ITV settles libel claim brought by company linked to drug smuggling in news broadcast

ITV has settled a libel case brought by the owners of an electrical company that was inadvertently linked to drugs trafficking in a news broadcast. (Picture: Reuters)

Andrew Coole and Gemma Coole, the owners and directors of A Coole Electrical, sued the broadcaster in London’s High Court for £100,000.

ITV settled out of court over the matter, which broadcast regulator Ofcom had already upheld a complaint against it for.

The Calendar News item was broadcast on ITV Yorkshire on 7 June 2013, and the libel writ was submitted on 6 June 2014. Libel actions must be brought within a year of the material being broadcast.

The business premises of A Coole Electrical was shown on the news “in relation to a criminal trial of 11 people for trafficking drugs into South Yorkshire”.

The claim form, seen by Press Gazette, said: “The report into the drug smuggling operation did not name any of the individuals but did refer to a ‘fake business’ used as a cover to import cocaine.

“The accompanying footage for the news report showed the business premises of [A Coole Electrical], with its name featured prominently including close up shots of [its] company sign with the voiceover stating ‘This industrial unit in Athersley, one of many places used by the gang. It’s where two of the main players cam from’.”

The Cooles argued that this gave the “incorrect impression” that the business was “involved in the drug smuggling” and that they, the owners, were “personally involved in the drug smuggling operation”.

The claim form said that they expected to recover “no more than £100,000”. The matter was settled last month, with the settlement figure unknown.

In November 2013, Ofcom found ITV “had not taken reasonable care to ensure material facts were not presented, disregarded or omitted in a way that was unfair to A Coole Electrical because it was likely that viewers would have reasonably inferred from the report that A Coole Electrical was involved in the drug smuggling operation”.

It noted that the A Coole Electrical premises, with an accompanying telephone number, was shown on the broadcast for approximately two seconds. The company’s logo was also shown alongside others on the industrial estate for a further three seconds.

Ofcom said it was told by the Cooles that “clients and employees had identified the company from the broadcast footage and contacted it regarding the news story to ascertain whether it had been involved”.

The report said: “Ofcom considered that, despite the brief and indirect nature of the presentation of A Coole Electrical in the programme, the programme nevertheless included images of A Coole Electrical’s business unit and signage in combination with the reporter’s comments about the drug smuggling operation.

“In Ofcom’s view this caused a link to be established between A Coole Electrical and the drug smuggling operation being reported. Ofcom concluded that this would have Ofcom Broadcast  materially or adversely affected viewers’ perceptions of A Coole Electrical in a way that was unfair to it and the programme as broadcast therefore portrayed A Coole Electrical unfairly.”

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