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Complainant Name:
Messrs Pannone and Partners on behalf of Michaelangelo and Rina Attard

Clauses Noted: 1

Publication: Sunday Mirror

Complaint:

Messrs Pannone and Partners of Manchester complained to the Press Complaints Commission on behalf of Michaelangelo and Rina Attard that an article headlined “We took on the church, the courts, the parents to help give Gracie life.. now they’ve snubbed us” published in the Sunday Mirror on 17 June 2001 was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code of Practice.

The complaint was rejected.

The article was based on an interview conducted with a Mr and Mrs Hubble who were former friends of the complainants Mr and Mrs Attard, who had come to Britain for Mrs Attard to give birth to conjoined twins. After separation one of the twins died and the complainants successfully applied for a lifting of an injunction preventing the surviving twin, Gracie, from being identified so that they could sell information and pictures about their story.

The solicitors said that the article contained a number of inaccuracies. It was wrong to imply that Mr and Mrs Attard were reluctant for the money gained from the media deals to be paid into a trust fund. It was misleading to suggest that the Hubbles were the wronged party in a feud between the families and there had never been a suggestion that the Attards might give Gracie up for adoption. An account of an exchange of legal letters about a number of matters relating to pictures of Gracie and a cheque for the trust fund was misleading. It was untrue that the solicitors wrote to London Weekend Television threatening legal action to prevent Mr and Mrs Hubble from taking part in the Pride of Britain awards. In fact, they had written to the station to point out that the contents of photographs and videos of Gracie were sensitive and confidential and warned that any use might breach the terms of the injunction, but they had not said that Mr and Mrs Hubble should not take part in the programme.

The newspaper said that the article made quite clear that the money would be paid into a trust fund for Gracie. However, the sums involved were considerable and both the newspaper and the Hubbles were entitled to question whether further money from exclusive deals with other media was needed. The newspaper said that the Hubbles were entitled to speak about their relationship with the Attards given the poor way in which they had felt treated by the Attards and the fact that the Attards had sold their version of events to other media, thus placing the whole story into the public domain. The newspaper maintained that there were discussions at an early stage about an offer from Mr and Mrs Hubble’s daughter to adopt Gracie should the Attards not felt able to bring Gracie up themselves. It pointed out to the Commission that there were two differing versions of events regarding the exchange of legal letters and that the Hubbles had presented theirs. It added that the Hubbles had been devoted to the Attards and were honoured to have been nominated for the Pride of Britain awards, but their involvement was ruined by the aggressive attitude of the Attards’ solicitors who had highlighted the legal dispute, the result of which was to drop the Hubbles from the awards.

Decision:
Not Upheld

Adjudication:

The Commission did not consider that the Code was breached in any way. The article was very clearly presented as the account of a couple who had been closely involved in an extremely high-profile story. Indeed, it could only have been told in such detail because the Attards had won the right to reveal Gracie’s identity and sell pictures of her and information about her, thus putting the whole matter very firmly into the public domain. Clearly there was a dispute between the Hubbles and the Attards but there was nothing in the Code of Practice to prevent the Hubbles from telling their side of the story, including any unflattering references to the Attards. Readers would have been aware, by the manner in which the article was presented, that there would necessarily have been another point of view – that of the Attards, whose story had, in any case, appeared extensively elsewhere. In this context the Commission did not find that any of the alleged inaccuracies were matters of significance. The newspaper and the Hubbles clearly had grounds on which to base their claims and their interpretation of events, particularly regarding the numerous legal moves and their involvement in the Pride of Britain awards. Other concerns were matters of opinion or recollection and the Commission did not consider that there were any grounds to pursue an investigation under Clause 1 of the Code.

Report:
55



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