1713/2023 – A Family and the Sunday World

By admin
Thursday, 11th April 2024
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The Press Council or Ireland has upheld an appeal from the editor of the Sunday World on a decision of the Press Ombudsman to uphold a complaint made by a family under Principle 1 and Principle 5 of the Press Council’s Code of Practice.

Press Ombudsman’s Decision

On 12 January 2024 the Press Ombudsman decided to uphold in part a complaint made by a family about an article published in the Sunday World, in print and online, in October 2023. The article was about a man killed in an accident, whose funeral took place three days before the article was published. The man’s family complained that the publication breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy), Principle 2 (Distinguishing Fact and Comment), Principle 3 (Fair Procedures and Honesty), Principle 4 (Respect for Rights) and Principle 5 (Privacy). It said the article traumatised the family and served no public interest. It requested an apology and that the article be retracted.

The headline in the article, over a photograph of the deceased man, described him as tragic and, in quotation marks, a “Serious Threat To Women.”  It referred to him as having been noted as a suspect for various violent crimes against women.  The article cited “Sunday World sources” who are said to have told the publication that the man had previously been the subject of an internal Garda notice in this regard. The notice allegedly stated that “none of the victims were willing to make a formal complaint”.

The publication said tributes had been paid to the man by people “unaware of his background”. It referred to his having had convictions for several violent offences. One of these involved an attack on a woman in a public place, and there is an account of the trial which ensued two years later.  The article noted that the man was charged with attempted robbery and that his defence counsel had stated that while the man had been an alcoholic at the time, he had since undergone treatment and no longer drank.

On Principle 1 the family said the article included unconfirmed allegations and relied on unnamed sources to imply the man was a serial attacker of women, without providing any evidence.  It said he was not guilty of the crimes he was allegedly suspected of and had never even been accused of them.  It said the article ignored the fact that the man had been ashamed of the attack detailed in the article and had “turned his life around”. It said the impression created by the report was inaccurate, misleading and distorted.

On Principle 2 the family said the article presented conjecture, rumour and unconfirmed reports as if they were factual.

On Principle 3.1 the family said that the components of the story it took issue with had no basis in established fact, and that the article instead relied on innuendo and “the negative briefing of unidentified sources, with a lack of official statements”. It said the publication had not acted fairly or honestly in its publishing of news.

On Principle 4 the family said the article was founded on “malicious misrepresentation” and “unfounded accusations”. It said the good name of their relative had been “utterly desecrated” and that had he still been alive the article could not have been published, as he would have been able to enforce his rights. It said the publication had failed to respect his rights posthumously.

On Principle 5 the family said the article was published just three days after the burial of its relative and within a week of his untimely death.  It said the publication had failed to show “respect for the privacy and sensibilities” of the family, nor had it shown the required “sympathy and discretion”, nor had it taken account of the “feelings of the grieving family”. 

The Sunday World said that while it understood it was difficult for the family, following the man’s tragic death, to hear the allegations in the article, it was satisfied they had been reported fairly and accurately and in accordance with the Code of Practice.

 It referred to tributes that had been published to the deceased man immediately after his death and said it had been contacted by members of the public concerned that his “previous conduct” had not been acknowledged.  It refuted the family’s claim that it ignored the fact that the man had ceased drinking, noting that it had cited the evidence given in court on this. It said it was satisfied its references to his other convictions were accurate and noted that there were victims to his previous offending. It said it had been clear when reporting on the contents of an internal Garda notice that these had not been subject to formal complaint.

The publication said it became aware of the allegations after the man’s death and denied the family’s assertion that it would not have published them had he been alive. It would, it said, have contacted him for comment. It said that in the circumstances it had not felt it appropriate to contact the family.

It said that the publication had acted in the public interest by providing “a contemporaneous platform for those with a very different experience” of the man to that conveyed in other reports. It acknowledged that an article about allegations against an individual would have an impact on family members but said the report was fair and accurate on a subject that was a matter of public interest and was in accordance with the Code of Practice.  It noted that the Code of Practice states that the right to privacy “should not prevent publication of matters of public record or in the public interest”. It said as a gesture of goodwill “in difficult circumstances” it had removed the article from its social media pages.


Principle 1: The publication has a right to report on the deceased man’s criminal record which is a matter of public record. It is also the case that the report includes a defence lawyer’s 2015 assertion that the man had undergone treatment and was alcohol free.

However, the publication relies on unnamed sources who cite an internal Garda notice which they say warns that the man was a “serious threat to women” and suspected of serious crimes including rape “across Ireland”.   The Sunday World does not provide any information to enable readers to assess the credibility or standing of its sources.   Nor does it claim to have had sight of the internal Garda notice, nor does it indicate it sought formal confirmation from the Gardai that the notice existed, or, if it did, whether the account of its contents was accurate.

The publication is not required to prove that the man was guilty.   However, given the gravity of the crimes allegedly included in the internal Garda notice, it does need to show that it has conducted a thorough investigation to establish that the claims it is reporting are credible so that it is in the public interest to publish them.  As it stands, the connection made between the man and the alleged crimes is tenuous.  There is reference to providing a platform for people with a “very different experience” of him than that included in the tributes but the article neither presents nor claims to have obtained any evidence or testimony to corroborate the claims allegedly included in the notice.  The Press Ombudsman finds that the publication does not show that it strived for truth and accuracy, and that it is therefore in breach of Principle 1.

Principle 2:  The publication does not claim that it is reporting on established facts. It makes it clear that the article is based on information provided by sources about allegations that were not subject to formal complaints. The Press Ombudsman finds that Principle 2 has not been breached.

Principle 3: The publication does not rely on innuendo and there is no evidence as to the motivation of the sources who briefed it about the alleged content of the internal Garda notice. The Press Ombudsman finds that Principle 3 was not breached.

Principle 4:  The Press Ombudsman finds no evidence that the article is based on malicious representation, and she has insufficient information to give any view on whether or not any of the uncorroborated allegations were founded or unfounded. The question of whether the article could or could not have been published when the man was alive is moot. It was not. The publication was entitled to write about the crimes for which he was convicted.  Principle 4 was not breached.

Principle 5: The Press Ombudsman finds that the publication was entitled to write about the man’s convictions, which were on the public record.

The publication states that “in the circumstances” it did not consider it appropriate to approach other members of the family.  However, it was about to report the existence of extremely critical and damaging suspicions purportedly contained in an internal Garda notice about the relative they had just lost in a tragic accident.  

The Press Ombudsman finds that while family members might well have found an approach for information from the publication intrusive and upsetting in the immediate aftermath of the man’s death, it should have been informed about the article and offered the opportunity to comment.  Instead, they were left unprepared for the shock of reading the article three days after the man’s funeral.  The Press Ombudsman finds that the Sunday World did not take the feelings of the grieving family into account in publishing this article.  She finds that Principle 5 was therefore breached.

The Press Ombudsman finds that the publication did not take sufficient action to remedy the breaches.

The editor appealed the decision to the Press Council of Ireland.

View the Decision of the Press Council of Ireland