Decision of the Complaints Committee made concerning a Mail on Sunday story headlined "Revealed: How top QC 'buried evidence of Met bribes to put innocent man in jail'"
Posted on: 08 August 2017 08:00
"The Committee was very concerned that the newspaper had failed to accurately report the complainant's denials of the allegations. This represented a failure to take care over the accuracy of the arti
Following an article published on 9 October 2016 in the Mail on Sunday, headlined "Revealed: How top QC 'buried evidence of Met bribes to put innocent man in jail'", Sasha Wass QC complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the newspaper had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors' Code of Practice. IPSO upheld the complaint and has required the Mail on Sunday to publish this decision as a remedy to the breach.
The article arose out of confiscation proceedings relating to Bhadresh Gohil, a lawyer convicted for money laundering offences following a trial at which the complainant was leading counsel for the prosecution. The article reported allegations relating to the complainant's conduct of the prosecution, made by a barrister for Mr Gohil in court.
The article also gave background information about Mr Gohil's conviction. It said that he had previously been convicted for money laundering; that he "continues to protest his innocence"; and that he had "pointed out" that he had been "cleared of wrongdoing after a probe by the Solicitors Regulation Authority".
The complainant said that the article included a number of damaging allegations about her conduct of the prosecution that were entirely without foundation. She also said that the newspaper had inaccurately reported that she had made key decisions in the case against Mr Gohil, giving the impression that she had acted out of spite.
She was further concerned about the accuracy of information given on the background to the case. She said that the report that Mr Gohil had been cleared by the SRA was inaccurate; rather, the SRA had closed the file, pending the outcome of his trial. This assertion was significantly misleading, as it gave credibility to his claims of innocence and supported the idea that she was responsible for a miscarriage of justice, said IPSO.
The newspaper said that the article's central allegation was an accurate report of a statement made in open court. It also said that it had taken care to approach the complainant for her comments on the allegations before publication, and it had published her response.
During IPSO's investigation of the complaint, the newspaper offered to publish a correction, addressing some of the inaccuracies raised by the complainant.
The Committee was very concerned that the newspaper had failed to accurately report the complainant's denials of the allegations. This represented a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article. It was also concerned that the article had given the misleading impression that the complainant had taken key decisions in the case, which had, in fact, been taken by others.
The Committee considered that these inaccuracies together had given the significantly misleading impression that the complainant had had greater influence over the conduct of the case than was the position, and that she had potentially abused this authority. The impression given supported the damaging allegation that she had "buried evidence…to put [an] innocent man in jail". This represented a further failure to take care over the accuracy of the article in breach of Clause 1(i). A correction was required in order to avoid a breach of Clause 1(ii).
The Committee was also concerned that the article had inaccurately reported that, despite his conviction for fraud, Mr Gohil had been cleared of wrongdoing by the SRA. This assertion had given the significantly misleading impression that Mr Gohil's claims of innocence were supported by the SRA's findings. Moreover, it had given further unjustified credibility to the allegations of misconduct made against the complainant in court. The newspaper's failure to check this assertion before publication also represented a breach of Clause 1. This point also required correction.
The wording of the correction offered by the newspaper addressed some of the inaccuracies raised by the complainant, and it included an apology, which was required under the Code, given the seriousness of the inaccuracy. However, while the newspaper had discussed making amendments to the online article, it did not offer to publish a correction in print for nearly five months. Furthermore, the wording offered had not addressed the misleading impression given by the further inaccuracies about the complainant's conduct in prosecuting the case. This represented a failure to correct significantly inaccurate information promptly in breach of Clause 1(ii) of the Code. The complaint under Clause 1 was upheld.