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Complainant Name:
Mr Danny Simpson

Clauses Noted: 1

Publication: The Sun


Mr Danny Simpson 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 his new girlfriend, Tulisa Contostavlos. It reported claims by Stephanie Ward that she had been the complainant's girlfriend until learning of his relationship with Ms Contostavlos; that she was pregnant with their second child; that the relationship, which had been on-and-off for a number of years, had been "solid" for the previous two years; and that Ms Contostavlos was a "home-wrecker".

The complainant initially complained against The Sun through different representatives. He then joined a complaint made by Ms Contostavlos on this matter. They provided joint submissions throughout the subsequent PCC investigation, but requested separate rulings.

The complainant denied that he had been in a relationship with Ms Ward at the time he began dating Ms Contostavlos on 6 November 2012 and said that there was no intact family unit for Ms Contostavlos to "wreck" by this time. Ms Contostavlos's representatives initially asserted that "any kind of romantic liaison between [the complainant] and Ms Ward was long over by the beginning of November" and that there was no "romantic or sexual nexus" between the complainant and Ms Ward when he began his relationship with Ms Contostavlos. The complainant's representatives initially asserted that the complainant had told Ms Ward in August 2012 that he no longer wanted to be in a relationship with Ms Ward. The complainant later clarified 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 the complainant 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 accepted that he had been told by Ms Ward that she was pregnant with his second child in early November 2012, before he met Ms Contostavlos, but said that the newspaper had failed to provide evidence that Ms Ward had been pregnant with his child.

The complainant provided evidence to support his position that the relationship had not been "solid" for two years, as Ms Ward claimed, and that it had ended by November 2012. This included a witness statement from the complainant's flatmate confirming that Ms Ward had acknowledged in early October 2012 that the relationship was over; copies of text messages which the complainant said demonstrated Ms Ward regarded herself as having "broken up" with him by October 2012; and a chronology of their living arrangements. The complainant considered that this material demonstrated that there was no "home" for Ms Contostavlos to "wreck".

The complainant had not been approached by the newspaper for comment on the allegations before publication; he considered this to raise a further breach of the Code.

The newspaper said that the article was comment, and reflected Ms Ward's position that the complainant's new relationship with Ms Contostavlos had wrecked her chances of her relationship with the complainant continuing. Ms Ward and her daughter had been living in another house owned by the complainant, where he would come to stay, and Ms Ward and their daughter would travel regularly to the home in which he lived. Ms Ward believed that the relationship had finally ended only on 14 November, when the complainant informed her by telephone of his new relationship. Ms Ward understood that Ms Contostavlos 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 Ms Contostavlos or the complainant before publication; it had corroborating evidence of Ms Ward's claims, and she was entitled to express her views on her relationship with the complainant. It provided witness statements from Ms Ward and her mother and copies of text messages to corroborate its position that the relationship had been ongoing at the time the complainant met Ms Contostavlos. The newspaper noted that it had relied, before publication, in part on texts that had been exchanged between Ms Ward and the complainant while its reporter had been present. Another source had contacted the newspaper after publication to say that she had been in telephone contact with the complainant and cited the same number.

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

The newspaper said that it had made clear in follow-up coverage Ms Contostavlos' categorical denial that she had entered into a relationship with the complainant while he was still in a relationship with Ms Ward. Nonetheless, it offered to publish a further statement from the complainant noting that he did not consider he had been unfaithful to Ms Ward and a further statement from Ms Contostavlos.

The complainant said that he had not sent the text of 16 November cited by the newspaper in correspondence and suggested that it had been fabricated. He said further that if there were any inaccuracies in the initial account provided to the newspapers, this was because instructions had been taken by their solicitors in considerable haste and without speaking directly to either the complainant or Ms Contostavlos. In any case, any alleged inaccuracies amounted to semantics.

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.

At different times the complainant had said that there could be "no reason" for Ms Ward to believe that their relationship had continued after April 2012, and that he had told Ms Ward that the relationship was over in August 2012. It was evident that the complainant was, in his words, "not entirely clear what the precise date was" that the relationship ended, and that this issue was complicated by the nature of the relationship and their shared role as parents to their daughter. In these circumstances, Ms Ward had been entitled to relate her position that the relationship had been ongoing at the time the complainant first met Ms Contostavlos. No significant inaccuracy was established in 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 did not reflect the evident turbulence of the relationship, and it 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 Ms Contostavlos. 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 his comments before publication and include them in the piece raised an initial breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code.

The newspaper had published further articles that set out the complainant's position. The online article had been updated to reflect the complaint's position that his relationship with Ms Ward had ended "well before he got together with Tulisa" and she had moved out of the complainant's home in April, 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 position that his relationship with Ms Ward had ended before he entered a relationship with Ms Contostavlos. 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 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:

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