said he had held a meeting with prospective clients and requested that, if they wished to proceed with their application for asylum, they needed to set out their instructions to him, in writing.

15. He then said that the headline of the second print article under complaint (“‘Don’t admit you came here to work – they will send you back’”) attributed comments to him that he had not made during the interview in order to misrepresent the advice he had given to the reporters. He denied that he told the reporters “they will send you back”, or any words similar to this or conveying such a meaning. To support his position, the complainant provided IPSO with two transcripts – and translations – of the interview; he confirmed that he had received a copy of the recording from another regulatory body, which in turn had received it from the publication. Both transcripts showed that the reporter informed the complainant that he faced no problems back in India and had come to the UK for work. In the first transcript, the complainant said “No. If you say this then they will… [gesture]” at this point of the conversation. In the second transcript, he said, “if you say this, they will…”.

16. He also said that the videos – included within both online articles – were misleading: they only included an excerpt of the conversation he had with the reporters and did not fully reflect the advice given.

17. The complainant also expressed concern that the newspaper had not provided a copy of the full videos of the meetings with him prior to the publication of the articles and had therefore not provided him with sufficient opportunity to respond to all the claims made against him.

18. The complainant also said that the investigation and resulting articles represented a breach of Clause 10 of the Editors’ Code. He said that the level of subterfuge employed by the newspaper was unjustified: the reporters had secretly filmed their conversation, without his consent or permission, and provided a dishonest account of the circumstances and purpose of the interview. He also said that the reporters had not identified themselves as journalists during their conversation with him.

19. The publication did not accept a breach of the Editors’ Code. It accepted that it had engaged in subterfuge on two occasions, and had recorded the complainant secretly, but said that it had been essential for it to use subterfuge and misrepresentation in order to carry out its investigation into solicitors’ firms engaging in serious impropriety regarding asylum law, which was clearly of significant public interest.

20. The newspaper gave an explanation of the origins of its investigation, how it came to include the complainant, and how the decision was reached to engage in undercover reporting. It said its Investigations Editor had received confidential information from a source, alleging that a number of solicitor firms were facilitating false asylum claims – a potentially criminal offence as well as breach of legal regulations. The source, whom the publication believed to be credible, also had knowledge of a government intelligence report which listed 40 solicitors’ firms believed to be involved in a range of ‘abuses’ of the asylum system. The source had identified the complainant’s firm as one of these organisations. Given this, and in circumstances where the newspaper said it was unable to report on the basis of the source’s claims, due its obligations under Clause 14 of the Editors’ Code – to protect confidential sources of information – the newspaper considered that ascertaining whether these claims had a basis was a subject worthy of investigation, and that any such investigation would be in the public interest.

21. The newspaper considered that subterfuge at each stage of its investigation was justifiable and proportionate. It said there had been no alternative means by which the necessary information could be obtained: lawyer-client discussions were privileged and confidential, and without the involvement of a first-party to these discussions, it would have been unable to uncover the scope and nature of the advice the complainant was giving to his clients. It also noted that, as the source’s information concerned potentially illegal activity, the complainant was highly unlikely to have ‘shown his hand’ if approached openly and directly by the newspaper – it was therefore necessary for it to engage in subterfuge. It also suggested that former clients of the complainant’s law firm were highly unlikely to go on the record, in the event that they had gained asylum under false pretences.

22. In these circumstances, which the newspaper said it had carefully considered prior to commencing its undercover investigation, the newspaper considered that it was reasonable and proportionate to engage in subterfuge and misrepresentation. It therefore engaged two experienced freelance journalists for the purposes of the investigation. It was decided that one of these reporters would pose as a recently arrived illegal migrant, with no legitimate reason to claim asylum, while the other would pose as their uncle. The reporters would ask the complainant whether there was anything they could do to normalise the nephew’s stay in UK. The newspaper also said that it considered it necessary to make a secret recording of these conversations to ensure that it kept an accurate record of what was said, adding that it would have been impractical for the undercover reporters to have taken notes during these meetings.

