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Complainant Name:
Miss Penny Russell-Smith on behalf of HRH The Duke of Edinburgh

Clauses Noted: 1

Publication: Daily Express


Miss Penny Russell-Smith, Deputy Press Secretary to The Queen, complained on behalf of HRH The Duke of Edinburgh that an article in The Express on 15th February 1997, headlined "You Rats!", stated inaccurately that Prince Philip had personally contacted the Chairman of Rentokil Initial plc to express his concern about alleged damage the company's staff had caused to a Windsor Castle lawn. The complaint was raised under Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code of Practice.

The article, on the front page, stated that Prince Philip had telephoned the Chairman of Rentokil, "blown his top", and threatened to strip the company of its royal warrant. The complainant denied this and said that Prince Philip had at no stage contacted the firm; neither had his office done so on his behalf. The complainant said that all contact with Rentokil had been through the Royal Household's property services section. A letter from Rentokil confirmed that its Chairman had not received a telephone call from Prince Philip on the matter.

A reporter telephoned the Buckingham Palace Press Office about the matter. In response, the Deputy Press Secretary questioned why the Duke of Edinburgh should be involved but agreed to make further inquiries. They agreed that they could speak again the following day. The following morning the press officer left a brief message at the newspaper's offices but the reporter said that he did not receive it. Immediately after publication, the complainant contacted the newspaper, informed it that the story was inaccurate and asked it to publish a correction. The newspaper did not do so, saying the story was accurate and had been obtained from "an impeccable source who knew exactly what had taken place."

The newspaper claimed that the Managing Director of Rentokil would not have become personally involved in drainage works at Windsor without the highest involvement from the Palace. It said that the reporter had rung the Buckingham Palace press office and was told that it could not understand why Prince Philip would be involved; any talk of a threat to withdraw the royal warrant was "pure speculation", but the Duke did not have authority to remove warrants. The reporter had rung the Rentokil press office a number of times and had been told that the company had no comment; the newspaper stressed that, when contacted by the newspaper, the company did not deny the story.

Although it maintained its story was accurate, as soon as the complaint to the Commission had been made, the newspaper offered to publish a correction, and to let the PCC arbitrate over the wording, making it clear that Prince Philip did not make the telephone call to the Chairman of Rentokil. The complainant rejected this offer, saying that because of the time that had elapsed since publication, prompt correction as required by the Code was impractical.



The Commission noted that the newspaper had published the story in good faith, based on information from a confidential source. However, inquiries to the Buckingham Palace Press Office and to Rentokil had failed to substantiate this story.

The newspaper provided the Commission with a signed statement by the reporter involved (together with his manuscript notes) and also offered to provide a statement from the source. The reporter's own statement made it clear that the source had no direct knowledge of his or her own because he or she had conceded that the only person who knew for certain who had telephoned was the Chairman of Rentokil. It had been agreed between the reporter and the Press Officer that there could be a further telephone conversation about the matter. If that had taken place and a firm denial had been obtained, the Commission did not believe the newspaper would have published the story. Although not accepting that a breach of the Code had occurred, once a complaint had been made, the newspaper did accept that it ought to carry a correction pointing out that Prince Philip did not make the telephone call concerned.

The complainant had in the first instance quite rightly sought a correction from the newspaper. Publication of a correction and apology as required by the Code at that time, before any complaint was made, would have resolved the matter but the newspaper did not do so. In the circumstances the Commission believed that although the newspaper had made strenuous efforts to resolve the matter, including through the PCC itself, the offer of a correction was at such a stage an inadequate remedy under the Code, particularly in view of the prominence of the original article.

The complaint was upheld


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