Andy Burnham IPSO complaint against the Sun over undercover cash-for-access stories is rejected

Labour MP and shadow home secretary Andy Burnham has had a complaint against The Sun over stories based on an undercover investigation rejected by the Independent Press Standards Organisation.

The articles published in late 2015 were headlined: “Bung me £5k to meet Burnham”, “Publicly: ‘Corbyn’s a nice man’ privately: ‘he will be a disaster’” and “Exposed: Burnham fixer dismissed as ‘fantasist’ cheers on Jeremy Corbyn at conference”.

Burnham complained to IPSO that The Sun breached the Editors' Code on ‘accuracy’, ‘opportunity to reply’, ‘privacy’ and use of 'clandestine devices and subterfuge’ .

Two of the articles were based on a sting by The Sun relating to the chairman of Muslims Friends of Labour Faiz UL Rasool. 

The articles said that Rasool told the undercover reporter, who was posing as a wealthy donor, that Burnham needed money to help his Labour leadership bid.

The Sun reported that the fake donor met Burnham at his campaign headquarters when the Labour MP chatted and posed for photographers.

The undercover reporter handed over £5,000 in cash to Rasool in a casino for the Burnham campaign while his wife later gave a £3,000 cheque.

The Sun claimed that few checks were made on the fake donor’s background and Labour Party rules may have been broken.

A second article published online on 2 October reported that Rasool had been seen at the Labour Party conference, despite having been “dismissed as a fantasist" by Burnham’s campaign.

It repeated the claims that Burnham had been “caught up in a cash for access row" following the newspaper’s investigation into Rasool.

In its ruling, IPSO said the coverage did not allege impropriety by Burhnam.

IPSO said The Sun had reported that Burhnam had become “caught up” in acash for access row as a consequence of the actions of Rasool.

While the committee sympathised with Burnham’s position that he had been innocently drawn into the scandal, it said that paper's was accurate: Rasool had accepted £5,000 from an individual, purportedly a non-UK national, in exchange for organising a meeting with Burnham.

IPSO pointed out that The Sun had been careful to state only that Burnham had become “caught up” in the “row”.

In its ruling, IPSO also pointed out there “is a public interest in transparency” in relation to the view of those holding and seeking public office. 

It said the public were entitled to be informed of what Burnham had said, particuarly as there had been some debate abut his position in relation to the then frontrunner for the Labour leadership Jeremy Corbyn.

IPSO also upheld The Sun's use of undercover tactics.

It said: "The newspaper was able to demonstrate that it carried out a structured investigation, assessing at each stage whether the information it had obtained justified the further use of subterfuge. It had initially been given information by the freelance journalist which might have suggested that Mr Rasool was offering to arrange meetings with senior party figures. Its belief that an investigation of that claim was in the public interest was correct: the public are entitled to know whether wealthy individuals are able to pay for access to politicians. The newspaper was entitled to conclude that the information it sought could not have been obtained by other means."

Burnham complained that the Sun reporter, posing as a donor, took his child to the meeting with him. Apparently the reporter was not able to arrange a babysitter at short notice.

IPSO said: "The committee noted the complainant’s particular concern that the reporter had attended the event with his child. While it accepted that there was some basis for believing that this would have made the subterfuge more convincing, the committee was not satisfied that this changed the character of the subterfuge used to such an extent that this required independent justification under the code.

"Furthermore, the child had not been put at any risk by attending a meeting with the complainant and it was for the child’s parents – not the complainant or IPSO – to take a view on the child’s best interests."

It added that Burnham's expectation of privacy at a campaign event was limited.

Read the IPSO ruling in full

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