288/2019 Mr Ian Bailey and The Irish Times
A complaint by Mr Ian Bailey that The Irish Times breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy), Principle 2 (Distinguishing Fact and Comment), Principle 3 (Fair Procedures and Honesty), Principle 4 (Respect for Rights), Principle 5 (Privacy) and Principle 8 (Prejudice) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland has not been upheld.
The complaint, about an article published by The Irish Times on 10 May 2008, was originally submitted by Mr Bailey in June 2008 and was taken up at that time with the then editor of the newspaper. However, consideration had to be postponed pending the conclusion of legal proceedings relating to the subject matter of the article. The legal proceedings have now concluded.
Having seen a copy of the Coroner’s report on the killing of Sophie Toscan du Plantier in West Cork in 1996 The Irish Times published an article under the heading “A brutal death in black and white”. The article outlined some of the details of how Ms du Plantier was murdered. The article also included background information into the death and subsequent investigation by An Garda Síochána, and a number of comments from the du Plantier family.
Mr Bailey complained that the article would “… reasonably create in the minds of readers, unaware of the mass of subterfuge surrounding this case, the belief that I was either responsible for the crime or may have been responsible”. He said the article breached the Code of Practice because by denying him the opportunity to comment it was a distorted report, lacked fairness and balance and failed to respect his constitutional rights, and, in using comments by the late Daniel Toscan du Plantier, it failed to distinguish fact from fiction.
The then editor of The Irish Times responded stating that the article was primarily about the Coroner’s report which she said, in the main, consisted of the post-mortem report by the State Pathologist, a Garda report and the results of some toxicology and chemical tests. She said that the article included some background information on Mr Bailey and that it was appropriate that it also contained contextual information regarding him. The editor stated that it would not have been appropriate to contact Mr Bailey for comment on the Coroner’s report as a Coroner’s report only establishes the cause of death and does not entertain any speculation with regard to persons who may have been involved. She stated that it had already been reported in The Irish Times on more than one occasion that Mr Bailey had denied any involvement in the killing, as had the fact that he had been released without charge on the two occasions that he had been arrested and questioned. The editor suggested that if Mr Bailey continued to feel that some or all of his criticisms were valid he should consider submitting a letter for publication.
Mr Bailey reiterated his view that the article had created in the mind of readers the impression that he was, or may have been, responsible for the crime, and that he should have been contacted in advance of publication in order to allow him an opportunity to comment. He said that the publication of a letter from him would be inappropriate given the legal situation and ongoing actions.
As the subject matter of the report was the subject matter of court proceedings consideration of the complaint was postponed at this stage in 2008 and resumed in February 2019 when the proceedings had concluded
The current editor of The Irish Times reiterated the views of the previous editor, stating that Mr Bailey did not properly grasp the purpose of the article which, he said, in the main was to convey to readers the content of the Coroner’s report on the killing. He reiterated the offer of the publication of a letter, which Mr Bailey again turned down.
As the complaint could not be resolved through conciliation it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.
The article was an account of the details of a Coroner’s report which included some background information on the murder of Ms Sophie Tuscan du Plantier. No evidence has been submitted to me that there was any inaccuracy in the article. While Mr Bailey complained that the article was a distorted report, in breach of Principle 1 of the Code, I can find no evidence that the article was distorted.
The comments of the late Daniel Toscan du Plantier contained in the article were clearly attributed to him and not reported as fact, and therefore the article did not breach Principle 2 of the Code.
This Principle requires the press to strive at all times for fair procedures and honesty in the procuring and publishing of news and information. No evidence was provided that this did not happen in this case. Therefore, there was no breach of Principle 3.
Because the article was, in the main, a report of the findings of a Coroner’s report, supplemented with comments from the family of the deceased and background information about the murder which was already in the public domain, there was no obligation on the newspaper to contact Mr Bailey in advance of publication. Therefore the article did not breach Principle 4 of the Code.
Mr Bailey’s complaint presented no evidence that the article breached his privacy.
Mr Bailey’s complaint presented no evidence that the material that was published was intended to or was likely to cause grave offence or stir up hatred against him, in breach of Principle 8.
2 April 2019