Ruling

21910-23 Evans v South Wales Echo

  • Complaint Summary

    Charlotte Evans complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the South Wales Echo breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Disqualified driver gave her friend’s name to police after crashing car”, published on 7 October 2023.

    • Date complaint received

      5th June 2024

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 2 Privacy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 21910-23 Evans v South Wales Echo


Summary of Complaint

1. Charlotte Evans complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the South Wales Echo breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Disqualified driver gave her friend’s name to police after crashing car”, published on 7 October 2023.

2. The article – which appeared on page 4 – was a report of a sentencing hearing that had taken place at Merthyr Tydfil Crown Court. The article reported that the complainant “pleaded guilty to two counts of perverting the course of justice” and that “the court heard she had previous convictions for battery, driving with excess alcohol, and ill treatment of a child, for which she received a conditional discharge”. Further to this, the article reported that the complainant “attended Porth police station on June 29, 2021 and said she was due to get a non molestation order out against [an] ex partner on the day of the collision, she was anxious and had a drink”. The article also included a photograph of the complainant and her street-level address.

3. The article also appeared online in substantially the same form, under the headline “Disqualified driver gave name of best friend to police after crashing into car”. The online version of the article did not include a photograph of the complainant.

4. The complainant said the article breached Clause 1 as it inaccurately reported that she had pleaded guilty to two charges of perverting the course of justice, as she had only pleaded guilty to one such charge. In addition to this, she considered the article inaccurately reported that “the court heard she had previous convictions for battery, driving with excess alcohol, and ill treatment of a child”, as she instead had a previous conviction for being drunk in charge of a child, and because her barrister had corrected the prosecutor when this was initially incorrectly stated in court. The complainant supported her position on this point by providing her DBS certificate dated from 2017. The certificate included details of previous convictions involving driving offences rather than offences relating to being drunk in charge of a child or ill treatment of a child.

5. The complainant also said the article inaccurately reported that she was on her way to get a restraining order against an ex-partner. She said she was actually attending court for a matter relating to her child.

6. The complainant said the article also breached Clause 2 as it included a photograph of her, her street-level address, and her previous convictions. She said this intruded into her private life as the photo was from Facebook, and was used without her permission. She added that she was unsure how the publication obtained the image as she believed her social media account was private and for friends only.

7. The publication accepted that the article inaccurately reported the offences the complainant pleaded guilty to. It said that, after receiving the complaint from IPSO, it had contacted the court which confirmed that the complainant had in fact pleaded guilty to one count of fraud and one count of perverting the course of justice – while the article reported she had “pleaded guilty to two counts of perverting the course of justice”. The publication considered this was a significant breach of Clause 1 and therefore updated the online version of the article on 27 October 2023 with the following correction, which appeared as a footnote to the article:

“An earlier version of this article wrongly reported that Evans had pleaded guilty to two counts of perverting the course of justice. The correct charges were one of fraud and one of perverting the course of justice”.

8. The publication also published the following wording on Page 2 of its print edition on 7 November 2023:

“Our article ‘Disqualified driver gave her friend’s name to police after crashing car’, October 7, incorrectly reported Charlotte Evans, 30, of Tonyrefail, had pleaded guilty to two counts of perverting the course of justice. In fact, Evans pleaded guilty to one count of fraud and one count of perverting the course justice. We are happy to clarify this”.

9. The publication did not accept that the article included any other inaccuracies. Turning first to the alleged inaccuracy regarding the reporting of the complainant’s previous convictions, the publication provided contemporaneous notes made by the reporter during the trial. The notes read: “Convictions for battery and driving with excess alcohol. Ill treatment of a child (conditional discharge)”. It said it also contacted the court directly to check this information. However, the court was unable to confirm the complainant’s previous convictions due to criminal procedure rules. The publication stated that if the complainant was able to provide an official copy of her previous charges, it would consider a correction on this point. However, the publication considered care had been taken over the accuracy of this claim where the reporter provided notes of the disputed previous charge. The publication said it was happy to add a footnote clarification outlining that the complainant disputed this charge and had advised that the previous charge related to herself being drunk whilst in charge of a child. The publication considered this to be a satisfactory remedy to the complainant where the correct position could not be officially verified or confirmed, and the complainant disputed the accuracy of the reporting.

10. The complainant did not consider this to be a satisfactory remedy to her complaint and stated she wished for “the irrelevant lie about ‘mistreatment of a minor’ [to be] removed and corrected”. The complainant requested that the correction appeared online and used wording similar to the following:

“The statement in relation to ‘ill-treatment of a minor’ was false and irrelevant to the story printed”.

11. Turning next to the alleged inaccuracy regarding the reporting of the reasons why the complainant was attending court on the day of the crash, the publication did not accept a breach of Clause 1 on this point. The publication provided the reporter’s contemporaneous notes which stated: “June 29 defendant attended Porth police station. During interview she said she was due to get non molestation against [an ex] partner”. The publication did not consider it was inaccurate to report that the complainant “attended Porth police station on June 29, 2021 and said she was due to get a non molestation order out against [an] ex partner on the day of the collision, she was anxious and had a drink”.

