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Complainant Name:
Mr Varun Shingari

Clauses Noted: 1, 10

Publication: News of the World


Mr Varun Shingari of Edgbaston complained that an article published in the News of the World on 28 January 2001 headlined Bare Vaz-ed cheek contained inaccuracies in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code of Practice. He further complained that a reporter had used subterfuge to gain material in breach of Clause 11 (Misrepresentation).

The complaint was rejected.

Mr Varun Shingari complained that the article had inaccurately suggested that Keith Vaz MP had supplied him with an improper job reference, which he had used to get his current position. Mr Shingari enclosed statements from his employers maintaining that he had not used Mr Vazs name to get his job; from the National Organisation of Asian Businessmen, through whom the complainant had worked closely with Mr Vaz; and from the MPs election agent, who confirmed that the reference was obtained in a frank and open manner.

Mr Shingari detailed the events leading up to publication of the article. His father had answered the door when a man claiming to be a waiter visited his home twice on 26 January and telephoned that evening. He said he had been told that Mr Shingari knew Mr Vaz, with whom he wished to speak about a dispute with his employers. Mr Shingari said he did not know Keith Vaz that well and that they had only met once or twice. The waiter returned the following morning to thank Mr Shingari for his advice, and on leaving asked for road directions to Birmingham. The complainant later became aware that as he stepped into his front garden, the photograph subsequently published was taken.

A second reporter visited that afternoon. He stated that he had a recording of a conversation in which the complainant had claimed not to know Mr Vaz and asked various questions about his employment. Mr Shingari explicitly stated in this conversation that he did not use the reference to gain his current job. However, having been caught unawares he was unable to add that he had known Mr Vaz for five years prior to the date of the reference, having attended and voluntarily organised many events together, including a dinner and reception co-ordinated by the NOAB. Mr Vaz subsequently confirmed that he did know the complainant, whose name had been pronounced in an unfamiliar manner by the reporter concerned.

The newspaper suggested that an element of subterfuge was necessary to find out whether a Government Minister had indeed given a glowing reference to someone he hardly knew. In a transcript of a conversation with the reporter who did not disclose his identity, the complainant repeatedly stated I dont know Keith Vaz very well [...] I have met him a couple of times and he gave me a reference. The newspaper also provided a transcript of a conversation with the Labour party press officer named in the article, who categorically denied that Mr Vaz knew the complainant even after the reporter had spelt out his name.

Not Upheld


The Commission noted that the newspapers defence against the charge of subterfuge was its duty in the public interest, protected by the Code, to expose wrongdoing. In this case it had been alleged that a government minister had provided a job reference for a man he hardly knew.

It was clear that both parties agreed that an MP had at some stage provided the complainant with a reference. Given that the complainant had then claimed that he did not know Mr Vaz very well, and that Mr Vaz had said that he did not know the complainant at all, the Commission considered that the subterfuge used to obtain the story was justified in the public interest.

Turning to the complaints about inaccuracy, the Commission noted that the article had clarified that the reference had been written five years previously and included the complainants assertion that the pair had met a couple of times [... ] at parties. The Commission noted submissions indicating that the complainant had not used Mr Vazs name or reference to gain his current job. However, given the complainants assertion that he had a reference from Mr Vaz if required, which appeared to have been accurately quoted, it did not consider this point to be of such significance as to raise a breach of the Code.


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