The Sunday Mail has been found guilty of a “rare example of bad practice” by the Press Complaints Commission after it repeated allegations first made in 2003 which were the subject of a PCC complaint.
The commission upheld a complaint against the Trinity Mirror-owned Scottish title under clause one of the Code of Practice (accuracy) for reprinting claims that Alex Lothian, from Fife, had falsely said has was a retired naval officer and had misled a charity.
Lothian initially complained to the PCC in 2003 and the matter was resolved when the paper agreed to keep a file on record of his denial of certain points.
But on 14 October last year, in a piece headlined ‘Ship of Fools”, the allegations reappeared without clarification or Lothian’s denials.
The Sunday Mail claimed both stories were accurate, but offered to clarify that Lothian denied allegations of dishonesty. The paper told the PCC that this offer was declined.
In its adjudication, the PCC said: “The newspaper had, in 2003, agreed to keep on file the complainant’s denial of various claims it had previously made about him.
“It also said that the points would be ‘referred to as being disputed should the paper return to this or any other story concerning him again’.
“This undertaking had not been met, and the latest piece repeated three of the original claims without recording the complainant’s denials.
“Despite the newspaper’s contention that the allegations were true, the commission concluded that by omitting the complainant’s position on the matter – contrary to the undertaking – the article was misleading.
“The commission regarded the failure to adhere to an offer made during the course of a previous PCC investigation as a serious matter and a rare example of bad practice.””
Lothian also told the PCC he was concerned that the paper had been sending copies of the 2003 article to friends to get background on him, without saying that the piece had been the subject of complaint. He said it was a breach of clause 10 (clandestine devices and subterfuge) of the Code of Practice.
The newspaper said its reporter had “not set out to misrepresent the position” but said it would revise its working practices to ensure journalists made clear if articles were subject to complaint. The commission was happy with the paper’s response to this complaint and took no further action.