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Complainant Name:
Mr J D M Robertson CBE

Clauses Noted: 1

Publication: West Highland Free Press


Mr J D M Robertson CBE, of Spinningdale, Sutherland, complained through solicitors Shepherd & Wedderburn that an article published in the West Highland Free Press on 29 May 1998 headlined "Rats desert Skye ambulance base!" was misleading in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code of Practice.

The article referred to the local ambulance service and said that the services base had been moved shortly after the complainant had been made chairman of the Highland Health Board. The new base, the article reported, was on land rented from the company of which the complainant was the principal and next to a filling station owned by the same company.

The complainant's solicitors said that the misleading impression created by this reference was that the complainant, in his capacity as Chairman of the Highland Health Board, had somehow influenced the location of the new station. In fact, the complainant had recognised the potential conflict of interest and absented himself from any discussions within the Health Board about the proposal; this was not made clear in the article. Before contacting the Commission, the complainant's solicitors wrote three times to the newspaper, each time without reply, to ask that steps be taken to ensure that the inference was not repeated. The matter was then referred to the Commission, which then contacted the newspaper a further four times. When the editor finally replied, he said that he would have published a letter from the complainant at the time that the article was published. However, he said that he had chosen not to respond to the threatening letters of the solicitors.



The Commission considered that this response, some four months after the complainant's initial approach to the editor, was inadequate. The editor should have resolved the matter promptly, as the Code dictates. He had not - and this was therefore a flagrant breach of the letter and spirit of the Code of Practice.

The complaint was upheld.


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