Mr George Mitchell and the Irish Daily Star
The Press Ombudsman decided on 26 October 2016, that there was insufficient evidence available to him to make a decision on a complaint made by Mr George Mitchell that the Irish Daily Star breached Principle 4 (Respect for Rights) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.
On 7 July 2016 the Irish Daily Star published an article under the heading “Kinahan ambush hitman arrested”. The article claimed that the Spanish police had arrested a hitman outside a gym in Marbella and that the man arrested had been “indirectly” hired by the complainant to “take out a senior member” of a gang involved in a bloody feud. The newspaper claimed that sources had informed the newspaper that the hitman was found in possession of a handgun which had been stolen in Madrid.
Solicitors representing Mr Mitchell wrote to the editor of the Irish Daily Star saying that the claims in the article that their client “indirectly hired a gunman” were “without foundation” and “recklessly endangered” their client’s life.
In subsequent correspondence to the Office of the Press Ombudsman Mr Mitchell’s solicitors clarified that they were making a formal complaint on the basis of a breach of Principle 4 of the Code of Practice. This states:
Everyone has constitutional protection for his or her good name. The press shall not knowingly publish matter based on malicious misrepresentation or unfounded accusations, and must take reasonably care in checking facts before publication.
Solicitors representing the Irish Daily Star stated that in regard to Principle 4 Mr Mitchell’s association with crime had been extensively featured in the media for over twenty years and that it is in the public interest that the Irish Daily Star and other media report upon those engaged in gangland crime. They stated that the newspaper spoke to “reliable sources” and “availed of sufficient intelligence and information” in its research for the article.
The solicitors representing Mr Mitchell responded to the submission of the newspaper’s solicitors by stating that the incident described in the newspaper never happened and that nobody was arrested in the circumstances described.
As the complaint could not be conciliated it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.
Neither the complainant nor the publisher provided any evidence to the Office of the Press Ombudsman to support or refute claims made in the article about Mr Mitchell. Without such evidence it is impossible for the Press Ombudsman to decide if the newspaper knowingly published an article based on malicious misrepresentation or unfounded accusations. It is also impossible to determine if the newspaper took reasonable care in checking its facts before publishing the article.
Mr Mitchell appealed the decision of the Press Ombudsman to the Press Council of Ireland.
The Council considered the appeal from Mr Mitchell at its meeting on 2 December 2016. The Council rejected the complainant’s assertion that the Ombudsman had erred in procedure and in the application of the Code of Practice. The Council upheld the decision of the Ombudsman that there was insufficient evidence for him to make a decision.