A regional daily has been rapped by the press watchdog for describing a convict as “dangerous” in a headline.
Ferrari driver John McGurk went to the Independent Press Standards Organisation over the Oxford Mail’s coverage of his court case, saying use of the term was inaccurate because he was found not guilty of dangerous driving.
The Mail told IPSO it had used the term because McGurk, who it reported was found guilty of “doing acts tending to pervert the course of justice”, had been described as “dangerous” in court by a witness.
But the watchdog sided with McGurk on the grounds that the headline was misleading because he was found not guilty of the dangerous driving offence.
The online version of the story, headlined “‘Dangerous’ Ferrari driver John McGurk from Stratford-upon-Avon convicted of lying after Oxfordshire ‘race'”, reported that McGurk had been “cleared of dangerous driving but convicted of lying about who was the driver” after going on trial over “an alleged street ‘race'”.
Complaining under Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice, he said the headline was misleading as it referred to him as “dangerous”, when he was not convicted of dangerous driving.
McGurk claimed there was no “race” as reported by the Mail and that it was inaccurate to report that he was convicted of lying about who was the driver.
He said he had nominated himself as the driver within the 28-day period, and did not claim that another individual was behind the wheel, and therefore was convicted for sending letters which obstructed the police investigation.
Denying the story was inaccurate, the Mail said McGurk was described as “dangerous” in court by a witness and that a witness had described the incident as a “race”.
The Mail said it presented the terms in speech marks in the headline and this made clear these points were the claims of witnesses.
Emphasising it reported the details of his conviction accurately, the newspaper provided the charge sheet from the trial which stated that McGurk was on trial for committing an act/series of acts with intent to pervert the course of justice.
Notwithstanding its position that there was no breach of the Code, the paper offered to amend the headline to “Ferrari driver jailed for perverting the course of justice after lying about who was behind the wheel” and also offered to publish a clarification.
In its ruling, IPSO found it was misleading to refer to these claims in a headline that summarised the details of his conviction in circumstances where he was found not guilty of the dangerous driving offence, and this was reported in the article, because the claims in the headline were not supported by the text.
However given that McGurk had been convicted of perverting the course of justice, the Committee did not consider that it was significantly misleading to report that the complainant was convicted of lying about who the driver was.
The complaint was upheld, and the full adjudication can be read here.