IPSO: The Sun was wrong to publish as fact unconfirmed claims prisoner died from smoking spice

The Sun breached the Editors’ Code with a report about the death of a prison inmate which was not handled sensitively enough, press regulator IPSO has ruled.

However it said that an offered correction and apology from the paper was sufficient to deal with the matter.

Shueb Ahmed and Sheema Begum complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation about an article headlined “Inmate killed by ‘Spice’”, published in print on 22 July 2016. The also complained over a online article headlined: “INMATE KILLED BY ‘SPICE’ Prisoner screamed for help in his cell as he died after smoking outlawed synthetic marijuana”, published the same day.

The dead man’s brother and mother felt that the article was insensitive and complained that it appeared within three days of their bereavement when they were in a state of shock.

The complainants said there was no basis to say his death was caused by “Spice” and that the toxicology report obtained in the case found no trace of synthetic drugs.

They also said it was inaccurate to say Ahmed was convicted of robbery when was in fact he was jailed for grievous bodily harm.

The Sun said that any death in prison was a matter of public interest. It said that it received information about Ahmed’s death and conviction from multiple sources.

The Sun said it put the specific claim to the Ministry of Justice that Ahmed’s death was a result of taking “Spice”, which was neither denied nor confirmed.

The Sun did not approach the man’s family, but was told by the MoJ that they had been informed of his death.  It also highlighted a study which reported that most drug tests given to people on parole or probation are unlikely to detect synthetic marijuana.

The Sun amended the online article to make clear the allegations that Ahmed had smoked “Spice” were made by other prisoners, and had not yet been confirmed.

It offered to publish a correction on page two which made clear the cause of death was not confirmed and apologising for any offence caused. It also also offered to change the reference to “robber” to “prisoner”, and to remove the words “caged for robbery”, in the online article.

IPSO said The Sun was wrong to present speculation about the man’s cause of death as fact creating a “significantly misleading impression that the cause of Mr Ahmed’s death had been established”.

Given the seriousness of both offences, it said that the mistake over the nature of Ahmed’s conviction was not a significant inaccuracy.

It said that given the cause of death was not confirmed, the article was also a breach of Clause 4 of the Editors’ Code – intrusion into grief and shock.

It said that the offered correction should now be published.

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