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Watchdog backs teacher who abused ex after daily’s court notes failure

An abusive teacher has won a complaint against a regional daily after it failed to provide contemporaneous court notes showing which charge he faced.

Michael Muir complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation after the Paisley Daily Express reported on his conviction for abusing his ex-partner.

Muir claimed the Express had implied he had been found guilty of physical violence against his ex-partner, when this was not the case.

The two parties had disputed the nature of what was heard in court, but the watchdog found in Muir’s favour after concluding the newspaper had not been able to demonstrate it had taken care over its coverage.

Paisley IPSO

The story, on which the Express splashed on 11 November last year, pictured, set out the details of allegations against Muir, saying that he “bombarded his ex-girlfriend with abusive messages and followed her after their break-up”.

It added: “[T]he charge states Muir engaged in a course of conduct which was the abuse of [his ex-partner]. It is stated Muir pushed her on the body and threw keys at her.

“Muir went on to remove her from a bed and uttered a threat of violence towards her. He also repeatedly walked past her and followed her to her friend’s and her own home address.

“The charge goes on to say Muir ‘persistently contacted [his ex-partner] and sent her messages of an abusive nature’. Muir was found guilty after trial at Glasgow Sheriff Court to the single charge.”

Complaining under Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice, Muir said the Express had implied that he had been found guilty of physical violence against his ex-partner, by way of its reference to pushing his ex-partner, removing her from a bed, and throwing keys at her.

He added that, while these allegations had appeared on the original charge, they had subsequently been deleted by the sheriff after they were not found to be credible.

Muir said that these had not been heard in court at all, save that the prosecution had referred to the allegation concerning the keys which the sheriff accepted did not happen.

The Express did not accept its story inaccurately reported on the offence for which Muir had been charged, which stated clearly that he had been found guilty of a “single charge” and was not charged with a separate violent offence.

While the paper agreed with his position that the charge had been amended, it did not accept that the amended charge had omitted reference to him “push[ing his ex-partner] on the body […] throwing keys at her [and] remov[ing] her from a bed”.

To support its position, the Express provided an email sent from the agency which provided the copy for the story, as well as the reporter’s notes – though these did not reference the wording of the charge.

In giving evidence to IPSO, Muir provided a letter from his solicitor which said that the charge as reported in the article was inaccurate, as well as a redacted email from the court which appeared to support his position.

The Express also provided an email from the court itself, confirming that the charge as listed in the story was what had been given in the court minutes.

IPSO said it was not in a position to resolve this discrepancy. but found the Express had not been able to demonstrate that it had taken care over its reporting of the crime for which Muir had been convicted, where the contemporaneous notes provided did not include any reference to the charges themselves.

In addition, it ruled the story itself was ambiguous in its reporting of the charges faced by Muir.

Based on the material put before the Committee, and absent contemporaneous court notes showing what had been heard in court, IPSO considered that the Express had not been able to demonstrate care taken, and there was therefore a breach of Clause 1 (i).

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