23. The reporters made two visits to the complainant’s firm. The first was completed by just the reporter posing as the uncle. After this meeting, the reporter considered that it was significantly likely that the complainant’s business was operating suspiciously: A memo from the reporter said that there was “prima facie evidence” of wrongdoing, and that – after it was made clear that the nephew was an illegal entrant with no claim to refugee status, the complainant had said that this was “no problem” and that he could “apply for asylum”, before asking for the uncle to return with his nephew. This memo, by the Investigations Editor, on 9 March 2023, recorded that the above exercise had shown further evidence of wrongdoing and the publication would therefore proceed with the next stage of its investigation: to covertly film the complainant during the second visit which would be completed by both reporters. A further internal e-mail was then sent on 21 March, from the Investigation Editor to another senior executive at the newspaper, outlining the considerations taken with regard to Clause 10 for the use of subterfuge and misrepresentation. This included the information provided to the publication by the source and detailed the reasons – as outlined above – why the newspaper considered subterfuge to be the only way to investigate the allegations made.

24. The newspaper said that the subterfuge had revealed information of significant public interest, as its investigation had found that the complainant had been acting in the highly unethical way its source had alleged. It said that, despite the reporters making clear – during both conversations – that the nephew was an illegal immigrant who had entered the UK for work and to improve his economic status, the complainant not only failed to advise the reporters that they had no valid claim for asylum – he had encouraged them to make a claim. The newspaper said it was necessary to make a secret recording of the reporters’ conversations with the complainant to ensure that it kept an accurate record of what was said and to convey the nature of the complainant’s wrongdoing to its readers.

25. With regards to the complainant’s concerns under Clause 1, the newspaper said that it had accurately reported the findings of the investigation. To support its position, it provided the recordings of both meetings, as well as a transcript and translation of these conversations from Punjabi-English.

26. The first transcript, of the meeting between the reporter posing as the uncle and the complainant, included the following excerpts:

Reporter: The application is for my nephew […] he came on a boat illegally. Two weeks ago. Is there anything you can do for his stay here?

Complainant: Where is he now?

Reporter: He’s now with relatives in Leicester. We told him to go to Leicester till we find a good lawyer. You have been highly recommended. People praise you a lot, saying there’s only one person in London that you should go to.

[…]

Reporter: So he’s come illegally, he crossed the border and nobody’s caught him.

Complainant: […] How old is he?

Reporter: Mid thirties.

Complainant: Single?

Reporter: Single, yes.

Complainant: Which country?

Reporter: Punjab, Jalandhar.

Reporter: Okay…reason? Why did he enter illegally in this country? Is he a Khalistani or something?

Reporter: No no…not a Khalistani. He can be anything… There’s a lot of economic problems now in India . There is no work….you know Punjab now. There’s no prospects there.

Complainant: […] Ok, bring him to me. Get his passport too.

Reporter: Passport, sir, that is thrown away because agent told him to.

Complainant: Oh, he destroyed it?

Reporter: Yes, the agent told him that they couldn’t deport him if he didn’t have his passport.

Complainant: […] Any photocopy of the passport?

Reporter: Oh, he should, I’m sure, be able to get one.

Complainant: Ok, so ask him to get it. Ask him to write on a piece of paper what problems he’s facing back home.?

Reporter: Okay…basically the problem is there is no work and future….

Complainant: that you will ask him to write […] he needs to write everything…or he needs to come to me and I’ll ask him any safety reasons and problems from Government […] any […] problems from gangsters […] from politicians […] and he needs to write his own story […] and needs to come to me with his any ID […] I need to seek his Asylum because he entered illegally in this country[…] I also need to ask him questions about how he came into this country, which other countries has he travelled through and in which country they took his finger prints […] and whether he’s claimed asylum in any country […] So I have to ask him a lot of questions.

Reporter: No, no none of that.

Complainant: I am happy to start his case if you bring him to me.

[…]

Reporter: And what is the cost?

Complainant: You need to pay a deposit of 1,000 pounds.

Reporter: Ok, I’ll bring the boy first and you can talk to him.

