Following publication of an article headlined “The terror law chief and the 'cover-up' that could explode UK's biggest bomb trial”, published on 5th March, Max Hill complained to IPSO that the Mail on Sunday breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.
Posted on: 26 September 2017 08:36
The Mail on Sunday was found to have published a "significantly misleading statement".
The complaint was upheld, and the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) required The Mail on Sunday to publish this adjudication.
The complainant had been a barrister for the prosecution in the trial of the ’21/7’ attempted London bombers. The article under complaint explained that the evidence of an expert witness, who had conducted forensic tests on the defendants’ devices, had been “critical to the prosecution’s case”. A sub headline of the article claimed that the complainant “knew” that this expert had been “discredited”. It went onto explain that “serious issues” had been raised about the evidence, which documents showed the complainant had known about at the time of the trial.
The article also claimed that these issues, which had been raised before the Court of Appeal by one of the defendants, had previously been unreported because the court had imposed a “gagging order”. It claimed that “we can report them now as the gagging order has been lifted”.
The complainant said that there was no evidence to support the inaccurate claim that he knew the witness was “discredited” at the time of the trial. He said that the Court of Appeal, in considering this issue, had clearly decided that there was no evidence to support the claim that the prosecution had conducted the trial notwithstanding ongoing criticism of the expert. The complainant also denied that the Court of Appeal judgment had been subject to any “gagging order”, preventing publication, and said it was wrong to suggest that an embargo had prevented publication.
The newspaper said that the complainant was aware of serious concerns about the expert’s evidence, and denied that it was misleading to claim that the complainant knew that the expert had been discredited. The newspaper said that the Court of Appeal had issued an order on 10 February 2015 banning the reporting of Asiedu’s appeal while it was ongoing. This “gagging order” was not lifted until the judgment was issued on 30 April 2015. It said that this had been 8 days before a General Election, which is why nothing had been reported on the matter until the article under complaint, when the complainant’s appointment as the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation gave the issue a new topicality.
IPSO’s Complaints Committee considered that it was not misleading for the newspaper to report that the complainant knew that “serious issues” had been raised about the expert’s evidence. However, in the subheadline of the print article, and the headline of the online version of the article, the newspaper claimed that the complainant “knew” that the expert had been “discredited”. This was a serious allegation in light of the other claims in the article that the complainant had failed to make the disclosures to the defendants’ legal team which would have been required in such circumstances. To claim that he “knew” the expert had been “discredited”, went significantly further than reporting that he had been aware of concerns about the first report. The complainant’s knowledge of these concerns was not sufficient to justify the claim regarding the complainant’s understanding of the expert’s suitability to act and whether it was appropriate for the prosecution to rely on his evidence at the trial. These headlines were not supported by the text of the article, and represented a failure to take care not to publish misleading information, in breach of Clause 1 (i). The newspaper had not offered to correct these significantly misleading claims, in breach of Clause 1 (ii).
The Committee also decided that the article misleadingly implied that the “gagging order” on the Court of Appeal hearing had only recently been lifted, allowing coverage of the allegations against the prosecution. The “gagging order” had in fact been lifted around a year and 10 months previously. The Committee took the view that this a significantly misleading statement in the context of an article which also reported that the complainant had been accused of a “cover-up”. This represented a further failure to take care over the accuracy of the article, in breach of Clause 1 (i), and a further misleading statement, which the newspaper had not offered to correct, in breach of Clause 1 (ii).
Links / further reading: Further information on the complaint and ruling.
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