Ruling

22168-22 Walawalker v Telegraph.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      10th August 2023

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of correction

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 22168-22 Walawalker v Telegraph.co.uk


Summary of Complaint

1. Raoul Walawalker complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Telegraph.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Deportations of foreign murderers at record low thanks to human rights challenges”, published on 29 June 2022.

2. The headline of the article reported that, “thanks to human rights challenges”, “deportations of foreign murderers” was at a “record low”. The first line of the article stated that: “Deportations of convicted foreign rapists, murderers and robbers have fallen to their lowest numbers on record after a rise in human rights challenges”. The article then reported that: the number of deportations of “Category A foreign criminals” in the last year had dropped 13% to 956; “at the end of March, there were 11,300 foreign national offenders who had been released [from prison] but not deported”; and that Category A foreign criminals and foreign national offenders were subject to deportation “because they were given prison sentences of at least 12 months”.

3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1, as it reported that fewer foreign murderers were being deported “thanks to” and “after a rise in” human rights challenges – giving the inaccurate impression that human rights challenges were the cause of the lower number of deportations. He also said that the article did not include any evidence to support these figures, nor were the figures readily available in the public domain. The complainant said he believed that the information had been taken from a blog post by a think tank, which he provided. He said that, whilst this blog had referred to human rights challenges, it did not go as far as to state there was a causal link between the two.

4. The complainant also said that the headline gave the misleading impression that Category A crimes were synonymous with murder – he said that this was inaccurate as many serious crimes, such as crimes in relation to drugs, could be included within these figures. The complainant also stated that the Home Office, when assessing the “categories” of crimes, had said the methodology used to assess harm was not applied consistently and therefore the data was of limited use.

5. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code, and did not consider that the first sentence of the article or the use of the word “after” denoted a causal link between a rise in human rights challenges and a decrease in deportations of foreign offenders. It said that the meaning of the headline was that human rights challenges have contributed to a record low in deportation of foreign Category A criminals, and said the text of the article supported this meaning, as it reported that: “Home Office figures show that the number of Category A foreign criminals and highest harm immigration offenders deported in the last year dropped 13 per cent to 956”. It said the headline’s meaning was further supported by “the main thrust” of the article. The publication provided a table to support its position that the numbers had dropped, and noted that the correct figure was that these deportations had dropped by 18% rather than 13% - though it did not consider that this was a significant inaccuracy.

6. The publication also provided a statement from an MP, and highlighted a section which stated:

In the year ending September 2021, 2,732 foreign national offenders were returned from the UK—20% fewer than the previous year and 47% fewer than in 2019, the year before the pandemic began. Foreign national offender returns had already fallen to 5,128 in 2019. Even more staggering is the fact that, according to a 2019 Public Accounts Committee report, the Home Office had to release six in every 10 migrant detainees whom the Department wanted to deport, and it simply could not explain why this was happening.

The statement also said that the MP found it:

[D]eeply troubling that a number of expert reports over recent years have pointed to how Home Office failures have resulted in fewer foreign criminals being deported than should be the case.

7. To support its position that there had been a rise in legal challenges made under human rights legislation – which the publication said included both the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Modern Slavery Act 2015 – and that this had contributed to the lower numbers of deportations, the publication provided data released by the Home Office. This data said that 21,521 appeals against deportation had been lodged by foreign national offenders between April 2008 and June 2021, and that 40% of appeals had been allowed under human rights grounds only. The publication said that this clearly demonstrated that the number of deportations successfully challenged under human rights appeals was substantial and that these challenges would have contributed to a reduction in the number of deportations. In addition, the publication said that challenges under the Modern Slavery Act specifically had risen since 2018 – from 19 per month in 2018 to 85 per month in the first five months of 2021. It acknowledged that the figures it had provided did not provide the harm categories or offence linked to the deportation and subsequent appeal. However, it said only foreign criminals given a prison sentence of 12 months or more could be automatically deported, and considered that it therefore followed that foreign criminals convicted of lower level harm offences would not be counted in appeals statistics for both human rights and modern slavery challenges - as they would not be subject to automatic deportation and would not appeal.

8. The publication also did not consider that the article only referred to murderers. It noted that the Home Office Harms Matrix Category A offenders included people who had committed offences including serious criminal offences such as terrorist activity, murder, rape, people and drug trafficking, violent crime and child abuse, and that some of these were included in the article.

