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Complainant Name:
Mr John Gorman

Clauses Noted: 1, 4

Publication: The Sunday Times


Mr John Gorman complained through solicitors, Harbottle & Lewis, of London W1, that an article in The Sunday Times of 10 September 1995, headed, "BA case man in five earlier complaints" contained inaccuracies and was misleading. He also complained that he had been unfairly harassed by reporters preparing the article. The complaint was raised under Clauses 1 (Accuracy) and 8 (Harassment) of the Code of Practice.

The article referred to Mr Gorman's action against British Airways on a claim that he was injured by glass during an in-flight meal and said that he had made at least five complaints against other airlines in recent years. The complainant said that this was inaccurate. The newspaper had only listed four alleged complaints. The instances listed went back over a period of six years which he did not consider "recent". He also disputed that they were all complaints against airlines, since some had been made to insurance companies in respect of lost luggage. He said that two of the "complaints" were not formal ones. He supplied the Commission with a copy of a letter from United Airlines stating that they had found no record of a complaint from Mr Gorman or compensation paid to him.

Mr Gorman said it was wrong to say United Airlines was believed to have "settled" the matter with an "undisclosed amount" through "miscellaneous charges orders", as there was no claim to "settle". He also said "undisclosed" suggested a large amount and there were no miscellaneous charges orders, although upgrade certificates (which were never used) were sent to him. Mr Gorman believed that the article wrongly suggested that he had been lying about dirty water leakage in the aircraft. He said that contrary to BA's view quoted in the report, glass in his stomach had been shown to be "not inconsistent" with one of the samples submitted by BA. He felt that the tone of the article suggested he was a habitual complainer which was unfair.

The newspaper stood by its story, which it said was a carefully researched article about a matter of public interest. It said that its first contact with Mr Gorman had been in 1994 when he approached it with a view to publicising his case. Then it became aware that Mr Gorman had made a claim against another airline and it was thought worthwhile to investigate previous complaints of a similar nature by him. The newspaper denied that it was seeking to imply that Mr Gorman had made unwarranted claims against airlines for his personal gain. It accepted that lost luggage claims were ultimately made to the insurers, but said that the first step would be a complaint to the airline. It said that all the cases listed were prior to the BA case and that "recent years" could properly comprise a period of the past six years. It gave details of seven alleged complaints during the period.



The Commission held that the newspaper were entitled to describe Mr Gorman's current legal action against BA against a background of previous problems he had suffered as a frequent flyer. It noted that the article outlined Mr Gorman's claim and BA's reply about the alleged glass incident and accepted that it was not necessary for the newspaper to put the matter to Mr Gorman for further comment prior to publication. Nor, in the circumstances, would the PCC expect the newspaper to provide a lengthy analysis of the case which was the subject of an on-going legal action.

Although the newspaper had misstated the number of alleged complaints referred to in the article and described the upgrade certificate as a miscellaneous charges order, the Commission felt that these were not significant within the context of the entire article and the further information provided. Mr Gorman does not regard several of his letters to airlines drawing attention to problems he had encountered as "complaints" and the airlines did not register them as such, nor does he believe the upgrade certificates (which he did not use) could be regarded as compensation. Nevertheless, the Commission finds that the newspaper were entitled to have a view as to whether the matters it described could be reasonably characterised as complaints or compensation.

The Commission did not read the article as suggesting Mr Gorman had lied. The Commission considered that it was not unreasonable to describe events within the previous six years as "recent" and did not agree that the term "undisclosed" suggested a large sum.

The Commission also noted that the article reported Mr Gorman as saying that he had not made formal complaints against United Airlines, or BA for the "dripping water episodes" as well as his denial that he had had compensation from United Airlines. The newspaper provided transcripts of parts of conversations with United Airlines and the CAA which it believed supported its report but which the complainant criticised in a number of respects. The Commission has disregarded the contents of the transcripts in considering this matter.

The complaint under this head was rejected.

Mr Gorman also complained that Sunday Times journalists had "stalked him" at his flat and chased him for comments even after he had told a journalist that his lawyers had advised him not to speak to reporters and that all enquiries should be referred to them. His solicitors described a number of incidents which they claimed amounted to harassment under the Code of Practice.

The newspaper told the Commission it was their established practice to go wherever possible to primary sources rather than legal representatives. When Mr Gorman declined to comment on the telephone, a reporter had visited his home and behaved in a polite and civil way which could not be described as "stalking". It was rather in a well-established tradition of "door-stepping". They disputed the facts of the instances described by Mr Gorman's solicitors.

Clause 8 of the Code requires that journalists should not seek information through harassment. Unless their inquires are in the public interest, they should not persist in telephone or questioning individuals after being asked to desist. In this case, even if its inquiries were in the public interest, the Commission did not see this interest was any better served by the newspaper persisting in approaching Mr Gorman than by speaking to his legal representatives as he had requested and after he had declined to comment.

The complaint under this head was upheld.


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