Kent weekly breached Editors' Code with front page report unmasking 'caped crusader' Ring Pull Man

The Kent and Sussex Courier breached the Editors' Code with a story which wrongly identified a local businessman as the "caped crusader" known in Tunbridge Wells as Ring Pull Man.

The regulator told the newspaper that because of its "serious failure" to take care over the accuracy of the article its offered correction and apology were insufficient, and it should publish an adjudication on page nine of the newspaper, or further forward, with a cross-reference on the front page, where the original article had appeared.

Businessman Steve Burnett complained that an article headlined "Revealed…the man behind the mask of the caped crusader" which appeared on August 28 last year breached clauses 1 and 3 of the Editors Code of Practice, covering accuracy and privacy.

The article said the newspaper had "revealed" Burnett was Ring Pull Man, a local "caped crusader" who dressed in a Batman costume and collected ring pulls, which were then sent to the Philippines where they were recycled, with the profit supporting the Philippine Community Fund (PCF) charity.

The article included extensive quotations from an interview with Ring Pull Man which were attributed to Burnett, and a biography of him, with details of his history of drug use.

Burnett said the article's central claim was inaccurate: he was not Ring Pull Man and had not made the comments attributed to him in the article.

The newspaper's claims were nothing more than guesswork – and it could have contacted him at his place of work in order to verify whether he was Ring Pull Man, but had not done so.

He was out of the country during the period when Ring Pull Man was reportedly sighted, was of a different height and build, and had a ginger beard, whereas Ring Pull Man was clean shaven, he said.

Burnett said he discovered after publication that the true Ring Pull Man was in fact known to him – and said that individual had told him that he had repeatedly denied to the newspaper that he was Steve Burnett, adding that the inaccuracies were damaging to him.

On the privacy complaint, Burnett said information about his history was taken from a video he had recorded to be shown at a one-off church service, the church had uploaded it to the Vimeo website, and he believed that users would need a password to view it.

Burnett was concerned that the information was presented as if he voluntarily provided it in an interview.

While he had made some public disclosures about his past, his former addiction was not commonly known in his local community.

In particular, he and his wife had not yet informed their children about this aspect of his past. The article was an unjustified intrusion into his private life, which had caused him and his family distress.

The newspaper said Ring Pull Man had contacted it directly – this conversation was the source of the quotations published and attributed to Mr Burnett.

It was its genuine belief that Burnett was Ring Pull Man: his recycling company collected ring pulls, and he was a trustee of the PCF charity.

When it was put to Ring Pull Man that he was Steve Burnett, Ring Pull Man had said "I will deny it", adding that it would be disappointing for his identity to be revealed.

As Ring Pull Man declined to deny being Burnett, the newspaper was satisfied, following the conversation, that Burnett was Ring Pull Man.

The newspaper said it had contacted a friend of Burnett, who ran an addiction recovery course with him, so as to corroborate the story.

The friend said he was not aware that Burnett was Ring Pull Man, adding that he would contact Burnett to check that he was happy for the friend to speak to the newspaper.

In the subsequent conversation with the journalist, the friend had not denied that Burnett was Ring Pull Man, the newspaper said – the friend's recollection of the conversation was that he had either said that Burnett was not Ring Pull Man, or had told him that he was not.

IPSO's complaints committee said the newspaper did not know that Burnett was Ring Pull Man when it decided to publish.

Its belief that he was was based on limited circumstantial evidence and a telephone conversation with an unidentified individual claiming to be Ring Pull Man, who did not, when asked, deny being Burnett.

The newspaper had not contacted Burnett to seek his comment on the story, and instead relied on a conversation with a friend of his – who did not confirm whether Burnett was Ring Pull Man – as corroboration.

Picture: Youtube/Roger Kasper

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