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:
Ms Tulisa Contostavlos

Clauses Noted: 1

Publication: The Sun


Ms Tulisa Contostavlos complained through Lewis Silkin solicitors to the Press Complaints Commission that a front page article headlined "Tulisa's stolen my bloke... and I'm 3 months pregnant" and a further article headlined "As far as I'm concerned, we were still together... I'm numb", published in The Sun on 16 November 2012, were inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors' Code of Practice.

The newspaper had failed to take care not to publish inaccurate or misleading information in breach of Clause 1 (i), but had offered sufficient action to remedy the initial breach.

The article was published the day after photographs appeared in the press of the complainant with her new boyfriend, Danny Simpson. It reported claims by Stephanie Ward that she had been Mr Simpson's girlfriend until learning of his relationship with the complainant; that she was pregnant with their second child; and that the complainant was a "home-wrecker" who had "stolen" Mr Simpson from her.

The complainant denied that she was a "home-wrecker". She said that she had been unaware of any ongoing relationship, or of Ms Ward's alleged pregnancy, at the time she began her relationship with Mr Simpson. She had become aware of the pregnancy claim by 14 November, but she noted Mr Simpson's position that he had reason to doubt whether it was true.

In support of the complaint, the complainant's representatives (who were also subsequently instructed by Mr Simpson in a complaint about the article, which was investigated jointly with this complaint) initially asserted that "any kind of romantic liaison between Mr Simpson and Ms Ward was long over by the beginning of November" and that there was no "romantic or sexual nexus" between Mr Simpson and Ms Ward when his relationship began with the complainant. In a witness statement provided to the PCC, Mr Simpson said that it was "not entirely clear what the precise date was" that the relationship had ended. He could say with "certainty" that, after April 2012, Ms Ward had "no possible reason to believe" they were a couple. However, a witness statement subsequently provided by Mr Simpson was not consistent with this position and confirmed that he had continued intermittently to have intimate relations with Ms Ward until 4/5 November.

The complainant provided evidence to support her position that the relationship had not been "solid" for two years, as Ms Ward had claimed in the coverage, and that there was no "home" for the complainant to wreck. These included copies of text messages which she said demonstrated that Ms Ward regarded herself as having "broken up" with Mr Simpson in October 2012, and a chronology of their living arrangements.

The complainant raised further concern that she had not been approached by the newspaper for comment on the allegations before publication, which she considered to raise a breach of the Code in itself.

The newspaper said that the article was comment, and reflected Ms Ward's position that the complainant's new relationship with Mr Simpson had wrecked her chances of her relationship with him continuing. Ms Ward and her daughter lived in another house owned by Mr Simpson, where he would also stay and they would regularly travel between their two homes It was accepted that the relationship had been "uncertain and troubled", but Ms Ward believed that the relationship had finally ended only on 14 November, when Mr Simpson informed her by telephone of his new relationship. Ms Ward understood that the complainant had been present during that conversation, so she would have been aware of Ms Ward's claim that they remained in a relationship until that time, and that she was pregnant with his child.

The newspaper said it had not been necessary to contact the complainant or Mr Simpson before publication; it had corroborating evidence of Ms Ward's claims, and she was entitled to express her views on her relationship with Mr Simpson. It provided witness statements from Ms Ward and her mother and copies of text messages to support its position that the relationship had been ongoing at the time Mr Simpson met the complainant. The newspaper noted that it had relied before publication in part on texts that had been exchanged between Ms Ward and an individual using a telephone number it understood to be Mr Simpson's, while its reporter was present. Another source had contacted the newspaper after publication to say that she had been in telephone contact with Mr Simpson and cited the same number.

The newspaper raised concerns that there were significant discrepancies between the initial complaint and subsequent submissions by the complainant and Mr Simpson, particularly in regard to their claims as to when his relationship with Ms Ward allegedly ended.

It said that it had made clear in follow-up coverage the complainant's categorical denial that she had entered into a relationship with Mr Simpson while he was still in a relationship with Ms Ward or that she was a "home-wrecker". Nonetheless, it offered to publish a further statement setting out her denial of the allegations.

The complainant said that Mr Simpson had not sent the text of 16 November referred to by the newspaper and suggested that it had been fabricated. She said that if there were any inaccuracies in her initial complaint, this was because instructions had been taken by her solicitors in haste; the solicitors had not in fact spoken with her or Mr Simpson prior to issuing the complaint. In any case, any alleged inaccuracies amounted to semantics. The newspaper had not published her denial with the same prominence afforded the first article. Many readers would not have seen it and, in any case, they were given no reason to believe it. Ms Ward's version of events remained fully accessible on the newspaper's website.

Sufficient remedial action offered


The nature and duration of the relationship between Stephanie Ward and Danny Simpson was intensely disputed. However, it was established that, at the least, Mr Simpson and Ms Ward had continued to have intimate relations intermittently until 4/5 November 2012, around which time Ms Ward told Mr Simpson that she was pregnant with his child. The Commission considered the complaint against this background.

The Commission was satisfied that Ms Ward was entitled to relate her view that her relationship with Mr Simpson was continuing in the days leading up to his first date with the complainant. She also had been entitled to express her view that the complainant had "wrecked" her "home" and that the complainant had "stolen" Mr Simpson because she had disrupted what Ms Ward regarded as a family unit. No significant inaccuracy was established in relation to Ms Ward's account in this respect. In addition the Commission was not in a position to make a finding with regard to her alleged pregnancy.

Notwithstanding this point, the Commission concluded that overall, the coverage was potentially misleading. While Ms Ward had a particular view on what had transpired, the coverage - including the terms "home-wrecker" and "stolen" - implied that a family unit existed that was acknowledged by all three parties at the time the new relationship began, when in fact this was disputed by the complainant and Mr Simpson. Where there are significant allegations at stake, publications may in some instances be obliged to contact the relevant parties to obtain an alternative version of events. While the claims were clearly attributed to Ms Ward, the Commission concluded that in this instance, the newspaper's failure to contact the complainant for her comments before publication and to include these raised an initial breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code.

The newspaper had published several further articles that set out the complainant's position. The online article had been updated to reflect the complainant's denial of any pre-existing relationship, which was also included in an article on page 4 of the following day's print edition. However, given the prominence with which the original allegation had appeared in the newspaper, the Commission did not consider that this was sufficient, of itself, to remedy the initial breach.

The newspaper had, in May 2013, offered to publish a further statement on page 2, reflecting the complainant's denial that she had entered a relationship with Mr Simpson while he was in an ongoing relationship. The Commission acknowledged there had been a hiatus of 12 weeks following the newspaper's initial response before the complainant's further response was received, during which time there had been no substantive correspondence on the matter, and that this was not an instance in which a significant inaccuracy or misleading statement had been "recognised" by the newspaper in the terms of Clause 1 (ii) of the Code. Nonetheless, it emphasised concern about the delay by the newspaper in making such an offer.

In considering whether this offer was sufficient, the Commission therefore had regard for several countervailing factors: the extent to which the dispute related to matters of interpretation; the previous denials published by the newspaper; the clear attribution of the claims to Ms Ward; the steps the newspaper had taken to corroborate the claims before publication; and the delay in making the offer. The newspaper's decision not to seek the complainant's comment prior to publication represented a breach of the Code; however, on balance, the publication of the proposed statement would be a sufficient remedy, in all the circumstances of this case.

Relevant rulings:
Rawson v Heat (2012)
Antoniou v Woman (2011)
Burrell v News of the World (2008)

Date Published:

<< Go Back
Home ] Cases ] Site map ]