Sun bans agency in copy theft row

Angered: Dudman believes an agency was lifting copy from websites

A news agency has been blackballed by the Sun after being accused of lifting stories from regional newspaper websites and passing them off as its original work.

Sun managing editor Graham Dudman barred Wessex News after it filed court copy about a Cumbria man facing an indecency charge.

Dudman was suspicious of why Berkshire-based Wessex was filing stories so far from its patch. After a search on the internet, Dudman found the agency story was almost identical to a piece on the website of the News & Star in Carlisle.

It even included the same missing word error in the sentence: “Currie admitted that he could have exposed himself while sitting his car at traffic lights…”

Dudman forwarded to Press Gazette a further half dozen examples of stories he said had been submitted by Wessex News, all by-lined Jim Hardy, which also appeared in suspiciously similar versions on local newspaper websites.

These included a story about “Britain’s bravest bus driver” which appeared in the Y orkshire Evening Post; a baby born in a lift, on the Preston Today website; and an Evening Chronicle story about a Newcastle toddler’s recovery from horrific injuries.

Dudman said: “This isn’t about someone seeing a great story and doing their own version – this is wholesale ‘cutting and pasting’ and I want to protect the agencies that are doing us a service.

“The prospect of things going wrong is terrifying, it’s bad enough stealing stories – but stealing court copy? “If something was wrong and we got a complaint from the court, the CPS or the Attorney General – we wouldn’t have a leg to stand on.

“Any court copy you see published in a national newspaper should be provided by an agency that had a representative in court or one of their own journalists. Not someone filing from 400 or 500 miles away.

“If we find other agencies doing it we will treat it seriously to protect ourselves.

“Of course an agency is going to see a story in the local paper and follow it up-and long may that continue.

“But what isn’t right is for an agency to cut and paste a story, including mistakes, from a website and then send it in to us as their own.”

Dudman said that email technology has led to a surge in the number of stories sent in to the Sun .

He said it is not unknown for a story to originate in the Sun , be followed up by a local paper, and then followed up again by someone sending it into the Sun news desk.

Yorkshire Evening Post reporter Alison Bellamy wrote the original story about “Britain’s bravest bus driver” which was filed word-for-word by Wessex News to the Sun .

She said: “Although this is infuriating, I think it is happening more and more and is just the way of the world now, especially with the advance of the internet.”

Press Gazette put the allegations to Wessex News, which has offices in Hungerford and Manchester, and received the following email from editor Jim Hardy: “I look forward to anyone running claims like that, which I’d regard as defamatory, and would remind anyone who publishes such claims that the burden of proof would be on them to substantiate their allegations.”

By Dominic Ponsford

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