Ruling

20993-23 Mallabourn v Mail Online

  • Complaint Summary

    Collette Mallabourn complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Mail Online breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 14 (Confidential sources) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in articles headlined “Jermain Defoe 'linked to busty brunette' after sparking engagement rumours with girlfriend Alisha LeMay following split from wife just months after their lavish £200k wedding”, published 24 September 2023; "Inside Jermain Defoe's turbulent relationship history From Joanne Beckham and Chloe Green to girlfriend Alisa LeMay and a new mystery wedding planner", published 26 September 2023; "Jermain Defoe looks in high spirits as he steps out with his new flame after romance with Alisha LeMay and split from wife Donna Tierney", published 9 November 2023.

    • Date complaint received

      19th June 2024

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 14 Confidential sources, 2 Privacy, 3 Harassment

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 20993-23 Mallabourn v Mail Online


Summary of Complaint

1. Collette Mallabourn complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Mail Online breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 14 (Confidential sources) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in articles headlined:

• “Jermain Defoe 'linked to busty brunette' after sparking engagement rumours with girlfriend Alisha LeMay following split from wife just months after their lavish £200k wedding”, published 24 September 2023;

• "Inside Jermain Defoe's turbulent relationship history From Joanne Beckham and Chloe Green to girlfriend Alisa LeMay and a new mystery wedding planner", published 26 September 2023;

• "Jermain Defoe looks in high spirits as he steps out with his new flame after romance with Alisha LeMay and split from wife Donna Tierney", published 9 November 2023.

2. The three articles under complaint reported on the romantic life of an English professional footballer. Each article referred to the complainant’s daughter, who was allegedly romantically involved with the footballer, and all reported that the complainant had confirmed her daughter’s relationship with the footballer. The first article reported that the complainant, “told [another publication]: 'Yes, they are in a relationship together.'” The second article stated that the complainant “confirmed to [the other publication]: 'Yes, they are in a relationship together.' The third article said the complainant had confirmed the relationship by “telling [the other publication]: 'Yes, they are in a relationship together.'”

3. The complainant said the articles were inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. She denied having ever confirmed to another publication that her daughter and the footballer were in a relationship. To support her position, she provided a transcript of her conversation with the reporter from the other publication. According to the transcript, during the conversation, the reporter said, “I’m here to find out about Paige and the new relationship with Jermain Defoe”, and the complainant had responded: “and how do you know this?”. The complainant said this was not the same as confirming the relationship and she had never said what she was quoted as saying in the article. She added that the error had been damaging to her relationship with her daughter. She also said that publishing this information breached her confidentiality in breach of Clause 14.

4. The complainant also said the articles breached Clause 14 because during IPSO’s investigation, the publication passed the complainant memos from a journalist which related to her daughter. She considered this breached her daughter’s confidentiality.

5. The complainant also said that the third article under complaint breached Clause 2 and 3 because it repeated the alleged inaccuracies outlined above.

6. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. Turning first to the alleged inaccuracy in the articles, it said the information under dispute had been sourced from the other publication and re-published in good faith. It accepted that the complainant had not said the exact words “yes, they are in a relationship together”. However, it said the impression which would be given to anyone reviewing the conversation was that the complainant was not surprised by the “revelation” her daughter was in a relationship with the footballer. It said the nature of the conversation, including the tone – and particularly the fact the complainant had responded “how do you know that” when asked about the relationship – meant it was understandable the reporter had been left with the impression the complainant had confirmed the romantic relationship.

7. On 12 November, eight days after receiving the complaint about the first two articles and prior to a complaint being made about the third article, the publication offered to add footnote corrections to its first two articles. The corrections both read:

“An earlier version of this article stated that Paige’s mother had told [another publication]: ‘Yes, they are in a relationship together.’ That quote has been removed and we are happy to confirm that Mrs Mallabourn did not positively confirm the existence of any relationship to a reporter.”

8. On 20 November, six days of being made aware of the complainant’s concerns regarding the third article under complaint, the publication offered to add the same footnote correction to this article. All corrections were then published on 23 November.

9. The publication did not accept the complainant was a confidential source for the article, and therefore did not consider that the terms of Clause 14 were engaged. It also did not accept that the complainant’s concerns under Clause 2 or Clause 3 engaged either Clause.

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 2 (Privacy)*

i) Everyone is entitled to respect for their private and family life, home, physical and mental health, and correspondence, including digital communications.

ii) Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual's private life without consent. In considering an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy, account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information and the extent to which the material complained about is already in the public domain or will become so.

iii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals, without their consent, in public or private places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Clause 3 (Harassment)*

i) Journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit.

ii) They must not persist in questioning, telephoning, pursuing or photographing individuals once asked to desist; nor remain on property when asked to leave and must not follow them. If requested, they must identify themselves and whom they represent.

iii) Editors must ensure these principles are observed by those working for them and take care not to use non-compliant material from other sources.

Clause 14 (Confidential sources)

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

Findings of the Committee

10. It was accepted by both the publication and the complainant that, regardless of whether the complainant had been “surprised” at the reporter’s comments about her daughter’s relationship, the complainant had not actively confirmed the two were in a relationship. Publishing information which was originally published in another outlet does not, in itself, demonstrate a lack of care over the accuracy of a claim. However, there may be occasions that not taking further steps to verify information leads to a failure to take care over its accuracy. In this instance, the publication had not indicated that it had taken any steps to verify the claim that the complainant had confirmed the relationship – for instance, by reaching out to her directly. Where the publication had not taken any further steps to verify the information, there was a breach of Clause 1 (i).

11. The article inaccurately reported that the complainant had positively confirmed the relationship between her daughter and a footballer. This gave all three articles additional credibility with regards to the alleged new relationship. In such circumstances the Committee considered the error significant and in need of correction under Clause 1 (ii).

12. The Committee next considered whether the remedial action proposed by the newspaper addressed the terms of Clause 1 (ii). It noted that each correction set out the original inaccuracy, and put the correct position – that the complainant had never positively confirmed the relationship – on record. Further, where the corrections were offered eight and six days after the publication became aware of the inaccuracy, the Committee considered the corrections to have been offered sufficiently promptly. It considered a footnote correction to be prominent enough, taking into account the fact the articles were also amended to remove the original inaccurate information, and the fact that information had only appeared in the text of the article – rather than in the headline. There was no breach of Clause 1(ii).

13. The Committee turned to the complainant’s concerns under Clause 14; namely, that the publication had breached her confidence by publishing information taken from the other publication. This Clause is intended to protect people who offer information to publications on a confidential basis. As the complainant had not provided any information to the publication under complaint – rather, she had spoken to a journalist acting on behalf of another publication – the terms of this Clause were not engaged.

14. Additionally, the complainant considered that the publication had breached her daughter’s confidence by referring to their correspondence with her during IPSO’s investigation. As the complainant was not acting on behalf on of her daughter in making this complaint, the Committee could not consider whether the Code was breached on this point.

15. As Clause 2 and Clause 3 concern information individuals have a reasonable expectation of privacy over, and the way journalists behave when gathering news, including the nature and extent of their contacts with the subject of the story respectively, the complainant’s concerns about inaccuracies did not engage either Clause. There was no breach of Clause 2 or Clause 3.

Conclusions

16. The complaint was partly upheld under Clause 1 (i).

Remedial action required

17. The published corrections put the correct position on record and were offered promptly and with due prominence. No further action was required.


Date complaint received: 28/09/2023

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 30/05/2024  


Independent Complaints Reviewer

The publication 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.