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Weekly entitled to rely on inaccurate police press release, rules IPSO

Dean PurcellA weekly newspaper was entitled to rely on information provided by an inaccurate police statement, the press watchdog has ruled.

The Hackney Gazette has been vindicated by the Independent Press Standards Organisation after it published information provided in a police press release which later turned out to be incorrect.

The Gazette had reported on the case of Dean Purcell, pictured, who was jailed for 12 months after pleading guilty to ABH and two counts of assault by beating against his former girlfriend, including in the story some of the events which apparently led up to his conviction.

However the Metropolitan Police later confirmed that the press release on which thie was based “contained information that had been alleged by the victim, but was not accepted by the defendant as a basis for his plea of guilty.”

Purcell’s complaint over the press release’s content was upheld by the force, but IPSO concluded the Gazette had been entitled to rely on the accuracy of information from this official source when its story was published.

Purcell subsequently had a complaint to the Independent Complaints Reviewer about IPSO’s handling of his case rejected.

Complaining to IPSO under Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice, Purcell claimed the Gazette had created an inaccurate and misleading impression of the conduct to which he had pleaded guilty.

He provided a copy of his Basis of Plea to IPSO, which recorded that he had pleaded guilty to an ABH charge on the basis of excessive self-defence.

Denying a breach of Code, the Gazette said it had accurately reported the details of Purcell’s conviction, as set out in the police’s original press release, adding it said that it had no reason to doubt the accuracy of an official release from such a trusted source.

In light of the outcome of the police’s investigation into the press release, and upon receipt of the information provided by Purcell during the course of IPSO’s investigation, the paper offered to replace the online story with a new version and publish a clarification in print.

IPSO found relying on the contents of a police press release which had been issued following Purcell’s conviction did not represent a failure to rake care of the article’s accuracy.

The complaint was not upheld, and the full adjudication can be read here.

6 comments

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  • May 7, 2019 at 10:42 am
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    better to have your own reporter in court. In any event strictly speaking police statements do not meet the criteria for fair reporting of a court hearing, as they do not give a balanced view. There is usually no mitigation. However, this does not seem to create problems to my knowledge.

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  • May 7, 2019 at 1:24 pm
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    Totally agree with paperboy. All too often, police press releases drop into the inboxes of news desks the second a sentence is given – and then within minutes it is on websites carrying just the verdict and a lengthy quote from plod top brass.
    No mitigation, very little – if any – of what was heard in court. Just a pat on the back for police for getting the conviction.
    Nothing ever beats having your own reporter in the court room who can find their own top line and provide a fair report of the hearing.

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  • May 7, 2019 at 3:51 pm
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    Henry Hackett. your comment about “fair report” sums it up. Court reports need to be fair to the defendant as well as the prosecution, however unpopular that might be. Police press releases seldom are and indeed it is not their job. That falls to the paper.

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  • May 8, 2019 at 11:20 am
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    Good luck using that defence if you trot out a police press release which is libellous.

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  • May 8, 2019 at 4:38 pm
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    Do papers ever try to contact defendants/solicitors for a balancing quote if the paper has not had a reporter in court and relies on a one-sided handout.? No always easy I grant, but by strict letter of the law advisable.

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