The Daily Record has published a front page correction Monday after press regulator IPSO upheld a complaint made against it by a convicted stalker.
Jill Sharp claimed that two articles published by the Scottish daily in February 2017 reporting she “silently stalked” a man over the internet for four years were false and that she was the victim of a hoax.
But IPSO was forced to put its investigation on hold after Sharp was arrested in relation to a stalking offence and later charged with stalking the man named in the articles as being her “fake boyfriend”.
This charge was dropped, but Sharp pleaded guilty to stalking a married couple as an act of “revenge” because she suspecting them of being responsible for the Record articles. She was sentenced to one year in prison.
After IPSO reopened the complaint, Sharp said the fact initial stalking charges were dropped was “indicative of the fact that they were false and had no evidence to support them”.
However the Record said its reporter had been told by the prosecution that these charges were in fact dropped because a man had not wanted to be a witness, not because of a lack of evidence.
In its ruling, IPSO emphasised its role was to decide if there had been a breach of the Editors’ Code of Practice – not whether the allegations made against Sharp were accurate.
The articles reported Sharp had set up fake social media accounts, edited photos and claimed she was in a relationship with the man after the newspaper was informed of her alleged Twitter account by a source.
The allegation that she had created a fake relationship was also circulating on social media.
The Record believed the Twitter account was genuine, but IPSO said it was “unable to point to evidence that it had obtained at the time of publication that proved that [Sharp] was the operator of the account”.
Sharp denied the allegations when she was contacted for comment and claimed she was the victim of a hoax, but the newspaper nevertheless reported them as fact and described her as a “stalker” and a “fantasist” who spun a “web of lies”, IPSO said.
The regulator therefore eventually ruled the newspaper breached Clause 1 (accuracy) of the code because by reporting as fact that Sharp was responsible for the Twitter account and had “stalked” the man it had failed to “distinguish comment, conjecture and fact”.
IPSO ordered a correction to be published acknowledging the claims were allegations, not fact, adding that this should be signposted on the front page of the newspaper as it had splashed on one of the original articles.