Sunday World's 'spy' story cleared by PCC

A Sunday World story headlined "McGuinness Was Brit Spy" did not breach the Editors' Code on accuracy, according to the Press Complaints Commission.

Sinn Féin MP Martin McGuinness complained through solicitors to the PCC, claiming the story was inaccurate (Clause One of the Editors' Code) and did not give him the opportunity to reply (Clause Two).

The article was based on claims made by a former member of covert army squad, the Force Research Unit, referred to by the pseudonym Martin Ingram. He said that a transcript of a conversation between "J118" and "G" published in the Sunday World was between McGuinness and his M16 handler.

McGuinness complained specifically about the headline — which he said was not justified by the contents of the article. And he said that the transcript document was "clearly not authenticated by anyone in a position of knowledge".

The Sunday World pointed out that the full headline was: "Spook's Shock Claims: McGuinness Was A Brit Spy". The paper claimed that it was therefore clear that the article concerned an individual's opinion. The paper also told the PCC that the article was based on a document that Ingram claimed was a transcript of a conversation between McGuinness and his handler, and which had been authenticated by other intelligence sources. Ingram was said to be a creditable source, who had previously identified the FRA agent known as Stakeknife and who gave a detailed account of McGuinness's alleged co-operation with the security services. The Sunday World said it did not contact McGuinness in advance of publication, because he had not previously been willing to offer a comment on any issues of controversy.

It published a follow-up article containing fellow Sinn Féin politician Gerry Adams' dismissal of the claims in the following week's edition, and offered to publish an interview with McGuinness or a statement of his vehement denial.

Rejecting the complaint, the PCC said the Sunday World had clearly reported Ingram's claims as comment rather than fact.

The PCC said the Sunday World should have gone to McGuinness and included his denial in the first article.

But it said: "Nevertheless, the newspaper had taken care to ensure that readers would be aware that the article was based upon information from an alleged official document and a former member of a security organisation, but that the claims had not been otherwise corroborated."

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