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Watchdog raps newspaper over prison term error for convict

NewIPSOA regional daily has been rapped by the press watchdog after wrongly reporting that a man convicted of breaching a restraining order could face six months in prison.

The North Wales Daily Post reported Philip Coombes had been given 14 days to pay a fine or face six months in prison, when in fact he had six months to pay or face up to 56 days in prison – 14 days for each offence he had committed.

Despite the Post publishing a clarification after he contacted it, the error prompted Coombes to then go to the Independent Press Standards Organisation about the matter.

The clarification was seen as being sufficiently prompt and prominent, but IPSO found there was a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article in breach of  the Editors’ Code of Practice.

The Post’s story reported Coombes had been convicted of breaching a restraining order after reporting a named neighbour to Denbighshire County Council over the cutting down of a plum tree.

It added the judge had imposed a new restraining order on him, that he was fined £1000, with a £100 surcharge, and that he should pay this sum within 14 days or face six months in prison.

The Post further included details of the restraining order and the story was accompanied by a photograph of Coombes leaving court.

Complaining to IPSO under Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 3 (Harassment) and Clause 12 (Discrimination), Coombes pointed out the inaccuracy regarding the time frame for him to pay his fine, and the subsequent potential prison sentence if he did not to so, and also claimed details of the restraining order were wrong.

He further asserted the name of the man he had reported over the cutting down of the tree was wrong, as was the name of the authority to which he had reported them, while the photograph of him entering court was taken without his knowledge or consent and had shown disregard for the fact that he was recovering from surgery and was considered vulnerable.

The Post accepted the story had misreported the conditions for the payment of the fine, and had published a clarification in print and an online amendment after Coombes had contacted it directly.

After being contacted by Coombes, the reporter contacted the Crown Court, which confirmed the accuracy of the reporting of the restraining order, although the Post did accept that he had taken the issue to Conwy County Council and not Denbighshire County Council, as had been reported.

IPSO found the Post had inaccurately reported the time available to Coombes to pay his fine and the length of his custodial sentence if he failed to pay, which the newspaper had accepted was due to a human error, and that this constituted a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article in breach of Clause 1.

It found the error was significant in the context of an article which was reporting on the conviction because it inaccurately reported the potential custodial sentence as being more than three times longer than what was imposed by the judge, while also wrongly reporting Coombes had only two weeks to pay the fine, meaning it needed to publish the sufficiently prompt and prominent corrections to avoid a further breach of Code.

There were found to be no further breaches on the other points raised by Coombes.

The complaint was upheld, and the full adjudication can be read here.

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  • August 2, 2019 at 11:04 am

    In fairness to the reporter, it does seem to be a very convoluted sentence!

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