Complainant: Sure, but explain everything to him. Talk to him in detail and get him to me. Then we’ll take it forward. Okay?

Reporter: Yes, thank you sir. So, it will be done, right?

Complainant: It will be done. First, I’ll have to see what reasons he is giving… the case will go on for a year or couple of years.

Reporter: Absolutely. The time is not the issue.

Complainant: Okay […] At the end of the day, if the Home Office believes him, they are going to give him refugee leave to remain. I also need to ask him whether he is a part of the Khalistan movement, is he against or in favour of Khalistan… and which politician is hassling back home. So there’s a lot of things I need to ask him.

27. The second transcript, of the meeting between the two reporters posing as uncle and nephew and the complainant, included the following excerpts:

First reporter: This is my nephew Gurpinder […] He came by a boat…

Complainant: Ok, what exactly did we speak about?

First reporter: Well, he’s the one who’s come here on a boat …about a month…

[…]

First reporter: What is the case we’re going to put for him?

Complainant: The human rights application on the basis of family in this country, plus asylum.

First reporter: Asylum?

Complainant: Yes. Because he entered this country illegally. So do you have a story in your mind?

Second reporter: Story…? Like what…?

Complainant: Are you…what’re you, a Khalistani?

Second reporter: Khalistani….no.

Complainant: What was the problem you were facing back home? Political?

Second reporter: No, not political. Just work. I needed a job.

Complainant: You say that and they’re going to send you back.

First reporter: Okay, what…what do we need to say then?

Complainant: Human Rights application.

First reporter: Okay.

Complainant: I need copy of his passport. See, if says that his life is in danger back home, due to some political or land disputes…anything…he needs to write it down. If he doesn’t do it then I can’t help him.

First reporter: Okay, so we need to make up a story for him.

[…]

Complainant: […]. You need to say I am his uncle, and that he’s got this problem back home, and I am responsible for his accommodation and everything else.

First reporter: That’s fine. What sort of problem do I need to say?

Complainant: He know better…If he says he doesn’t have any problem, then we’ll have to make a family application. Because he’s here because of his family here.

First reporter: What sort of problem, though? I’ll write it.

Complainant: Sure. Write it.

First reporter: What sort of problem? Just give me guidance.

Complainant: Just write why he’s come here illegally. Like, he’s taken a loan from someone, who that party is…see, everyone who enters illegally has a reason. Some political reason. Some fight with someone. He’ll have to write these things to make up some story. If he doesn’t say anything he will get nothing.

First reporter: So, ok, we’ll make up a story. Don’t worry…

Complainant: Do that and bring it to me.

First reporter: How […] how long should it be?

Complainant: Oh, one page.

First reporter: Ok. Like, if I say there’s a political problem, how high up should I say it goes…

Complainant: No no no. Just get me a rough outline. Bring it to me. Then I will tell you what to do... writes down what his problems in India can be […]

First reporter: Okay….so, his problem in Punjab…can you give us some guidance… […] But this problem we need to invent….I’ll just write one page?

Complainant: You write one page and bring it to me. I’ll turn it into four pages.

First reporter: Oh, you’ll make four. So which one is easy?…a political problem?

Complainant: Political, yes. Anything, just take name of a party.

First reporter: Khalistan? Aam Aadmi?

Complainant: Whatever you wish.

First reporter: And the problem…I’ll write a page…

Complainant: That’s how you start a case. Otherwise, you can’t keep him on your premises. He’s come here illegally. […] You came clean, right? So as of this moment, he does not exist in the UK, but he is in the UK. Our obligation is to make his proper application and we tell the Home Office why he is here and what his future plans are.

First reporter: So you just want me to set up what his political problem is and you’ll do the rest.

Complainant: Yes and I’ll need those documents.

First reporter: That’s not a problem, I’ll get them. And money? How much?

Complainant: 1500

First reporter: That’s the fee?

Complaint: That’s what you bring with you next time. That’s the deposit. The total expense would be around 3000 to 4000 over 1.5 years. The case will go on for around one to one and a half years.

