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Watchdog backs jailed stalker over daily’s coverage of case

Gordon BellA convicted stalker has had his complaint over a regional daily’s coverage of his case upheld by the press watchdog.

The Independent Press Standards Organisation has ruled York daily The Press was wrong to report Gordon Bell has been jailed for a “six-year vendetta” against his ex-partner.

The claim appeared in a headline accompanying a story about Bell’s case and was based on a statement by his victim.

But IPSO found the headline was misleading because it gave the impression that Bell had been convicted for a course of conduct lasting six years, which was not the case.

The watchdog further found against The Press after it reported he had stalked a man and a woman, when in fact he had only been convicted of stalking a woman.

Bell, pictured, complained about two stories run by The Press under Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 6 (Children) and Clause 9 (Reporting of crime) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.

He said the headline ‘Gordon Bell jailed for six-year ‘vendetta’ against ex-partner’, run with the first story, was inaccurate because he was jailed for breaching his restraining order, not for undertaking a “six-year vendetta”.

Among other alleged inaccuracies, he also claimed it was wrong for The Press to report in the second story a claim by the prosecution that he had committed the offences within months of stalking the woman and a man.

He said that in 2015, he had been convicted only of harassment of a woman, and produced a charge sheet which he said confirmed this.

In response, The Press said the headline on the first story was based on the statement of the victim which had been included in the article, and that the breaches of the restraining order had continued a pattern of stalking and harassing behaviour as set out in court.

However, on receipt of the complaint, it offered to amend the headline to say ‘Man jailed for breaching restraining order’, and to add a clarification to the story.

In relation to the second story, The Press provided notes from the 2015 hearing which stated that “Mr Bell stalked both his former partner and her then-partner in late November, early December [20]13’” and that a judge had said about the conviction that led to the restraining order, that Bell had been “convicted of stalking her and a former partner”.

In addition, a police press release said Bell “followed her then-new partner from York to his house in Leeds where he threatened him.”

The Press said this, in conjunction with the victim statement, gave a basis in both the print and online versions of the stories to describe him as having run a “six-year vendetta” against the woman.

However, it accepted that in the 2013 hearing the only person mentioned in the charge was Bell’s ex-partner and on this basis, towards the end of IPSO’s investigation the publication offered to print a correction on this point.

The Press did not accept that any of the other points raised by the complainant represented inaccuracies.

IPSO found the headline of the first story was misleading as to the reason for Bell’s conviction.

It also ruled reporting that Bell had stalked a man and a woman, when in fact he had only been convicted of stalking a woman, represented a significant inaccuracy in the context of a court report.

The other elements of Bell’s complaint were dismissed.

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