Press Complaints Commission
spacer spacer
SEARCH FOR     Or try the cases search  
Cases Banner
Making a complaint
Code of Practice Information
Code Advice

Complainant Name:
Messrs Nicholson Graham and Jones, on behalf of Dame Shirley Porter

Clauses Noted: 1

Publication: Westminster and Pimlico News


Messrs Nicholson Graham and Jones, solicitors of Cannon Street, London EC4, complained on behalf of Dame Shirley Porter that an article in the Westminster and Pimlico News of 12th September 1996, "Housing scheme is sweet victory", and similar articles in the Paddington Mercury and Marylebone Mercury also published by the London Newspaper Group were inaccurate and did not distinguish between conjecture and fact in breach of Clauses 1 Accuracy) and 3 (Comment, conjecture and fact) of the Code of Practice.

The article reported the successful end of a campaign by a local residents' group - Walterton and Elgin Community Homes (or WECH) - to prevent the sale by Westminster Council of their housing estate, known as the "Points", and to improve their living conditions.

The complainant objected in particular to a statement that "John Barratt's investigation confirmed what WECH had argued all along - that under Dame Shirley Porter's leadership the Council knowingly housed hundreds of families in the two tower blocks where potentially deadly asbestos dust was everywhere." The complainant said that the article suggested that Dame Shirley was personally responsible for deliberately housing people in potentially deadly flats at risk to their lives and health, something which was quite untrue. Neither the Barratt Report, nor a subsequent report (the Peto Report) had made any such finding or allegation.

The complainant referred to a Westminster City Council special housing report containing the statement, "for the avoidance of any possible doubt, Mr Barratt has assured the Chief Executive that he found no evidence whatsoever during the course of the review, of any intent by any person deliberately to endanger the Points' occupants." They also provided a copy of a letter from Mr Barratt confirming this statement.

The editor responded that the article was based on the Barratt Report, the conclusions of which, he said, were scathing about Westminster Council - which had at that time been led by Dame Shirley Porter. He said that the report stated clearly and prominently that the Council was fully aware of the risk of asbestos related illnesses to tenants who moved into the flats mentioned in the article, that the asbestos situation had not been managed properly and that people were still moving into these buildings even though the Council knew there may have been a risk. He quoted parts of the Barratt Report to support his contentions. He also pointed out that the Peto Report had been published after the article about which the complaint was made, but that the newspaper had published a prominent front page story on its findings.

Not Upheld


It was clearly not for the Commission to make any judgement on the findings of the Report itself, or of the facts in the case. The only matter for it to consider was whether the newspaper had, under the Code, accurately reported the findings of the Barratt Report itself.

The Commission therefore considered the contents of the Barratt Report. It contains strong criticisms of the Council, especially those in some forty-seven propositions which the author says are repeatedly justified by the documents. Included in these is the fact that the existence of asbestos material in the Points was widely known among officers and councillors from 1982 and in some detail from 1983; that this problem was obviously outstanding in its scale; and that everything Westminster City Council needed to know in order to manage properly the asbestos in the Points was available to be known by the end of 1983; notwithstanding this, a management system was not established, nor did Westminster Council manage the asbestos material in the Points with the interests of the health of the current occupants as a clear objective.

In setting out his conclusions, Mr Barratt made it perfectly clear - both in his Report and afterwards - that a clear distinction was to be made between the activities of the Council as such (which he repeatedly and strongly criticised) and the question of personal culpability on the part of any person. He explicitly stated that any question of individual blame was a matter for further investigation and enquiry, and pending this he made no allegation of ill intention against any person.

On a fair reading of the article concerned, the Commission did not find that there was a breach of the Code to pursue. The Commission read the article as suggesting that the Council - as opposed to any individual person - had housed the people concerned with knowledge of the risks which were involved. The article did not suggest that Dame Shirley or any other person was responsible for this personally. It was not, however, unreasonable to point out that the events took place during the time in which Dame Shirley was leader of the Council. The Commission noted that when the Peto Report was published, the newspaper gave its conclusions extensive coverage.

As far as the complaint under Clause 3 was concerned, the Commission had considered the article as a whole and concluded that readers would have been able to distinguish sufficiently between conjecture and fact, and would also have understood clearly the perspective from which it was written.

There was, on this part of the complaint as well, no case to pursue under the Code.


<< Go Back
Home ] Cases ] Site map ]