First reporter: Oh, one year - 18 months?

Complainant: Yes, but no guarantees. I can’t give any guarantees.

First reporter: But you have a high success rate?

Complainant: Oh yes, I’ve dealt with many people like him. […]

Second reporter: If asylum gets refused?

Complainant: Then we’ll know the reasons why it’s refused and we’ll go to the appeal court.

First reporter: Oh, so you take it right to the top?

Complainant: Yup.

First reporter: Ok, I’m clear on everything. The problem in Punjab…I’ll make up something….

Complainant: Make up something, yes.

28. While the newspaper accepted that there was some variation between the translations provided by the complainant and itself, noting that its version included far fewer grammatical, spelling, and stylistic errors than those provided by the complainant, it maintained that this was immaterial to the accuracy of the article as a whole: all the translations provided demonstrated the complainant’s misconduct. To support this, it provided IPSO with a table comparing the specific differences between these translations. The newspaper highlighted, for example, that its translation showed that the complainant had said, “You say that and they’re going to send you back”, when the reporter had informed him that ‘nephew’ had just come to the UK for “work” while, in contrast, the first translation provided by the complainant stated, “No. If you say this then they will… [gesture]” and the second translation stated, “if you say this, they will…”.

29. Similarly, the newspaper also noted that its translation and the first translation provided by the complainant showed that the complainant had told the reporters to “make up something” regarding the problems faced by the ‘nephew’ back in India; the second translation recorded that the complainant said, “make something” to which the reporter responded, “I will make something up”.

30. The newspaper also noted that all three translations showed that the reporters had repeatedly told the complainant that the nephew was only in the UK to work and there was no safety issue, that meant he needed to claim asylum. Despite this, the complainant had told the reporter to create a “story” with various “problems” in it that would then entitle him to claim asylum in the UK. The complainant had advised the reporter that the nephew should make a human rights application for asylum, explained what documents he needed to provide, how much this would cost and arranged a further meeting. The newspaper noted that the translations showed that the complainant had told the reporters to “write” down the reasons why the ‘nephew’ was no longer safe in India – after he had been informed there were none. The newspaper also noted that the translations showed the complainant had told the reporters that if the ‘nephew’ did not say that his life was in “danger back home [in India]”, he would be unable to help him. Further, the newspaper said all the translations showed the complainant had told the reporters that the “total cost” or “expense” for the application would be £4,000.

31. The newspaper said that it was highly misleading of the complainant to suggest that the meaning of his words to the reporters has been misconstrued because of his proficiency in English: the conversations took place in Punjabi, and the Solicitors Regulation Authority required solicitors to have a high level of written and spoken English to be allowed to practice.

32. The newspaper also denied that the article was inaccurate to report that the complainant had told the undercover reporters that the total cost of the application would be £4,000 – the text of the article explained the complainant’s position that “his charge was only £1,000 of this amount”. It also noted there was no discrepancy between the translations on this point.

33. Further, the newspaper did not accept that the headline of the second article was inaccurate or misleading. It said that the inverted commas clearly donated that the headline paraphrased the complainant’s position – as set out in the text of the article – and that this was a standard journalistic practice; quotations marks were not only used to present verbatim quotes.

34. The newspaper also denied that the excerpts of video footage of the complainants’ meetings with the undercover reporters gave a misleading account of the interaction, adding that the full recording simply made the complainant’s wrongdoing more obvious.

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 10 (Clandestine devices and subterfuge)*

i) The press must not seek to obtain or publish material acquired by using hidden cameras or clandestine listening devices; or by intercepting private or mobile telephone calls, messages or e-mails; or by the unauthorised removal of documents or photographs; or by accessing digitally-held information without consent.

ii) Engaging in misrepresentation or subterfuge, including by agents or intermediaries, can generally be justified only in the public interest and then only when the material cannot be obtained by other means.

Clause 14 (Confidential sources)

Journalists have a moral obligation to protect confidential sources of information.

The Public Interest

There may be exceptions to the clauses marked * where they can be demonstrated to be in the public interest.

