Sunday Times made 'significant inaccuracy' in report linking Mohamed Al Fayed to Queen Nazi salute video leak

The Sunday Times has been censured by the Independent Press Standards Organisation over a “significant inaccuracy” in a story linking businessman Mohamed Al Fayed with a leaked video of the Queen apparently making a Nazi salute.

The existence of the video was revealed by The Sun on Saturday 18 July. The next day, The Sunday Times published a story headlined: “Royals hunt source of Nazi salute film”.

The newspaper reported that Buckingham Palace had launched an investigation to find out how the footage was released and speculated on its source.

The Sunday Times stated that if the camera belonged to Edward VII the film could have been stored at his Paris villa, the contents of which had been bought and later sold at auction by Al Fayed.

The former Harrods owner complained to IPSO over the story, which “speculated” on his involvement in the leak.

He complained to IPSO that the article “had given the impression that he had auctioned the lots as a reaction to the death of his son in a car crash” with Princess Diana in Paris. But he said the auction had been due to take place a few days after this crash but was postponed.

Al Fayed claimed The Sunday Times did not make “legitimate attempts” to contact him over the story, but the newspaper denied this saying “considerable efforts” had been made.

The Sunday Times also told IPSO that the article stated the film was probably taken by George VI, not Edward VIII, meaning the footage would have been held at Windsor Castle or the British Film Institute. The newspaper also highlighted the fact it speculated rather than stated the origin of the video leak.

It admitted the auction was authorised by Al Fayed before his son’s death but, according to IPSO, “did not believe that this represented a significant inaccuracy”.

Despite this, it published a clarification on its letters page in the next edition. It said:

Mohamed al-Fayed has asked us to point out that he authorised the 1998 auction of the contents of the former Duchess of Windsor’s villa (“’She was 7, she didn’t know any better’”, News, last week) before the crash in which his son and Diana, Princess of Wales were killed. He also says that footage of the royal family giving a Nazi salute was not listed for sale at the auction. We are happy to make this clear.”

Al Fayed “expressed concern” that the clarification was published without him being informed in advance and felt its prominence was not sufficient for a front-page error.

IPSO upheld the complaint under clause one (accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice but did not require any further action of The Sunday Times.

The regulator said: “It was accepted that the complainant had authorised the auction of the contents of the Parisian villa prior to his son’s death.

“As the correct position was already in the public domain, publication of this claim represented a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article.

“In this context, the inaccurate claim appeared to provide support for the newspaper’s speculation as to the complainant’s possible involvement in the leaking of the video reel, in the sense that it could be taken by readers to provide a ‘motive’ for a leak; it represented a significant inaccuracy which required correction under the terms of Clause 1 (ii).”

The ruling added: “In considering the complainant’s other concerns, the committee noted that the articles were clearly speculation. They suggested a number of ways in which the footage of the Queen may have been released. The possibility that the video had once been in the possession of the complainant was not presented as established fact, either in the article or in the pull quote. The newspaper had been entitled to speculate as to how the video had been leaked, so long as readers would not be misled as to the status of the claims. The committee was satisfied that the articles, taken as a whole, had clearly distinguished between conjecture and fact; there was no breach of Clause 1 (iii). In these circumstances, the complaint about the newspaper’s attempts to contact the complainant prior to publication of the article did not raise a breach of the code.”

This is the first complaint IPSO has upheld against The Sunday Times since the regulator was founded in September 2014. Previously, it has published a ruling on one complaint – not upheld – against The Sunday Times Magazine.

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