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Sex message teacher's complaint against weekly upheld

A man banned for life from teaching for sending sexual messages to a pupil has had his complaint against a weekly newspaper partially upheld by IPSO.

Benjamin Hutchins had complained to the PCC’s successor body over an article in the Wiltshire Times which reported that he had received the ban and been found guilty of unacceptable professional misconduct for falsifying coursework.

The complainant claimed the headline used in the Times’s online version of the story, ‘Melksham teacher banned after sending sexual messages to pupils’, had inaccurately suggested he had sent inappropriate messages to several pupils when he had only sent them to one student.

He also put forward that the article’s assertion he had “contacted others via Facebook” also contributed to this misleading impression because this contact consisted of public messages to pupils about their exam results.

He also considered use of the term “sex pest” in the article’s print headline to be defamatory and that the photo accompanying the piece was misleading, as it showed him with a moustache he had not worn for a number of years.

The Times had agreed the online heading on the 5 September 2014 story was misleading and changed it with a footnote explaining the change was made at Mr Hutchins’ request, but denied the article had been otherwise misleading or accurate.

The IPSO committee found the change of headline for the online article had breached Clause One (Accuracy) of the Editor’s Code of Practice as the footnote had attributed the change to the request of Mr Hutchins, rather than acknowledging an error on the newspaper’s part.

It ruled: “The details of the hearing were available to the newspaper, and indeed the text of the article accurately reported that only one pupil had been involved. The headline therefore represented a failure by the newspaper to take care not to publish inaccurate information.”

The other complaints made by Mr Hutchins were not upheld by the committee.

Further cases dealt with by IPSO recently include a complaint by Ahmed Mian on behalf of Abida Choudry which claimed the Slough and Bucks Express had breached Clause One (Accuracy), Clause Three (Privacy), Clause Five (Intrusion into grief or shock) and Clause Nine (Reporting of crime) of the Editors’ Code in an article headlined “Father jailed for seven years after abducting his two children”, published online and in print on 5 September 2014.

The complainant considered that a court story by the Express which published Mrs Choudry’s full name, her previous address, and the inclusion of comments from the defence that she had been claiming benefits at the time of the separation from her husband had intruded into her privacy.

He also said the article had inaccurately reported Mrs Choudry was divorced as well as what he perceived to be other factual inaccuracies in the reporting of the court case – including the omission of other information he considered important.

The newspaper defended its article as a fair and balanced summary of court proceedings, based on its reporter’s presence at the trial, and a press release issued by the police.

Nonetheless it apologised to the complainant for the distress caused, and accepted that the article contained inaccuracies with regard to Mrs Choudry’s marital status, and whether or not she had been reunited with both of her children. It offered to publish a correction on these points.

It added the omissions to which the complainant objected were beyond the scope of a court report but offered to print a follow up interview with Mrs Choudry.

The complaint was not upheld by the committee.

In a third case Dr Brian Coleman claimed the Hendon and Finchley Times had breached Clauses One, Three and Four in an article regarding a visit by council bailiffs to a cafe.

Dr Coleman, a former councillor, had previously been suspended from the Conservative Party after pleading guilty to assaulting the cafe owner referred to in the article.

The article reported that council bailiffs had visited the cafe to reclaim unpaid debts, which had then been cleared by a customer, who wanted to thank the cafe owner “for helping to get rid of [the complainant]”.

Dr Coleman considered the article’s reference to be a breach of his privacy and accused the newspaper of harassing him as it was one of many stories about him on its website.

The newspaper defended its coverage and said the complainant had been relevant to the story because of the customer’s comments.

Further, he did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to his conviction.

His complaint was not upheld.


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  • January 19, 2015 at 11:19 am

    I’ll be the only one, no doubt, who can raise this, but my sources in various newsrooms tell me IPSO is binding a lot of editors up in unnecessary admin when cases should and could be dismissed at the first hurdle. The fear is, that in a bid to prove its early credibility, IPSO is letting complainants have false hope in the pursuit of issues such as correct reporting of legal proceedings and/or council matters which would never have gained legs under the PCC system. And its stressed, busy editors who are bearing the brunt of this disfunction in the system. There needs to be a proper first stage ‘sift’ process for this to work properly.

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  • January 19, 2015 at 8:21 pm

    Let’s give a tentative welcome to IPSO’s baptism in its ruling on the Wiltshire Times adjudication. The paper seems to have made a mess of reporting on this story, not least with the headline about ‘pupils’, in the plural as opposed to the singular. I’m still unclear as to whether the Wiltshire Times blundered with its implication that there was something sinister about the complainant having ‘contacted others [pupils] via Facebook’ – although we seem to have only the complainant’s assertion that this contact related only to exam results. Did the Times have anything by way of rebuttal to this claim, which could have impacted on the pupil/pupils dilemma? Whatever the answer, I roared with laughter at the complainant’s objection to be called a ‘sex pest’ and his objection to the Wiltshire Times out-dated photograph – with or without moustache! I am delighted that IPSO took the common sense view on both issues. Had the ruling gone the other way on the facial hair complaint, we could have been faced with the farcical situation of having to speak to already-clearly-irate complainants to ask if an image in a newspaper’s possession is up to date and, if not, whether the complainant would like to furnish a better one! Over the years, I have contacted dozens of figures at the centre of knocking tales to say, in passing: “BTW we have a photo of you but it’s awful/ years old. Do you want to send us a more up-to-date/more flattering one?” Mostly I was told to eff off. Once – and only once – I was duly obliged!

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