1. The public interest includes, but is not confined to:

• Detecting or exposing crime, or the threat of crime, or serious impropriety

• Protecting public health or safety.

• Protecting the public from being misled by an action or statement of an individual or organisation.

• Disclosing a person or organisation’s failure or likely failure to comply with any obligation to which they are subject.

• Disclosing a miscarriage of justice.

• Raising or contributing to a matter of public debate, including serious cases of impropriety, unethical conduct or incompetence concerning the public.

• Disclosing concealment, or likely concealment, of any of the above.

2. There is a public interest in freedom of expression itself.

3. The regulator will consider the extent to which material is already in the public domain or will become so.

4. Editors invoking the public interest will need to demonstrate that they reasonably believed publication - or journalistic activity taken with a view to publication – would both serve, and be proportionate to, the public interest and explain how they reached that decision at the time.

5. An exceptional public interest would need to be demonstrated to over-ride the normally paramount interests of children under 16.

Findings of the Committee

35. It was not in dispute that reporters acting on behalf of the publication had engaged in subterfuge and misrepresentation when they had visited the complainant: they had posed as potential clients and filmed the complainant using a hidden camera. The terms of Clause 10 were therefore engaged.

36. The newspaper had been approached by a source who had raised significant concerns about solicitor firms facilitating false asylum claims to the Home Office; this source had, according to the newspaper, identified the complainant. Given that the investigation had the potential to uncover evidence that the complainant was engaging in behaviour which might contravene the law as well as the Solicitors’ Code of Conduct, there was a clear public interest in verifying the claims made by the source and establishing the nature and scope of the advice the complainant was providing to his clients. The Public Interest portion of the Editors’ Code explicitly references exposing crime, the threat of crime, and unethical conduct concerning the public as an element of public interest reporting.

37. The newspaper had detailed the considerations which had taken place between senior editorial executives prior to engaging in the subterfuge. It had also shared with IPSO copies of the internal memos and e-mail correspondence, at each stage of the investigation, demonstrating that it had considered whether engaging in subterfuge would serve, and be proportionate to, the public interest it had identified. In addition, given the nature of the source’s claim about the complainant’s conduct and his firm’s working practices, the Committee was satisfied that the newspaper could not have obtained this information without engaging in subterfuge; it was reasonable for the newspaper to believe that it would be unable to ascertain his true advice to clients without employing subterfuge and misrepresentation. The reporters therefore posed as potential clients to gather first-hand evidence of this advice and recorded these conversations, which provided the newspaper with an accurate account of these conversations, and which had involved two separate languages.

38. The Committee considered that the publication had demonstrated that the decision to use undercover reporters served the public interest; it turned next to the question whether it served the public interest in a proportionate way. In considering what was proportionate, the Committee noted that, after the first visit to the complainant’s office, further internal discussions had taken place at the publication before approaching the office a second time, as demonstrated by the memos the publication had provided to IPSO. This demonstrated that the publication had balanced the weight of the allegations against the complainant against the evidence it had already obtained, not just prior to the investigation but during the investigation – keeping in mind the proportionality of the exercise throughout. The Committee noted that the subterfuge had been extensive, however – given the nature of the services that the complainant provided – the Committee considered that the publication had demonstrated that the use of undercover reporter was proportionate to the public interest served, as the information could not have been otherwise obtained. The use of undercover reporters did not breach the terms of Clause 10.

39. The Committee next considered whether filming the complainant using a hidden camera breached the terms of the Clause. The Committee noted that the use of such devices is prohibited by the Code, but that their use may be justified, provided the tests set out by the Public Interest portion of the Code are met. The Committee was, for the reasons previously explained, satisfied that the publication had demonstrated that there was a public interest served by the story itself. In terms of whether the use of a hidden camera was proportionate to the public interest, the Committee found that the camera both enabled to publication to keep a record of the interaction – a crucial part of ensuring that matters are correctly reported, and which is of vital importance when reporting on matters in the public interest – and the publication of limited portions of the video served to illustrate a matter of public interest to the article’s readers. The Committee further noted that it was only the meetings with the complainant – rather than, for instance, the waiting area or exterior of the office – that had been recorded, which it considered to be a proportionate approach. There was, therefore, no breach of Clause 10.

