Ruling

Resolution Statement 20876-17 Johnson v Mail Online

    • Date complaint received

      26th July 2018

    • Outcome

      Resolved - IPSO mediation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Resolution Statement 20876-17 Johnson v Mail Online

Summary of complaint

1. David Johnson, acting on behalf of Adam Johnson, complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Mail Online breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Muslim gang ‘urge paedophile footballer Adam Johnson to convert to Islam because they are the only inmates who will protect him in prison”, published on 30 July 2017; an article headlined “Stacey Flounders arrives to16-hours-a-week job ‘building relationships with footballers’ in a Merc and carrying a £1,700 bag days after it emerged she was on tax credits following split from her paedophile ex Adam Johnson”, published on 21 September 2017; and an article headlined “Exclusive: Adam Johnson’s ex-girlfriend Stacey Flounders nurses her left arm as she is spotted for first time since horrific car crash on her way to see the paedophile footballer in prison, published on 6 December 2017.

2. The complainant, the father of Adam Johnson, said that the first article had inaccurately reported that other inmates in prison had threatened his son; that his son had attended prayer meetings in return for protection; that his son had converted to Islam; and that his son had been seen praying.

3. He said the third article inaccurately reported that Stacey Flounders had been involved in a car crash while on her way to visit his son in prison. The accident had not occurred on a visiting day.

4. In addition, he expressed concern that the publication had referred to his son as a “paedophile” in all three articles. He said the term “paedophile” described a “male predator who had sexual attraction towards prepubescent children”; his son was not a paedophile.

5. The publication denied that it had breached the Code. It said that the first article was clearly a follow-up to an article published in a national newspaper, and it had made clear in the article that these were allegations made by a source, and not established fact.

6. The publication said that the report that Ms Flounders had been involved in a car accident had been provided by a reputable agency, which had based the story on information provided by source close to Ms Flounders. It did not consider that it was significant whether she had been travelling to the prison at the time of the crash, but as a gesture of goodwill, it offered to remove the reference to the prison and append the following footnote:

An earlier version of this article stated that Ms Flounders was travelling to HMP Moorland to visit Mr Johnson at the time of the collision. We have since been informed that this is not the case and we are happy to set the record straight.

7. The publication did not consider that it was inaccurate or misleading to refer to Adam Johnson as a “paedophile” as he had been found guilty of two counts of sexual activity with a child and one count of child grooming. It also noted that the articles had made clear that the victim was 15 years old at the time of the offences.

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.

Mediated outcome

9. In order to resolve the complaint, the publication offered to circulate an internal memorandum to its editorial staff making them aware that, where necessary, any allegations in respect of Adam Johnson should be put to his father before publication. It also offered to remove the first and third articles from its website, and to publish the following correction as a standalone clarification:

An article on 30 July 2017 headed “Muslim gang ‘urge paedophile footballer Adam Johnson to convert to Islam because they are the only inmates who will protect him in prison’” suggested that Mr Johnson had been “spotted praying” after he had been urged to convert to Islam by Muslim criminals offering protection. We now understand that Mr Johnson denies the allegations, and apologise for any distress caused by publication. We are happy to set the record straight.

10. The complainant accepted the publication’s offer as a resolution to his complaint.

11. As the complaint was successfully mediated, the Complaints Committee did not make a determination as to whether there had been any breach of the Code.

Date complaint received: 20/03/2018
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 28/06/2018