Clauses Noted: 3, 8
Publication: The Sun
Ms Beverley Fielden complained on behalf of her partner Dr Kevin McGuigan that two articles and an editorial published in The Sun on 29 and 30 August headlined "Exposed", "The Sun says: Bang to rights" and "Move my thug hubby out of hol camp jail" were inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy), and that a photograph taken in hospital grounds had breached Clause 3 (Privacy) and Clause 9 (Hospitals) of the Code of Practice.
The complaint was not upheld.
Dr McGuigan had been serving a fifteen-month sentence at Winchester Prison for assault charges and the possession of four illegal guns, when he was sectioned under the Mental Health Act and transferred to the Priory Hospital, Marchwood. Ms Fielden complained that an article reporting the transfer of her partner, a former prison doctor, had been inaccurate, and that a photograph had been taken of Dr McGuigan sitting in the private grounds of the Priory hospital.
The complainant maintained that Dr McGuigan had only admitted assault charges reluctantly and with plea bargains, and challenged allegations made by an anonymous prison source regarding the circumstances of the transfer. Ms Fielden enclosed details of Dr McGuigan’s resignation from the Masons two years previously, and explained that her partner had been a regular patient at the hospital since around this time. He had not even wanted to be moved from Winchester when sectioned later, and would not therefore have ‘pulled strings’ to be transferred. A Prison Service press release confirmed, “The cost of a place at Marchwood Priory is within the normal range for hospital accommodation for sentenced prisoners who have been sectioned under the Mental Health Act”.
Ms Fielden contested the statement that Dr McGuigan ‘had a membership for the UDF loyalist terror group’ and assertions regarding his activities at the Priory. Ms Fielden sent the Commission the alleged UDF membership document – a leather wallet presented as a souvenir from an inmate following a visit to the Maze prison. Dr McGuigan’s solicitors confirmed that the judge at his trial had stated that he was "of blameless character" and that there was "no evidence to suggest that [he was] seeking to use the weapons". The overall impression given by the two articles and editorial – that Dr McGuigan was ‘a wife beating gun nut’ – was entirely distorted.
The newspaper maintained that the pieces were accurate, and enclosed articles from the Daily Mail and The Mirror dated 2 and 5 August, making clear that assertions about Dr McGuigan’s assaults against his ex-wife, UDF wallet, and Masonic Lodge connections were in the public domain. The newspaper also claimed that Dr McGuigan’s prison records stated that he was found to be in possession of over thirty weapons. The accuracy of statements regarding facilities and guarding at the Priory was defended.
It was confirmed that the photograph had been taken within the private grounds of the hospital. However, the newspaper argued that publication was in the public interest, since Dr McGuigan had been jailed for weapons and assault offences but was not under guard or even in a secure unit. Colour copies of the photographs were provided for the Commission.
The Priory Hospital sent the Commission a copy of Dr McGuigan’s observation sheet for the day on which the photograph had been taken. Dr McGuigan’s movements had been recorded every half-hour but he had not been deemed to need constant supervision.
Clause 9 states that the restrictions on intruding into private life in Clause 3 “are particularly relevant to enquiries about individuals in hospitals or similar institutions”. Given that the newspaper freely admitted that photographs had been taken in the grounds of a hospital, the Commission had to consider whether there was sufficient public interest to justify publication. The Commission noted submissions indicating that Dr McGuigan was not a dangerous man, and that the very circumstances of his stay in the Priory hospital demonstrated that medical professionals had not considered him to be a risk to the public in any way. However, Dr McGuigan had received a custodial sentence for gun offences and assault, and it was clear that he had not been under constant supervision whilst in hospital. The editorial ‘Bang to Rights’, published the same day as the ‘Exposed’ article, had commented on the decision to place a sectioned prisoner in a non-secure unit. The Commission therefore considered the reporting of the decision to be one of legitimate public interest, and did not uphold the complaint regarding the publication of the photograph.
The Commission then turned to the inaccuracy complaints. It did not appear to be in dispute that Dr McGuigan had been a Freemason, and that he had been incarcerated for assault and gun offences. Given these facts, the Commission did not consider related assertions in the article to be of such significance as to raise a breach under the terms of the Code. The suggestion that “strings have been pulled” had in any case been clearly presented as the comments of an anonymous source. The Commission acknowledged the dispute regarding Dr McGuigan’s activities during his stay at the hospital and the significance of a UDF-embossed wallet. However, the hospital was not a secure unit and did appear to offer the facilities claimed by the newspaper, and details regarding the wallet had already been established in the public domain. The Commission did not therefore consider details regarding Dr McGuigan’s stay or UDF membership to be significantly inaccurate.
The article headlined ‘Move my thug hubby out of hol camp jail’ was presented as an interview with Dr McGuigan’s former wife, and the Commission considered that both this piece and the editorial had been clearly positioned as comment in accordance with the Code.
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