9. The complainant did not accept the publication’s position. He said that, read in conjunction with the headline, the first sentence of the article clearly claimed that there was a direct relationship between the number of human rights challenges and the reduction in deportations – which he maintained was not the case. He also noted that the data referred to by the publication in its defence did not appear in the article, and said that the number of foreign offenders who had made claims under modern slavery were not only murderers, as indicated in the headline, but also people who had been trafficked into the country and were forced to work illegally.

10. The complainant also said that the publication was inaccurate in its claim made during IPSO’s investigation that the figures it had provided included only foreign criminals given a prison sentence of 12 months or more and who would be automatically deported. He noted many people who could be considered to be in the UK “illegally” were at risk of deportation, and that people who appeal against deportation were not limited to those who were automatically deported after being in prison for 12 months – but rather anyone who received a deportation order.

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

11. It was not in dispute that fewer foreign criminals who had been assessed as committing Category A crimes had been deported in 2021 than in 2020. The article’s headline said that this drop was “thanks to human rights challenges”. This was clear causal link that attributed the “record low” deportation figures to “human rights challenges”. The link was then emphasised in the opening line of the article – which claimed that the drop had come “after” a rise in human rights challenges. The publication’s position was that the headline’s meaning was that human right’s challenges had “contributed” to a decrease – however, this was not a natural reading of the phrase “thanks to” when reading the article as a whole.

12. The Committee noted that none of the information provided by the publication supported the claim made by the article that the reduction in deportations was due to successful human rights challenges. Rather, the information set out the number of successful appeals against deportations in relation to challenges under the Human Rights Act and Modern Slavery Act had risen, and that deportations had decreased – however, it did not follow that the drop was solely “thanks to” or after these challenges. The Committee also noted that the MP’s statement, which the publication had provided to support its position, attributed the drop in deportations to “Home Office failures” – this contradicted the article’s causal link between human rights challenges and the fall in deportations.

13. The Committee also considered how the information had been published in the article – it had stated as fact that the record low deportation figures were due to human rights challenges. However, this was instead the publication’s own analysis of the data – which was not referred to or explained in the text of the article itself. Where readers were not made aware of the basis for the publication’s assertion this was the correct position, and where the publication had not been able to supply definitive evidence of its position, the Committee found it had not taken care not to publish inaccurate information, and there was a breach of Clause 1(i).

14. The published inaccuracy was significant as it appeared prominently in the headline, and it related to the serious matter of the deportation of foreign criminals; it therefore required correction under the terms of Clause 1(ii). The publication had not offered to publish any corrective action; as such there was a further breach of Clause 1(ii).

15. With regards to the headline only referring to “murderers” whilst the article referred to Category A offenders in general, the Committee noted that the headline of an article does not need to be a complete summary of the article in question, provided it does not otherwise breach the terms of Clause 1. Category A offenders includes people who have been convicted of murder, as stated in the headline and – notwithstanding that the headline was inaccurate on a different point – it was not inaccurate to state that deportations of murderers had dropped, where this was what figures provided by the publication demonstrated. Whilst the complainant had raised concerns that the Home Office had stated that categories of crime had been assessed differently, where this category included murderers, and where the article was clear as to which offenders were included in the figures, this did not raise a breach of Clause 1.

Conclusion

16. The complaint was upheld in part under Clause 1.

Remedial action required

17. Having upheld the complaint, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required. In circumstances where the Committee establishes a breach of the Editors’ Code, it can require the publication of a correction and/or an adjudication; the nature, extent and placement of which is determined by IPSO.

18. The article attributed a fall in the number of deportations of criminals to a rise in human rights challenges, and the publication had been unable to substantiate the claim. The Committee considered that a correction was the appropriate remedy, where the inaccuracy arose from a single sentence in the article and it was not in dispute that there had been decrease in deportations and a rise in human rights challenges – notwithstanding that there was no demonstratable causal link between the two. The correction should acknowledge that the article inaccurately attributed a fall in deportations to a rise in human rights challenges. It should also put the correct position on record, namely that this causal link as a statement of fact was not supported by the information the publication had produced on the deportations of Category A offenders, or the information that had been printed in the article.

19. The Committee then considered the placement of this correction. As the inaccurate information appeared in the article’s headline, the correction should appear as a standalone correction and a link should be published on the homepage for 24 hours before being archived in the usual way. In addition, if the publication intends to continue to publish the online article without amendment, a correction should be added to the article and published beneath the headline. If the article is amended, this correction should be published as a footnote. The wording should be agreed with IPSO in advance and should make clear that it has been published following an upheld ruling by the Independent Press Standards Organisation.

 

Date complaint received:  16/02/2023

Date complaint concluded by IPSO:  25/07/2023