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Complainant Name:
Mr Stan Collymore

Clauses Noted: 1, 4

Publication: The Sun


Mr Stan Collymore complained through solicitors to the Press Complaints Commission that an article headlined "I only hit her with open hand", published by The Sun on 24 January 2014, was inaccurate and misleading in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors' Code of Practice. He also complained that the newspaper's representatives had engaged in harassment in breach of Clause 4 (Harassment) of the Editors' Code of Practice.

The complaint was not upheld.

On 23 January the newspaper had published comments by Ulrika Jonsson, who accused the complainant of hypocritically presenting himself as the "poster boy against threats online" in light of the allegations she had previously made against him that he had physically assaulted and threatened to kill her whilst they were in a relationship sixteen years ago. The article under complaint reported the complainant's public reaction to the initial coverage, which had taken the form of 24 tweets. The article suggested that the complainant had tried to "justify" and "play down" the attack, in saying he had "only" hit Ms Jonsson with an "open hand". The article also described the complainant's reaction as being shameless.

The complainant said that the newspaper had seriously misrepresented his comments. He was not "shameless", and the newspaper had misled readers by omitting reference to tweets in which he had described himself as "ashamed... because even the threat of violence is wrong" and said "I apologise again to Miss Jonsson". He denied that he had sought to "justify" his actions and objected to the headline because he had not used the word "only" when admitting that he had struck Ms Jonsson with an open hand. He made clear that he denied threatening to kill Ms Jonsson and otherwise disputed elements of her account of the incident, but acknowledged that the Commission would face difficulties in reaching findings on these issues and therefore limited his complaint to the reporting of his reaction.

The complainant raised concerns under Clause 4 about the coverage as a whole and about the newspaper's contact with him. The complainant was concerned that the newspaper had dispatched a reporter to his home to seek comment on the story on 23 January, despite his representative having made clear on 22 January that he had no comment to make, and that the reporter had remained outside his home for six hours. The complainant said that, upon leaving his house, he had been briefly followed in his car by the journalist before he stopped his vehicle and asked the journalist to leave. He had been distressed and intimidated by this experience, particularly against the background of death threats he had received on Twitter. Following the earlier approach to his representative, and in light of his well-known position that his representative was the appropriate channel for press inquiries, this was harassment. The complainant objected to the coverage, generally, and to what he described as the newspaper's attempts to obtain negative information about him, which he described as a campaign against him.

The newspaper denied that it had misrepresented the complainant's position. The term "shameless" was the newspaper's legitimate comment on the fact that, despite admitting to having assaulted Ms Jonsson, he had accused her of lying and sought to rebut her claims. The headline reference to the word "only" did not appear in quotation marks and should be read in the context of the article, which included his exact words. In any case, it was a reasonable summary of the complainant's tweets, which sought to minimise his attack on Ms Jonsson, as demonstrated by the comment: "I struck Miss Jonsson with an open hand. Once. Again, a man punching and kicking (an athlete) causes serious damage. No bruises, so how? Luck?" In the newspaper's view, the complainant's comparison of his actions with Ms Jonsson's allegations of a more brutal attack demonstrated an attempt to show his treatment of her in a more reasonable light; this could be fairly summarised as an attempt to "justify" his actions, which should be taken to mean "show to be reasonable".

The reporter had rung the doorbell at the complainant's house at 10am on 23 January but received no response. He therefore waited in a parking space on public land nearby. At around 4pm the complainant left the house and drove away without speaking to the reporter. The reporter denied following the complainant; rather, about a minute after the complainant's departure, the reporter had driven to a nearby pub, where the complainant had subsequently parked next to him. They spoke briefly and the complainant then left. While the complainant's representative had informed a reporter from the newspaper that the complainant did not wish to comment on 22 January, he had not stated that the complainant did not wish to be contacted further. In any case, the situation had changed the following day because the complainant had posted the tweets. This warranted the single renewed approach; no further attempts to contact him had been made.

Not Upheld


The newspaper's description of the complainant's comments as a "shameless" attempt to "justify" his actions clearly represented its interpretation of the complainant's tweets. The question for the Commission was whether this interpretation had been presented in a manner that would mislead readers in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy).

The complaint centred on the use of three words in the coverage. However, the Commission could not consider these terms in isolation, but rather as part of the coverage as a whole, which included direct quotations from the complainant's tweets.

The Commission considered, first, the description of the complainant in the article as "shameless". While the Commission acknowledged the complainant's concern about the omission of a tweet in which he had referred to being ashamed, the issue for it to consider was whether the absence of a reference to the tweet rendered the article misleading. It reported that the complainant had made an admission that he had struck Ms Jonsson, but that he had also sought to emphasise the isolated nature of the incident, asserting "I struck Miss Jonsson with an open hand. Once." The article also reported that, in the series of tweets, the complainant had been highly critical of Ms Jonsson, accusing her of "lying" and "reinventing history". The piece suggested, further, that the complainant had sought to portray himself as a victim, because he had complained that he had been portrayed as "the animal, the brute, the animal black man on cowering white woman". The description of the complainant's comments as "shameless" reflected the newspaper's view that his admission to striking Ms Jonsson had been accompanied by an ardent attack on Ms Jonsson and an attempt to portray himself as a victim which, the newspaper considered, undermined any expression of shame. On balance, the Commission concluded that readers would not be significantly misled as to the reason for the newspaper's characterisation of the complainant's comments as "shameless" or by the absence of a reference to the tweet in which the complainant described himself as ashamed. There was no breach of Clause 1 (i) on this issue.

The Commission turned to the use of the term "only" in the headline, and the view expressed that the complainant had tried to "justify" the incident. The newspaper explained that these terms reflected its assessment of the complainant's comment: "I struck Miss Jonsson with an open hand. Once. Not one bruise, no knock out" As the article made clear that the complainant had compared his single, "open handed" strike with the harm which may have been caused by a more brutal attack, the Commission concluded that readers would not have been misled by the headline or about the basis for the newspaper's view that the complainant had sought to "justify" the attack. There was no breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code on these points.

Clause 4 (Harassment) states that "journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit". The clause is not designed to prohibit unsolicited journalistic inquiries generally, but rather to regulate the manner in which they are made. While a reporter from the newspaper had been informed by the complainant's representative the previous day that the complainant did not wish to comment, the situation had developed significantly following the publication of the tweets - which themselves amounted to a comment on the situation - and renewed inquiries were legitimate in these circumstances. It was evident that a reporter had remained outside the house for a considerable period of time, but he had had no contact with the complainant or any member of the household during this period, and no request had been made for him to leave. It did not appear that he had acted in an intimidating manner and, once he had spoken to the complainant and been informed he did not wish to comment, the reporter had not persisted in questioning him. The Commission noted the complainant's preference for inquiries to be directed to his representative, but this single direct approach to the complainant did not amount to harassment. There was no breach of Clause 4 of the Code.

Relevant ruling

Lineker v The Sun (2013)

Date Published:

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