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Complainant Name:
Messrs Birnberg Pierce & Partners on behalf of Ms Jenny Cupit

Clauses Noted: 16

Publication: News of the World

Complaint:

Birnberg Pierce and Partners, Solicitors of London NW1, complained on behalf of Ms Jenny Cupit that the News of the World had paid a convicted criminal, Ms Sandra Gibson, for information in breach of Clause 16 (Payments for articles) of the Code of Practice. The information was included in an article headlined “Cunning killer saint as holy as she looks” which was published on 13 February 2000.

The complaint was not upheld.

The article said that Ms Gibson had alleged that the complainant was feigning religious conviction in order to reduce her sentence. The complainant’s solicitors said that although there were a number of inaccuracies in the article they were concerned that the newspaper had paid money to Ms Gibson in breach of Clause 16 of the Code. They did not bring a complaint under Clause 1 (Accuracy)

The newspaper admitted paying Ms Gibson around £1000 for the information. However, it said that a third party had alerted the paper to the allegations that Ms Gibson was making and it had taken the decision that the material should have been published in the public interest. When approached, Ms Gibson would only speak publicly about her allegations in exchange for the fee, which the newspaper understood was going to be used for a deposit on a house. It was therefore necessary to pay for the information, which was in any case in the public interest. The newspaper pointed out that the complainant had been called a ‘serial liar’ at her trial and it suggested that her apparent conversion to Christianity should be seen in that context.

The complainant’s solicitors said that the information could not be in the public interest as it was not true. Any hearing to determine how long the complainant would serve in prison would not happen for many years.

Decision:
Not Upheld

Adjudication:

Although noting the solicitors’ contention that the claims in the article were largely untrue, the Commission had not been asked by the solicitors to investigate any complaint of inaccuracy under Clause 1 and therefore confined itself to considering the matter under Clause 16. That clause, at its heart, seeks to ensure that criminals do not gain financially from information relating to their own crimes unless there is a public interest in paying for the material. In this case, although Ms Gibson was in a position to sell her story only because she was a criminal, and therefore in prison, the Commission had regard for the fact that the information was not glorifying or excusing her own crimes. Indeed, if the central claim - that her former cell-mate Ms Cupit was embarking on a charade at an early stage of her sentence in order to gain favourable treatment - was true then it was a matter of public interest for those claims to be published. However, the Commission had not been asked to test whether publication of those claims amounted to a breach of Clause 1 – a point it had to take into account, while noting that the newspaper had carefully presented the report as Ms Gibson’s own story. Turning to the question of the payment itself, the solicitors had not contradicted the newspaper’s assertion that in order to make these claims public it had been necessary to pay the complainant a fee of around £1000 and the Code’s requirements on the necessity of the payment appeared therefore to have been satisfied. The Commission did consider, however, that the manner in which Ms Gibson intended to spend the money was not a matter that would have had any bearing on the Commission’s decision under the Code.

Report:
50



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