Senior Daily Mail staffers have been told by bosses that making another error similar to that which forced the paper to today signpost a correction on its front page in sub-headline size would put their careers “at risk”.
The Independent Press Standards Organisation told the paper, edited by Paul Dacre, to run the front page reference to the correction, published in full on page four, after upholding an accuracy complaint against it.
The complaint centred on a previous Mail splash about compensation paid to an Iraqi man, Abd Al-Waheed, who was unlawfully imprisoned and ill-treated by British soldiers during the Iraq War.
The newspaper published the story on 15 December last year under the headline: “Another human rights fiasco!” and sub-headline “Iraqi ‘caught red-handed with bomb’ wins £33,000 – because our soldiers kept him in custody for too long’”.
The story about Al-Waheed’s High Court win, which said that “taxpayers face massive compensation bills after a suspected Iraqi insurgent won a human rights case against the Ministry of Defence yesterday”, began on page one and was continued on page four.
As a result of complaints received over the article, a major internal investigation at the Daily Mail was held which resulted in seven senior members of staff being given “strongly worded disciplinary notes” making clear “if errors of the same nature were to happen again, their careers would be at risk”, according to IPSO.
Human rights lawyer Shoaib Khan complained to the IPSO, saying the claim Al-Waheed had been caught “red-handed” with a bomb, or that he was an “insurgent”, was false as it had been found by the court to be untrue.
Khan said the sub-headline was also inaccurate because Al-Waheed had been awarded £30,000 for ill treatment and only £3,300 for unlawful detention.
IPSO upheld both of these complaints under Clause 1 (accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice, saying inaccurate statements in the sub-headline and first two sentences of the story were central to the headline’s criticism of the case as a “fiasco”.
The ruling said: “Neither on the front page, nor in the main body of the article, was it explained that the claim that Mr Al-Waheed had been caught with a bomb had been discredited shortly after his detention or that the judgment recorded the judge’s finding that the claim he had been caught with a bomb was ‘pure fiction”’
“At the time of publication, these were no longer live allegations against Mr Al-Waheed. The judge had also found no evidence that Mr Al-Waheed had engaged in insurgent activity.”
The committee rejected the newspaper’s argument that reporting the fact Al-Waheed had been successful in his claim for unlawful detention, because it could not be proven he was a threat to security, had the effect of making this clear.
It said: “This did not make clear that the judge found that the claim Mr Al-Waheed had been found with a bomb had been established to be untrue.
“In these circumstances, the reference to these serious allegations against Mr Al-Waheed, without making clear they had been disproven, seriously misrepresented the basis of the judgment reported.”
The Daily Mail said it had relied on a three-page press summary of the case, which did not include the finding that the British soldiers’ claim they had caught Al-Waheed with an IED was untrue.
According to the IPSO ruling, the newspaper said that “while the complainant may well object to the way in which the article was presented, subjecting the decisions of the courts to scrutiny is an important function of the press”.
It said that “providing robust and critical analysis of such decisions is essential to contributing to the system of open justice, and is a valuable public service”.
The newspaper also said the sub-headline’s reference to £33,000 of damages “because our soldiers kept him in custody for too long” must be read in the context of the article as a whole, which accurately broke down the total.
Although the paper did not believe the article was significantly misleading, it published two clarifications on page two, the first on 20 December to make clear that the soldiers’ claim against Al-Waheed was a false embellishment and break down the correct compensation.
The second was published on 18 January in response to a separate complaint raised by Leigh Day, the law firm that had represented Al-Waheed, although it was not representing him in its complaint.
The clarification made plain the series of events from the time of Al-Waheed’s capture to the High Court judgement and again broke down the compensation. It said: “We apologise if any contrary impression was formed.”
Khan argued that because the original story had contained significant inaccuracies and appeared on the front page, it was “only fair, reasonable and proportionate” that a correction should be published on the front page.
The Daily Mail said its page two clarifications and corrections box was the most prominent of any national newspaper, and that it carried stories from throughout the paper, meaning clarifications often appear significantly further forward than the original articles.
IPSO said: “The newspaper was of course entitled to criticise the judgment. However, in this case, it had done so on a false basis.
“The committee took into account that the newspaper’s corrections column appeared very regularly, and prominently on page two of the newspaper. However, it considered that publication of the two corrections in the corrections column lacked ‘due prominence’.
“This was a serious case where ‘due prominence’ required publication of a reference to the correction on the newspaper’s front page.”
IPSO ruled that the previous corrections had not been sufficient under the Editors’ Code, which says a “significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence”.
It therefore ordered the newspaper to publish an adjudication in full on page four or further forward, with a front page headline directing readers inside in the same font size as the original article’s subheadline.
The headline was published today at the bottom of the newspaper’s front page, reading: “IPSO upholds complaint against Daily Mail on Iraq compensation claims”, with the full correction on page four.