989/2021 - A Man and the Irish Daily Star
The Press Ombudsman has decided not to uphold a complaint that the Irish Daily Star breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) and Principle 5 (Privacy) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland
The Irish Daily Star published an article about a man describing him, among other things, as a “gangland henchman”, a “crook” and a “gangster”. The article outlined how the man had been described in the High Court “as being involved in organised crime for most of his adult life” and how the Criminal Assets Bureau had seized a car and a motor cycle from him. The article was accompanied by a number of photographs of the man.
The man wrote to the editor of the Irish Daily Star stating that the details about him published in the article were “hearsay not facts” and that the photographs accompanying the article had been taken from a private Instagram page. He complained that a number of statements in the article were inaccurate, including a reference to his age.
As the man received no response from the Irish Daily Star he made a formal complaint to the Office of the Press Ombudsman stating that he had no criminal convictions and claiming that the newspaper had breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) and Principle 5 (Privacy) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.
In a submission to the Press Ombudsman the editor of the Irish Daily Star outlined how the complainant had been “the subject of extensive Garda investigations for a number of years” and that he had been “summoned before the courts on dozens of occasions” and “was a named defendant in a successful Criminal Assets Bureau application to the High Court”. The editor went on to outline some of CAB’s claims about him outlined in the High Court, and a number of references made about him in a number of High Court Judgements delivered in 2017 and 2018. The editor stated that there was “justified public interest” in reporting the man’s lifestyle and activities.
In a submission to the Press Ombudsman the man repeated that he had no criminal convictions and that at no point had he been “convicted of proceeds of crime or money laundering” and reiterated his belief that the article was inaccurate and in breach of his privacy.
As the complaint could not be resolved by conciliation it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.
The newspaper described the man, among other things, as a “crook”, but did not say that he had a criminal conviction. The newspaper outlined a number of claims made by the Criminal Assets Bureau about the man’s activities, and a number of references made about him in High Court Judgements. These claims, given that they were made in a successful application to the High Court by CAB and in other High Court cases, are sufficient to justify the language used in the article. The CAB’s application was successful and resulted in a handing over by the man of €38,000 worth of assets. The man’s response to this was that he had no “criminal record”. This is not a sufficient response by the man to convince me that the description of him in the article breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy).
The man in his complaint also referred to the newspaper having been inaccurate in giving his age. If the newspaper was inaccurate, and it is noted that the man did not give a correct age in his correspondence with the newspaper or the Office of the Press Ombudsman, the mistake, if it was one, was not a significant inaccuracy and didn’t need to be corrected under requirements found in Principle 1.
Given what was said about the man in the CAB application and in other high Court cases I find that the newspaper did not breach the man’s right to privacy and that what was published was justifiable in the public interest. In regard to the man’s claim about the images being taken from a private social media source the other people present in the photograph had their faces pixillated and were not recognisable. The only person recognisable was the man and given what had been said about him in the High Court this use of his image was justifiable in the public interest and therefore there was no breach of Principle 5.
Note: The complainant has requested that the outcome of his complaint be reported in a manner which does not disclose his identity.
20 December 2021