The Sunday Mirror headline stated: “Flight of fantasy” while the online headline read: “Prince Harry’s army instructor says story in Spare book is ‘complete fantasy’”. This headline was later changed to “Prince Harry’s army instructor says Spare story was ‘dramatised for effect'” before IPSO received a complaint.
The story quoted Booley as saying: “I think the reference to the flying sorties has been dramatised. I think it’s a result of the ghost writing.” But he never used the phrase “complete fantasy”.
He argued that the article reported a quote that he was “staggered… In shock even” in a misleading way as he was shocked to be mentioned and complimented in the book, not at any alleged inaccuracies. He also said he had not said the book was dramatised “for effect” as the amended headline stated. The final version of the headline now reads: “Prince Harry’s army instructor says story in Spare book is ‘dramatised’.”
Booley also told IPSO the article wrongly suggested he blamed the alleged inaccuracies on Prince Harry, when he had put them down to the book’s ghostwriter, and said he had an extensive conversation via messaging app with the journalist who had then “cherry-picked” quotes in a misleading way – although the reporter had shared the quotes he intended to use in advance.
Booley also complained to IPSO about versions of the interview written up by other Reach websites including the Express, My London, Wales Online, the Daily Star, Nottinghamshire Live and Derbyshire Live.
The regulator has now cleared all the stories of breaches of Clause 1 (accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.
Its complaints committee said that single quote marks do not always indicate a direct quote and can mean a quote has been paraphrased or that it is the publication’s characterisation of events – but it found the Sunday Mirror headline “clearly attributed” the use of the word “fantasy” to Booley.
“The question for the committee was whether this attribution was inaccurate, misleading, distorted, or unsupported by the text of the article,” it said.
Because the article set out in extensive detail why Booley disputed the accuracy of some of the events recounted in the book, it was “not inaccurate or misleading” to say he thought it was a fantasy, IPSO concluded.
It said the “thrust” of his “position – that the depiction of events as set out in the autobiography differed in several key respects from what had actually happened – was not substantively different from the headline’s summary of his views”.
The same idea applied for the claim that he felt the book was “dramatised ‘for effect'”.
Nevertheless the Mirror had already published a correction and apology. It says at the top of the article: “A previous version of this article reported that Sergeant Major Michael Booley stated that the version of events published in Prince Harry’s ‘Spare’ was a ‘complete fantasy’. In fact, Booley has never made any reference to this version of events as being ‘fantasy’, but believed the reference to flying sorties was ‘dramatised’ and disputed the accuracy of some other accounts in the book. We are happy to clarify this and apologise for the error.”
Booley had publicly objected to the portrayal of the interview, writing on Facebook: “I highlighted some inaccuracies in the book, in particular reference to the flying sorties, but felt that they were probably not Harry’s words and highly likely to be dramatised due to the fact that the book was ghost written.
“I did not know who the ghost writer was and certainly did not blame him. Not once did I say anything derogatory about Prince Harry and I certainly never said it was ‘complete fantasy’ as the article headlines would have you believe.
“I made it clear to the reporters that I would not approve of anything derogatory and yet here we are… I feel let down and betrayed by them.”
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