PCC rejects complaint from Stan Collymore over Sun 'I only hit her with open hand' story

Footballer turned pundit Stan Collymore has had a complaint against The Sun dismissed by the Press Complaints Commission.

Collymore (pictured, Reuters) said that a story reporting his Twitter reaction to a comment from his ex-girlfriend Ulrika Jonsson, headlined "I only hit her with open hand", was inaccurate and misleading, in breach of clause 1 of the Editors' Code of Practice.

He also claimed that the paper had breached clause 4 (harrassment) after a reporter rang his doorbell and waited outside his home for six hours. 

The TalkSport presenter and Sunday People columnist accused the paper of a "campaign against him".

The complained-about story was published on 23 January. The previous day, The Sun published comments made by Jonsson in which she accused Collymore of being hypocritical for presenting himself as the “poster boy against threats online”. She had previously alleged that he had physically assaulted her and threatened to kill her when they were in a relationship 16 years ago.

The Sun reported his reaction to her comments in 24 tweets. The Sun reported that Collymore had tried to “justify” and “play down” the attack by saying he “only” hit Jonsson with an “open hand”. It also described the reaction as "shameless".

Collymore complained to the PCC that he was not “shameless”, pointing to the newspaper’s omission of tweets in which he described himself as “ashamed… because even the threat of violence is wrong”. He also wrote: “I apologise again to Miss Jonsson.” He denied the suggestion he had tried to “justify” his actions and objected to The Sun’s use of the word “only”, which he did not use in his tweets.

Collymore also denied to the PCC that he had threatened to kill Jonsson, and other elements of her account, but “acknowledged that the commission would face difficulties in reaching findings on these issues and therefore limited his complaint to the reporting of his reaction”.

The Sun denied it had misrepresented Collymore as “shameless” and pointed out that the use of the word “only” was not in quotation marks. It said that the following quote, from his tweets, should be read as an attempt at justification: “I struck Miss Jonsson with an open hand. Once. Again, a man punching and kicking (an athlete) causes serious damage. No bruises, so how? Luck?"

The PCC ruled that The Sun's use of the words “shameless” and “justify” “clearly represented its interpretation of the complainant’s tweets”. Considering the story as a whole, the PCC judged that readers would not have been misled by the story, despite the omission of a tweet in which Collymore described himself as “ashamed”.

Under clause 4, he complained that a reporter had waited outside his home for six hours after his representative had made it clear he would not be commenting. He said that he was briefly followed in his car by the reporter, before they were told to leave when Collymore stopped his car.

According to the PCC: “He had been distressed and intimidated by this experience, particularly against the background of death threats he had received on Twitter.

“Following the earlier approach to his representative, and in light of his well-known position that his representative was the appropriate channel for press inquiries, [he felt that] this was harassment.

“The complainant objected to the coverage, generally, and to what he described as the newspaper's attempts to obtain negative information about him, which he described as a campaign against him.”

The Sun said the reporter had rung Collymore’s doorbell before waiting outside in a public area for six hours. When Collymore left, the reporter drove to a nearby pub where the former footballer then parked next to him. The paper said they spoke briefly before Collymore left.

The Sun said that while Collymore’s representative had informed a reporter that he did not wish to comment before Collymore’s tweets, it was not made clear he did not wish to be contacted and pointed out the situation had changed following his tweets.

The PCC ruled: “[Clause 4] is not designed to prohibit unsolicited journalistic inquiries generally, but rather to regulate the manner in which they are made. While a reporter from the newspaper had been informed by the complainant's representative the previous day that the complainant did not wish to comment, the situation had developed significantly following the publication of the tweets – which themselves amounted to a comment on the situation – and renewed inquiries were legitimate in these circumstances.

“It was evident that a reporter had remained outside the house for a considerable period of time, but he had had no contact with the complainant or any member of the household during this period, and no request had been made for him to leave. It did not appear that he had acted in an intimidating manner and, once he had spoken to the complainant and been informed he did not wish to comment, the reporter had not persisted in questioning him.

“The Commission noted the complainant's preference for inquiries to be directed to his representative, but this single direct approach to the complainant did not amount to harassment. There was no breach of Clause 4 of the Code.”

Click here to read the PCC ruling in full.

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