40. The Committee next considered the concerns raised under Clause 1. The Committee noted that the complainant disputed the accuracy of the publication’s translation and transcript of the recordings and had provided his own versions to IPSO. However, the Committee also noted that all versions of the translations demonstrated that the undercover reporters had been clear to the complainant: the nephew had illegally entered the UK in search of work. The complainant had then advised the reporters to make an application for asylum. He had explained the documents needed for such an application, the costs involved, and that the nephew needed a “story”. In doing so, the complainant had suggested possible reasoning and requested that they set this out in writing which he would then in turn expand upon. The text of the articles also detailed the comments made by the complainant to the undercover reporters and which were supported by the translations provided. In these circumstances, the Committee considered it was not inaccurate to report that the complainant had told the reporter to “’make up something‘ for the immigration authorities’” and to “’lie to the Home Office’”. There was no breach of Clause 1.

41. With regards to the second article, the Committee acknowledged that quotations marks may be used in headlines for a variety of reasons, including to denote that the included text is a paraphrased summary of an individual’s words. The complainant denied that he had told the reporters that the Home Office would “send” the reporter back to India should he tell officials that he came to the UK for work purposes. In considering this aspect of the complaint, the Committee had regard to transcripts and translations provided by both parties as well as the video of the conversation in question, which showed the complainant – after being told by the reporters that the ‘nephew’ had just come to the UK solely in search of work – shaking his head and making a gesture with one of his hands upwards. While the Committee recognised that there were some differences in the exact wording used by the complainant in this moment, it considered that the intention being conveyed was clear: should the ‘nephew’ inform the Home Office that he had entered the UK illegally solely in search of work, he would be deported. The Committee therefore considered that the publication had a sufficient basis for the headline. It was therefore the Committee’s view that the publication had taken sufficient care not to publish inaccurate or misleading information and did not establish a significant inaccuracy requiring correction. There was no breach of Clause 1.

42. The Committee noted that the articles under complaint did not report that the complainant charged £10,000 – the text of the first article made clear that this figure related to another solicitor under investigation; and the figures provided by these individuals varied. Further, the Committee did not consider that the second article inaccurately reported that the complainant had agreed to “help file an asylum claim to the Home Office for a cost of £4,000”. The separate translations provided by both parties demonstrated that the complainant had told the undercover reporters that the application would cost £4,000 and the text of the second article reflected the complainant’s position that £1,000 of this would be his own costs, and the remaining £3,000 would be application fees by the Home Office. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

43. The Committee also did not consider that the excerpts of video footage of the complainant’s meetings with the undercover reporters gave a misleading account of the conversation. It was clear that the video was only an excerpt, rather than an unedited version of the conversations between the reporters and the complainant, and that it included extracts from the meetings which demonstrated the complainant’s alleged wrongdoing: they showed the complainant asking, in Punjabi, whether the reporters had a “story” in mind for the ‘nephew’s’ asylum application and saying that “You say that and they’re going to send you back” when the reporter made clear he came to the UK just “to work”. The Committee did not consider that the videos were inaccurate in the manner suggested by the complainant, and there was no breach of Clause 1.

44. The Committee next considered the complainant’s concerns that the newspaper, when approaching him for comment, prior to the articles’ publication, had not provided him with a full video of his conservation with the undercover reporters. The Committee noted that there was no stand-alone requirement for the newspaper to have contacted the complainant prior to publication. It also noted that the request for comment had clearly set out the allegations against the complainant, including the specific wording taken from the transcript – and translation – of the recording of the conversation in question, and that the comments provided by the complainant in response had then included within the second article. The Committee had not established any inaccuracies with the articles, and there was no failure to take care on this point. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

Conclusion

45. The complaint was not upheld

Remedial action required

46. N/A


Date complaint received: 28/07/2023

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 21/12/2023