PCC rebuke for NoW and Sunday Times over MP stories

The Press Complaints Commission has today criticised the News of the World and the Sunday Times following separate complaints from two MPs over claims made about their homes.

Dr Julian Lewis, MP for New Forest East, complained an article headlined “Tory secrecy campaigner’s £60k payout” in the News of the World on 1 March had wrongly claimed that he was “hardly ever” at his constituency home in Hampshire.

A second complaint from Dr Tony Wright, MP for Cannock Chase, said the Sunday Times had failed to correct an inaccuracy about him with due prominence after an article, published on 24 May, headlined “Commons officials helped culture secretary beat tax”, said Wright had accepted a £10,000 payout from the landlords of his Dolphin Square flat to surrender his tenancy agreement, and had then moved to a flat in the same block with a higher rent.

The PCC said today the Sunday Times had immediately accepted it had made an error with its original report after which its reporter apologised to Wright and explained that he had confused the complainant with another MP of the same name.

In fact, the complainant had rejected an offer of £17,000 and remained on a lower rent.

The Sunday Times sent a note to other papers warning them not make the same mistake and an apology was published in its next edition on 31 May, on its letters page.

However, the PCC agreed with Wright that the action was inadequate. The original claim appeared on the front page, and the apology on page 20.

The PCC stated today: “While the commission noted the newspaper’s claim that it regularly published corrections and apologies on its letters page, this did not mean that it would be appropriate to do so in all cases, given that the significance and original location of inaccuracies will inevitably vary considerably.

“In this case, the commission did not consider that – however widely-read the newspaper’s letters page was – the bottom of page 20 was a sufficiently prominent place to correct a serious inaccuracy that had appeared on the front page. The complaint was therefore upheld.”

The Sunday Times published this ruling on page two yesterday.

The PCC also upheld Lewis’ claim against the News of the World.

Lewis denied he was “hardly ever’at his property, saying he lived there part of every week.

He also disputed claims that “locals” in his constituency had confirmed this, saying he had letters from neighbours confirming he was regularly there.

The paper said it had been informed by several sources he was not often at his constituency home. However, it accepted that it could not substantiate the claim he was “hardly there”.

It offered to publish a correction. Upholding the complaint, the PCC agreed with Lewis that the offer was inadequate so long after the original complaint.

Its ruling stated: “The newspaper should have offered a prompt and clear correction. It failed to do so until too late. The commission was satisfied that clause one – accuracy – of the code had been breached.”

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