The Times has been cleared of breaching the Editors’ Code over a diary column headlined: “Big John back on terra cotta in zero year”.
Former deputy prime minister John Prescott complained that he had never said it was “great to be back on terra cotta” after a flight, as the article suggested.
Lord Prescott pointed out that he had made clear in a column for the Daily Mirror in 2014 that these words were in fact said by fictional TV character Del Boy, prompting the Daily Mail to publish a correction the same year.
The Times responded by saying that the quote first appeared in The Guardian in 1999 (unchallenged) and it appears on numerous other uncorrected online sources (including the BBC).
It said there were many well-documented examples of Prescott’s “verbal creativity” and it questioned whether, for example, “journalists should always check transcripts of Winston Churchill’s speeches before quoting something which he is universally thought to have said”.
It did however publish a footnote to the June 2015 article.
After Prescott took the matter to IPSO, The Times also took the reference out of the article and added the following to the top of it (online): “Correction: We said in a parliamentary sketch (June 12) that Lord Prescott had once, on alighting from an aeroplane, expressed relief at being ‘back on terra cotta’. Lord Prescott assures us that he did not utter these much-quoted words. We are happy to put this on record.”
The Times also published Prescott’s denial in print.
IPSO said: “While the complainant had written in his newspaper column in 2014 that the quotation had been misattributed, by that time it had already become closely associated with him.
“The article was a political sketch which characterised the complainant’s use of words as an endearing trait; it was not unkind in tone. In these particular circumstances, the newspaper was not required to put the quotation to the complainant in advance of publication, and the failure to identify the published correction did not constitute a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article.”
During the 2001 general election campaign Prescott famously punched a man who threw an egg at him.