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Complainant Name:
Detective Superintendent W D Kerr

Clauses Noted: 1

Publication: The Mail on Sunday


Detective Superintendent W D Kerr of Salford complained that an article in The Mail on Sunday Review, Night and Day, on 10 July 1994 headlined, "Blood?" contained a number of inaccuracies and was misleading in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code of Practice. The complainant is a police officer who was involved in the investigation of a murder in March 1992. The victim's niece, Susan May, was convicted of the murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. The article discussed the circumstances leading to the conviction and questioned the reliability of the forensic and other evidence produced at the trial.

There was a long delay in dealing with this complaint because the Commission was not able to consider the matter until the appeal against conviction had been determined. In February 1997 the Court of Appeal upheld the conviction and dismissed Mrs May's appeal.

Not Upheld


The provisions of the Code of Practice are not intended to inhibit newspapers or periodicals from engaging in investigative journalism. In considering complaints about articles of this nature the Commission does not generally act to determine the truth or otherwise of allegations or assertions which have been made. Nor can it, in cases involving criminal convictions, act as a court of appeal to decide whether the facts involved have been substantiated. In these cases the Commission may wish to satisfy itself that there was a basis for the contentions being made, that any speculation or opinions were clearly expressed as such and that there were no patent or significant factual errors within the context of the article taken as a whole which might need to be corrected. The Commission is not concerned to censure periodicals for minor errors which are not significant in the context of articles taken as a whole.

The Commission sees no basis for any criticism of the newspaper or journalist involved in this instance. The article clearly set out the reasons why the author thought that the original verdict was unsafe and the basis for those concerns. Readers would clearly have understood that the views expressed were those of the journalist concerned. The complainant, for the most part, drew attention to errors which, even if proved, were insignificant within the context of the article taken as a whole, or speculated on findings which he believed the court or the jury to have reached, as a basis for asserting that the article was incorrect. Even if he was correct as to these, the author was clearly entitled to express a contrary view on the material presented.
This particularly applies to the scientific evidence. The Commission is well aware that in recent years a number of convictions based on what appeared at the time to be incontrovertible scientific evidence have later been overturned when new facts emerged. Notwithstanding that the Commission finds that the article was fairly presented as the authors own analysis of the case, it is necessary to deal with the detail of the individual complaints made.

1.The article questioned whether blood staining found on the victims bedroom wall was ever proved conclusively to be human blood. The complainant disputed this point which he said had been accepted by the defence at the trial. He said that the article alleged that the tests carried out on the staining to establish the existence of blood had never been accepted by the scientific establishment as conclusive, which was not true. The Commission rejected both of these complaints. The author of the article was entitled to draw ttention to the points being considered by Mrs May's new defence team after her conviction and the views of experts on the blood issue. He was not bound by any concession made by the defence at the trial. One of the prosecution experts had given evidence that he could not state categorically that the three areas of staining present on the wall were blood to the exclusion of all other materials, nor that the stains were made in human, as opposed to animal blood.

2.The article commenced with a full page photograph of a bedroom with three smudges of blood on the wall. The photograph was captioned on the opposite page as a reconstruction. The complainant alleged that the picture bore no relationship with the crime scene and was seriously misleading in a number of respects. The Commission rejected this complaint. The picture was clearly labelled as a reconstruction and had no significance in the context of the matters and arguments deployed by the article. For this reason the Commission did not believe that readers would have been misled in any way by the photograph.

3.The article stated that the prosecution had asked the jury to accept that the marks on the wall were made after the defendant had battered her aunt and her fingers were wet with blood. The complainant said that there was never any suggestion that the victim had been battered . She had died of suffocation. The Commission rejected this complaint. While the article should perhaps have mentioned the cause of death it did not suggest that it was the result of the victim being battered. The Court of Appeal found that, although death was by suffocation, it involved a considerable amount of bleeding by the victim .... It was agreed that she had been slapped or punched. It was the prosecution case that this blood had been transferred to Mrs May's hands. In the circumstances the use of the word concerned was not inappropriate. Nor was it significant in the context of the arguments being deployed in the text of the article taken as a whole.

4.The article stated that financial dealings by Mrs May with her aunt's and her mother's money were neither necessarily corrupt nor dysfunctional. It also said Mrs May's sister and children had been the beneficiaries of large sums of her mother's and aunt's money. The complainant said that neither of these statements was true. The view taken by the court was that Mrs May had milked her aunt's bank accounts by, inter alia, forging cheques. Her sister did not benefit in any way. The Commission rejected these complaints. The court came to no conclusion on the financial dealings put before it. On the contrary the Judge warned the jury not to be prejudiced against the defendant, if you think - she, of course, disputes it anyway - that she was helping herself to money with rather too free a hand and beyond what she was entitled to. The defendant gave evidence that she was in the habit of giving money, when she drew it, to her sister. The author of the article was entitled to present his own view of these matters.

The complaints were all rejected.


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