The Daily Mirror has been cleared of breaching the Editors’ Code after a complaint that a reporter used subterfuge to obtain an interview with a convicted killer.
A Mirror reporter admitted misrepresenting his motives in order to gain an interview which led to new revelations about Levi Bellfield’s links to the disappearance of Surrey schoolgirl Milly Dowler seven years ago.
Schoolgirl Dowler was 13-years old when she was murdered in 2002.
The Daily Mirror ran two stories in April of this year based on an interview and correspondence with Bellfield, who was jailed last year for killing Amelie Delagrange and Marsha McDonnell.
Today the Press Complaints Commission rejected a complaint from Bellfield’s mother Jean in which she claimed that the Mirror stories had breached the Editors’ Code.
She claimed a 22 April story headlined: ‘Hammer killer Levi Bellfield in new link to Milly Dowler murder’was inaccurate (clause one of the Editors’ Code) and obtained by using misrepresentation (clause 10, subterfuge).
She further complained an article published the following day headlined: ‘Hammer murderer Levi Bellfield hunted at spot where Milly Dowler was found”, had intruded into her family’s privacy (clause three) and identified the relatives of a convicted criminal (clause nine).
Mrs Bellfield said that a Mirror reporter obtained an interview with her son – who is serving life in prison for two murders – through subterfuge, having offered to help in her son’s appeal.
She submitted a statement signed by the reporter, stating that he was ‘only acting in Bellfield’s best interest’to help him answer ‘false allegations within the media”.
The result was an article reporting that Levi Bellfield had admitted driving a red car which had been linked to the 2002 murder of Milly Dowler.
She complained that the second Mirror article put her family at risk and intruded in their privacy by naming her, and by including details of their ‘off-the-cuff conversations”.
The Mirror said that after Levi Bellfield had answered several questions through correspondence about his movements on 21 March 2002 – the day that Milly Dowler disappeared – the reporter had sought a telephone interview with him, which was arranged through his brother.
The Mirror explained that during their conversation Bellfield had admitted for the first time – having refused to answer police questions on the matter – that he had been driving a red car captured on CCTV around the time Milly Dowler disappeared.
Rejecting the complaint, the PCC said: ‘It was clear that the journalist had used some subterfuge to obtain the interview with Levi Bellfield.
‘However, the Code makes clear that it can be acceptable for journalists to use misrepresentation if there is a public interest and the material cannot be obtained by other means.”
The PCC said there was no question of inaccuracy over the quotes used in the article and that the brief references to other members of the Bellfield family did not breach the Editor’s Code.