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PCC upholds MP’s complaint on expenses article

A weekly newspaper which published potentially misleading claims about an MP’s expenses has been forced to republish an adjudication against it by the Press Complaints Commission.

The East Kilbride News published initial details of the ruling against it in last week’s paper without printing the full text of the adjudication, but has now been forced to do this.

Local MP Michael McCann complained to the PCC that an article published on 8 December headlined “MP claims £12,000 expenses in 4 months” had breached the accuracy clause of the Editors’ Code of Practice.

It reported he had claimed £12,133 in expenses between May and August 2010 following the release of figures by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority.

In the article it stated that Mr McCann’s expenses “include £1150 in hotel bills to fund his trips to Westminster, while he also claims for a rented property in central London”.

The MP complained this was misleading because it suggested he had claimed for hotel rooms at the same time as paying rent on a property, which was incorrect as the hotel bills were incurred before he had the property.

In response, the newspaper said it had accurately reported the details of the expenses as published by IPSA which had not explained why the expenses had been claimed.

It added it had sought to contact the complainant to discuss the claims on three occasions before publication, and the issue could easily have been clarified at that time.

In its ruling, the Commission said the complainant had claimed for both hotel bills and rent between May and August but this had been done consecutively rather than concurrently, which was an important distinction.

The key issue for the PCC was the phrase “while he also claims for a rented property in central London”, which the watchdog ruled could have misled readers.

PCC director Stephen Abell said: “Scrutiny of an MP’s expenses can be an important function of a newspaper. However, there is a real need for editors to ensure that they get the claims right.

“In this case, the article could have misled readers about the conduct of their MP, and the newspaper should have clarified the position when asked to do so.

“Furthermore, when the complaint was upheld by the PCC, the newspaper should have ensured the ruling was carried properly. I am glad that the full text has now been published, in accordance with the requirements of the Code.”

The PCC rejected a further complaint by Mr McCann against the paper about a letter headlined “A claim too far from our MP”, published on 8 December, which he claimed was inaccurate and misleading and represented harassment.