Mirror: did not break editors’ code
The Daily Mirror’s payment of £125,000 to convicted killer Tony Martin did not break the Editors’ Code of Practice.
The Press Complaints Commission this week issued an adjudication on the case which could reignite the row between the broadsheets and tabloids over payments to witnesses.
In July, the five national broadsheet editors wrote a protest letter to the PCC after The Guardian was censured for paying John Williams £720 to write a piece about his encounters with Jeffrey Archer in prison.
The new PCC ruling, as predicted in Press Gazette last week, found that the Mirror did have a public interest defence for making a payment of £125,000 to Martin in order to secure his story.
Rule 17 of the Editors’ Code of Practice states that criminals should not be paid for their stories unless a public interest defence can be proven.
Martin was convicted of manslaughter after shooting dead an intruder at his home in August 1999.
The case provoked controversy because Martin claimed he was acting in self-defence to protect his property.
The PCC agreed with Mirror editor Piers Morgan’s argument that he could not have persuaded Martin to give such an extensive interview without payment. In the Mirror’s words: “The public would have been deprived of information that was in the public interest.”
A PCC spokesman said: “The commission has made clear in the past that it appreciates that people increasingly demand payment in a variety of different circumstances and that payment for exclusivity is often part of the arrangement.”
The commission ruled that the interviews were in the public interest because Martin “had a unique insight into an issue of great public concern”.
A crucial point appears to be that the Mirror did not glorify Martin’s crime. The PCC ruling states: “The commission considered that there was no evidence that the paper had glorified or praised Mr Martin for what he had done. Indeed, it said in an article that he had ‘done a terrible wrong’.”
The PCC dismissed the argument that the Mirror did not need to pay Martin because the Eastern Daily Press secured an extensive interview with him for nothing.
The PCC judgement said: “By the time Mr Martin spoke to the EDP, payment by the Daily Mirror had been arranged and his own circumstances were therefore very different.”
The Mirror declined to comment on the adjudication prior to its publication on Thursday.
By Dominic Ponsford