The Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) has upheld a complaint against the Belfast Telegraph over an article in which a woman claimed to have been harassed by her ex partner.
The article, headlined: “I felt sorry for my ex when we split. Now I live in constant fear and carry alarms because he stalked me in revenge,” was published on 21 June, 2016.
The article reported on claims made by a named woman in an interview she had given to the newspaper, including that her former partner had stalked and even threatened to shoot her.
She also claimed that at some point she “finally succeeded in obtaining a court order to prevent her tormentor from approaching her” and had “secured a full order against him”.
The article reported the woman’s criticism of the current law in Northern Ireland relating to stalking offences, and her argument that it needed to be changed to protect victims, alleging that the current law resulted in “few criminal convictions”.
It said that as a result of her experiences with her former partner, she had launched an online support group for victims of stalking and had shared her experiences with Northern Irish politicians, “in the hope of getting new measures… put in place to support victims”.
The woman’s former partner complained to IPSO that the claims against him were untrue, arguing that the Telegraph had breached clause 1 (Accuracy) and clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.
He said a court order had not been obtained against him and that in fact he had “signed an undertaking, which was not an acceptance of guilt of the allegations which she had made against him,” according to IPSO.
The man said the claims made by his former partner were inaccurate – he had not stalked, harassed or threatened to shoot her – and that the newspaper had no evidence, other than her testimony, to support the veracity of her claims.
He said that while the article had not identified him, by identifying the woman and publishing her photograph, he had been identified through his previous association with her, which he claimed intruded into his privacy.
The newspaper did not accept that the article had contained private information about the complainant.
IPSO’s Complaints Committee upheld the complaint on accuracy grounds, but said there had been no breach of clause 2.
It found that the Telegraph had failed to contact the complainant for response before publishing the article and had only relied on the woman’s testimony.
The newspaper said they did not contact the complainant out of safety concerns for his ex partner, but, according to IPSO, while it was “understandable that the newspaper wished to consider the woman’s welfare” it had not “provided sufficient justification for its failure to seek comment from the complainant”.
The committee also found that the details about the court order in the article were inaccurate.
The committee said: “It appeared from the newspaper’s submissions during IPSO’s investigation that the woman had discussed this document in detail with the journalist at interview and had specifically made reference to the fact that undertakings had been given by the complaint, in contrast to an injunction having been granted by the Court.”
The newspaper has been ordered to publish the adjudication in full.
The committee said it also “expressed significant concern” that the newspaper had not responded to the complainant during the referral period and had not provided sufficient justification for its failure to do so.
It said there had been several delays on the part of the newspaper to provide a response to the complaint during IPSO’s investigation, adding: “Given the newspaper’s failure to correspond directly with the complainant and the delays to the process, the newspaper’s conduct during IPSO’s investigation was unacceptable.
“IPSO will consider separately what further action is appropriate to address what appear to be serious concerns.”