Ruling

27994-20 Odewale and Yadav v Mail Online

    • Date complaint received

      29th April 2021

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of correction

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 12 Discrimination

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 27994-20 Odewale and Yadav v Mail Online

Summary of Complaint

1. Ayodele Odewale and Sara Yadav complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Mail Online breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Gold Rolex-wearing Imperial College manager and her con artist husband funded millionaire lifestyle with private schooling, sports cars and luxury holidays with mass credit card scam”, published on 15 June 2020.

2. The article reported on civil recovery proceedings brought against a couple who were described as an “international con artist and his partner” and as a “Nigerian conman and his British partner”.  The article reported that they both “trawled through public records to find information about their victims so they could apply for credit cards in their names” and had “defrauded wealthy victims”. The article also described the man as being “a career fraudster with convictions for dishonesty between 1998 and 2016” and stated that in “2011, he was jailed for two years for identity fraud”. It noted that he “gave evidence to the High Court via video from Nigeria, as he is subject to a deportation order and cannot return to the UK”. The article reported that the woman was found by the High Court judge “to have knowingly benefited from assets gained through unlawful conduct” and included a quote from the judge who said that the woman had “'dishonestly chose[n] to turn a blind eye to the illegitimacy of those funds'”. The article also described the “expensive cars” that had been owned by the two people “including a Porsche Carrera, two Mercedes, and Yadav currently drives ab Audi RS4”. It said that the couple sent their three children to “private school which costs £37,000 per year” and “enjoyed frequent luxury holidays in India, Morocco, Nigeria, South Africa, Cape Verde and Turkey”.

3. The complainants, the couple in the article, said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. The complainants said that the article gave the misleading impression that they had been found guilty of a criminal offence, despite it being a civil case, in particular by using the phrase “credit card scam” and claiming they had “defrauded” people. The complainants said there was no credit card scam, and that the female complainant had not been found to have defrauded anyone. They also said that she had not been found to have “trawled through public records”. The complainant said it was inaccurate to report that the man had been jailed for two years for “identity fraud”, when in fact he was convicted for possession of false identity documents.

4. The complainants also said it was misleading to report on the cars they owned as they had owned the cars over a long period of time, over a period of eighteen years. They said it was misleading to report on their holidays as this was not information included in the judgment. The complainants also said it was inaccurate to report that their three children went to private school as only two went to private school, and the other went to nursery.

5. The complainants also said it was a breach of Clause 12 to refer to the man as being “Nigerian”, as this was not relevant to the article.

6. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. The publication said it did not report that the case was criminal, as opposed to civil. The publication amended the article in order to state that it was only the male complainant who had trawled through public records, rather than both complainants. It said that “credit card scam” was used in order to provide a plain English term in the headline to describe the actions of the complainants that readers would understand. It said that the article went on to explain the basis for this position. It said that similarly stating that the complainants had “defrauded [the] wealthy” did not state that they were guilty of the crime of fraud, but accurately represented that they had used other people’s identities to gain money. However, upon receiving the complaint, the publication amended the article to delete one of the references to defrauding, and to make clear that the other related solely to the male complainant. Whilst maintaining that these points could not be considered significant inaccuracies, at the beginning of IPSO’s investigation the publication also offered to add the following footnote to the article:

This article has been amended since publication to clarify that while the judge found that Sara Bharat Yadav knowingly benefited from assets gained through unlawful conduct and was ordered jointly with Ayodele Oluseye Odewale to hand over £1,011,431 to the National Crime Agency under the Proceeds of Crime Act, she was not convicted of fraud.

7. The publication stated that the judgment reported on stated that the male complainant had been convicted of four counts of possessing or controlling a false or improperly obtained identity document contrary to s.6 of the Identity Documents Act 2010, and one count of possessing or controlling a false or improperly obtained ID card contrary to s.25(5) of the Identity Card Act 2006 and sentenced to 2 years imprisonment. It said it was not inaccurate to characterise this as “identity fraud”.

8. The publication noted that the cars mentioned in the article and the holidays the complainants went on was information included in the judgment reported on. The publication also amended the article so that it reported that the complainants sent their children to private school, rather than reporting that all three children attended private school.

9. The publication stated it had not breached Clause 12, as reporting that one of the complainants was Nigerian was not prejudicial or pejorative, and was genuinely relevant as it was referred to in the judgment, as the complainant was in Nigeria and was subject to a deportation order.

Relevant Code 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 12 (Discrimination)

i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's, race, colour, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.

ii) Details of an individual's race, colour, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.

Findings of the Committee

10. The article reported that the complainants had been ordered to hand over more than £1 million after “defrauding wealthy victims”, and went on to report that they had “trawled through public records”. This implied that the female complainant had engaged in such conduct, when in fact the judgment had simply found that she had “turned a blind eye” to the way the funds had been acquired. In these circumstances the publication had failed to take care over the information it had published regarding the findings made in relation to the female complainant’s involvement and there was therefore a breach of Clause 1(i). Where the article was a report of a court case, this was a significant inaccuracy and required correction under Clause 1(ii). The publication had offered a correction, which made clear that the complainant had not been convicted of fraud, and the findings which had been made by the judge. However, it did not also correct the inaccurate report that she had “trawled through public records” or put the correct position on the record. There was a breach of Clause 1(ii) in relation to this point.

11. The complainants had also said that the article gave the impression that the case was criminal rather than civil, and that the reference to “mass credit card scam” in the headline added to this impression. The Committee noted that the article did not report that the proceedings against the complainants were criminal in nature and that the article made clear that the proceedings had been heard in the High Court. The text of the article explained that the male complainant was said to have impersonated cardholders in order to intercept replacement cards which were then used to purchase designer watches which were then traded and sold, which summarised allegations which had been made in the proceedings. In these circumstances, the Committee found that the reference to “mass credit card scam" in the headline was not misleading. Additionally, where the male complainant had been found guilty of possessing or controlling a false or improperly obtained identity document and possessing or controlling a false or improperly obtained ID card, it was not misleading to use the term “identity fraud” in the article. There was no breach of Clause 1 on these points.

12. Where the judgment had referred to the cars which had been owned and the holidays taken by the complainants, it was not misleading to include them in the article. Reporting that all three of the complainant’s children went to private school, when in fact only two children went to private school and one to nursery, was not a significant inaccuracy requiring correction. There was no breach of Clause 1 on these points.

13. The complainants had said it was a breach of Clause 12 to refer to the male complainant as being Nigerian. The Committee noted that describing a person’s nationality is not of itself prejudicial or pejorative, and where the male complainant’s nationality and the fact that he was in Nigeria at the time of the proceedings were referred to in the judgment the article was reporting on, the nationality of the complainant was genuinely relevant to the story. There was no breach of Clause 12.

Conclusions

14. The complaint was partly upheld under Clause 1.

Remedial Action Required

15. Having upheld a breach of Clause 1, 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 terms and placement of which is determined by IPSO.

16. The Committee considered that the publication did not take the necessary care when reporting that the female complainant had trawled through public records. The Committee considered that the appropriate remedy was the publication of a correction to put the correct position on record. A correction was considered to be sufficient, as the claim was not the central point of the article.

17. The Committee then considered the placement of this correction. The correction should appear as a footnote to the article, as the article had already been amended by the publication. This wording should only include information required to correct the inaccuracies that the female complainant had not been found to have trawled through public records or to have defrauded people. The wording should also 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: 14/09/2020

Date decison issued: 25/03/2021

 

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.