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Expenses row MP complains at 'misleading coverage'

Below are summaries of the latest complaints involving the regional press which have been resolved between the parties involved, with help from the Press Complaints Commission.

Liverpool Echo, Liverpool Daily Post
Ben Chapman, MP for Wirral South, complained that coverage by the Liverpool Echo and the Daily Post of issues relating to parliamentary expenses had been misleading. Mr Chapman was caught up in the row about MPs’ expenses claims when it emerged that he had claimed for interest payments on a portion of his mortgage that had already been paid off.

He said that articles in the Liverpool newspapers erroneously accused him of dishonesty and had failed sufficiently to take account of the fact that he had made his claims on the advice of the parliamentary Fees Office, which had subsequently made a public apology to him for advising him incorrectly. He also said that articles had failed to make clear that he had not benefitted financially since he did not receive any more money than he could have legitimately claimed for other items under the rules of the House of Commons.

Mr Chapman complained about a number of other specific points, including suggestions that he faced disciplinary action by the Labour Party and an investigation by the police. Neither suggestion was correct and a statement made by the police gave no indication that he was to be the subject of enquiry. (Clause 1).

Resolution: The complaints were resolved when both newspapers agreed to publish statements of clarification under the heading ‘Ben Chapman MP’. The statement published by the Liverpool Echo read as follows:

“Since the middle of May there has been considerable reporting about MPs’ expenses. Ben Chapman, MP for Wirral South, was found to have claimed for interest payments on a portion of his mortgage that had already been paid off. However, as previously reported, these claims were made on the advice of the House of Commons Fees Office, which has admitted its error and has apologised for it. Once it became clear to him that the claims were not legitimate under Commons’ rules, Mr Chapman amended the arrangement.

“We are happy to clarify that, despite the mistaken claims, Mr Chapman did not receive any more money than he could have legitimately claimed for other items under Commons rules. He has been told by the Fees Office that he could have claimed for items such as food, utility bills and council tax, which would have more than covered the amount he received in respect of the paid-off mortgage.

“Mr Chapman, who is standing down at the next election, neither faces (nor has faced) disciplinary action from the Labour Party or any investigation by the police. We are happy to make this clear and we regret that an article of June 20 gave the contrary impression on the latter point.”

  • A similar statement was also carried by the Liverpool Daily Post.

  • The Star, Sheffield
    Anne Jarvis complained that the newspaper had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) when it reported a number of inaccurate figures relating to a poll held to decide the future of Wales Parish Council.

    Resolution: The complaint was resolved when the newspaper published a prominent correction in the following terms:

    “On 18 July we published an article headlined ‘Poll cost council £10,000 – and 11 villagers asked for it’. It reported on a referendum on whether to disband Wales Parish Council and contained a number of inaccurate figures. We stated that the referendum would cost £10,000. At the time the cost was not known. It is now known that the poll cost £3,687.91p.

    “We further stated that Wales parish has 6,000 voters. The exact number is 5,256. We further stated that, through their council tax payments, parishioners pay an annual precept of £25 to the parish council. The precept actually ranges from £42.12 for a Band A property to £126.36 for a Band H property. We apologise for the inaccuracies printed in the article.”

    Islington Tribune
    Jason Mazzocchi complained that a report of court proceedings in regard to the death of his sister, Penny Mazzocchi, was inaccurate on two points: the claim that drugs had been found at the property, which was not the case, and the assertion that the victim had been stabbed seven times with a “serrated bread knife”, rather than a smaller straight-edged knife. (Clause 1).

    Resolution: The complaint was resolved when the newspaper removed the article from its website.

    Huddersfield Daily Examiner
    Oliver North of Huddersfield complained that the newspaper’s coverage of his mother’s inquest had implied misleadingly that she had taken her own life, when in fact the coroner had recorded a verdict of accidental death by drowning. (Clauses 1, 5).

    Resolution: The newspaper did not accept that its coverage had misrepresented the inquest proceedings, given that it had included the coroner’s verdict of accidental death. However, it offered to publish a tribute letter from the family, which could reiterate the inquest verdict. The complaint was resolved on that basis.

    The News, Portsmouth
    Lisa Chamberlain and Michael Pedace complained that the newspaper had inaccurately stated that their conjoined twins had been born with two heads but only one body, in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy), and that the subsequent article correcting this error had not been prominent enough, in breach of Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply).

    Resolution: The complaint was resolved when the newspaper agreed to work with the couple to produce a further article on the matter that would be satisfactory to both sides.