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Money launderer wins complaint against sister titles over Greggs claim

NewIPSOA convicted money-launderer has won a press complaints case against three sister titles which inaccurately claimed he had pretended to represent a bakery chain in order to secure Covid grants.

The Independent Press Standards Organisation found against Reach plc publications the Liverpool Echo, Lancs Live and Manchester Evening News after complaints by Rais Kayani, who had pleaded guilty to a single money laundering offence.

The Reach titles had all claimed Kayani had pretended to represent Greggs when making claims for small business grants to local councils via a relief scheme during the coronavirus pandemic.

The stories under complaint, which only appeared online, had been based on a Crown Prosecution Service press release which described the complainant as a “fraudster who sought to exploit the taxpayer through a Covid-19 support scheme”. However the release went on to acknowledge that investigators had been unable to identify who submitted the fraudulent applications, and, as a result, IPSO sided with the offender.

The MEN story, published on 5th July 2023, was headlined ‘Man who pretended to be Greggs bakery swindled councils out of nearly £200,000.’

It read that “a ‘sickening’ fraudster who scammed Rochdale council and two other local authorities out of nearly £200,000 through a Covid-19 support scheme has avoided prison.”

It went on to say that the complainant had “pretended to be the well known bakery Greggs as he made claims for small business grants via the relief scheme designed to help struggling businesses during the pandemic.”

Complaining under Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice, Kayani said the headline and wording implied that he was the sole perpetrator of the criminal activity, and that he personally had made the fraudulent applications, whereas the press release had stated that “investigators were unable to identify” who submitted them.

Kayani said the articles had ignored the basis of his guilty plea, explaining that he had not been convicted of any fraud or theft offences.

He was, however, instructed to transfer money by those who had committed the fraud, as a result of which he had pleaded guilty to a money laundering offence.

Reach said it had been entitled to rely on the information into the release and this demonstrated it had taken sufficient care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information.

However, it was accepted that the references to Greggs were inaccurate and corrections were made on this point.

IPSO noted that the stories had gone on to make clear that “the frauds were perpetrated by unknown individuals impersonating genuine ratepayers” and “investigators were unable to identify who submitted the fraudulent applications”.

However, the Reach titles had wrongly claimed that Kayani “pretended to be Greggs”.

In this instance, the Code Committee decided they had not taken sufficient care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information and there was a breach of Clause 1(i) on this point.

The complaints were upheld, and the full adjudications can be read here.