12. The publication also did not accept a breach of Clause 2. The publication provided a copy of the complainant's public Facebook profile, where it said the photograph was from; the photograph of the complainant was not visible within this copy of the complainant’s public profile, though other photographs showing her were visible. The publication did not consider the photograph of the complainant represented a breach of the Clause where it only showed the complainant’s likeness and did not reveal any other information about her. The publication added that the photograph was used within the article, in addition to the complainant’s partial address, to enable readers to be able to distinguish between those who had the same name, and that reporting her address did not represent a breach of the Code. The publication considered that it was entitled to report the complainant’s previous convictions where these were heard in open court.

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.

Findings of the Committee

13. The Committee first considered whether the publication had taken care over the accuracy of the article’s claim that the complainant “pleaded guilty to two counts of perverting the course of justice“. Both parties accepted that the article inaccurately reported the charges the complainant had pleaded guilty to, and that she had only pleaded guilty to a single charge of perverting the course of justice, alongside an additional charge of fraud.

14. The Committee was not satisfied that the publication had taken care over the accuracy of the article on this point. While the reporter had taken notes, these did not accurately reflect the charges the complainant pleaded guilty to, and the publication had not been able to show that any further care had been taken over the accuracy of these charges. There was, therefore, a breach of Clause 1 (i) on this point.

15. The Committee noted the importance of ensuring legal proceedings are reported accurately, to ensure the public are not misled as to the findings of the criminal justice system. In such circumstances, it considered the inaccurate information to be significant and in need of correction under the terms of Clause 1(ii).

16. The Committee next considered whether the corrections published were sufficient to address the terms of Clause 1 (ii), which requires that significantly inaccurate information is corrected promptly and with due prominence. It considered that the corrections for both versions of the article were offered sufficiently promptly: The online version was corrected the same day the publication was made aware of the potential inaccuracy; and the print version being corrected 11 days later, which represented due promptness as the newspaper was published weekly.

17. The Committee considered a footnote correction to be a sufficiently prominent to the online version of the article, taking into account the fact that the article had also been amended to remove the original inaccurate information, and the information appeared only within the text of the article. Where the correction to the print article appeared on page 2 of the newspaper, the Committee also considered this had been published in a sufficiently prominent position, as it appeared further forward than the original inaccuracy, which had appeared on page 4. The wordings of both corrections put the correct positions on record, by making clear the complainant had pleaded guilty to one count of fraud and one count of perverting the course of justice. There was no further breach of Clause 1(ii).

18. The Committee next considered whether the article inaccurately reported that “the court heard [the complainant] had previous convictions for battery, driving with excess alcohol, and ill treatment of a child, for which she received a conditional discharge”. The Committee carefully considered this claim, given the serious nature of the claim and the complainant’s denial. The Committee was grateful to the complainant for providing her DBS certificate but was mindful that this copy was from 2017 and could therefore not be relied upon for verifying any convictions after this date. It was also mindful that this document did not reference the offence which the complainant said had occurred: being drunk in charge of a child It also noted that the publication had been able to provide notes made by the reporter, and that further attempts on the part of the publication to verify this information had not been fruitful, as the court was not at liberty to disclose this information. In such circumstances, the Committee did not, therefore, consider that there were sufficient grounds to find that the article was inaccurate on this point, notwithstanding the efforts both parties had made. It did not, therefore, identify a breach of Clause 1.

19. When considering whether the article inaccurately reported that the complainant “attended Porth police station on June 29, 2021 and said she was due to get a non-molestation order out against [an] ex partner on the day of the collision, she was anxious and had a drink”, the Committee noted that the reporter’s notes, provided by the publication, reflected that the complainant said during the police interview that she was due to get a non-molestation order against an ex partner. In addition, the Committee noted that it was not in dispute that the complainant had been on her way to court at the time of the offence. In such circumstances, the Committee did not consider that any potential discrepancy in reporting the reasons why the complainant was on her way to court on the day of the offence was so significant as to raise a breach of Clause 1.

20. Lastly, turning to the points of complaint under Clause 2, the Committee noted that the Editor’s Code makes clear when considering whether a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy that account will be taken of the extent to which the material complained about is already in the public domain. In this instance, the complainant’s photographs appeared to be visible to anyone viewing her profile, whether or not they were friends on social media; and the complainant’s name, address, and previous convictions had already been made public in open court. The Committee further noted that the photograph simply showed the complainant’s appearance and did not disclose any further information about her beyond her physical likeness. Therefore, the publication of the photograph did not represent an intrusion into the complainant’s private life. The Committee did not consider the complainant had an expectation of privacy over the photograph, her name, address, and previous convictions. Therefore, the Committee did not find a breach of Clause 2 on these points.

Conclusions

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

Remedial Action Required

22. The correction offered and published by the publication on the inaccurate point put the correct position on record and was offered promptly and with due prominence. No further action was required.


Date complaint received: 23/10/2023

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 14/05/2024


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.