Leading United Kingdom newspaper, Dailymail, has been forced to tender an embarrassing apology to prosecutors for publishing false claims made by Mr. Bhradresh Gohil, lawyer to the convicted former Delta State governor, Mr. James Ibori.
The paper had, on Sunday 9 October 2016, published an article headlined “Revealed: How Top QC "Buried Evidence Of Met Bribes To Put Innocent Man In Jail”.
The report drew the ire of Mrs. Sasha Wass QC (Queen's Counsel), who complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), alleging that Dailymail had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice. IPSO upheld the complaint and demanded that the Sunday edition of the paper should publish this decision as a remedial action.
The offending article was about the confiscation proceedings relating to Mr. Gohil, who was convicted of money laundering offenses during Mr. Ibori's trial at which Mrs. Wass was the lead prosecution counsel.
It reported allegations relating to Mrs. Wass' conduct during the prosecution, made by a lawyer for Mr. Gohil in court.
It also gave background information about Mr. Gohil’s conviction, saying he had previously been convicted of money laundering and that he “continues to protest his innocence”. The article equally stated that Mr. Gohil had been “cleared of wrongdoing after a probe by the Solicitors Regulation Authority(SRA)”.
In her complaint, Mrs. Wass said the article contained a number of baseless and damaging allegations about her conduct. She similarly maintained that Dailymail had reported, inaccurately, that she had made key decisions in the case against M. Gohil, giving the impression that she had acted out of spite.
Mrs. Wass also expressed concerns about the fidelity of the information the paper provided as background to the case. According to her, the report that Mr. Gohil had been cleared by the SRA was inaccurate. Rather, she told IPSO, the SRA had closed the file, pending the outcome of his trial.
The newspaper 's assertion, she insisted, was significantly misleading, as it gave credibility to Mr. Gohil's claims of innocence and reinforced the idea that she was responsible for a miscarriage of justice.
In its defense, Daily Mail said it accurately reported a statement made in open court and claimed to have sought Mrs. Wass' comments on the allegations before publication. The paper added that it published her response to the allegations.
But during the investigation conducted by IPSO into Mrs. Wass' complaints, Daily Mail offered to publish a correction, addressing some of the inaccuracies raised by the lawyer.
IPSO expressed huge concerns that Daily Mail neglected to accurately report the Mrs. Wass' denials of the allegations. This, said IPSO, amounted to a failure to exercise care as regards the accuracy of the report. IPSO added that Dailymail had given the misleading impression that Mrs. Wass took key decisions in the case, noting that such decisions were, in fact, been taken by others.
It reached a conclusion that the inaccuracies gave a hugely misleading impression that Mrs. Wass had greater influence over the case than was true and that she abused her position.
IPSO explained that the impression given in the report supported the injurious allegation that Mrs. Wass “buried evidence…to put [an] innocent man in jail”.
The organization added that this indicated a further failure to show fidelity to facts, a conduct that breached Clause 1(i) of Editors' Code of Practice. It, therefore, ruled that a correction was required in order to avoid a breach of Clause 1(ii).
Equally deemed as inappropriate by IPSO was the way the paper's report that despite Mr. Gohil's conviction for fraud, he had been cleared of wrongdoing by the SRA. This, IPSO said, gave the wrong impression that Mr. Gohil’s claims of innocence were backed by the SRA’s findings.
In addition, it said it further gave unjustified credibility to the allegations of misconduct made against Mrs. Wass in court. IPSO expressed the view that Daily Mail's failure to ascertain the veracity of the assertion before publication also constituted a breach of Clause 1 for which correction is also required.
The organization said the way the correction offered by the newspaper was couched addressed some of the inaccuracies raised by Mrs. Wass and it included an apology. The apology, IPSO noted, was required under the Code, given the gravity of the inaccuracy.
It, however, observed that while Daily Mail discussed amending the online version of the offending article, it did not offer to publish a correction in its print edition for nearly five months. IPSO also said the wording offered in the correction has failed to adequately address the incorrect impression given by the further inaccuracies about Mrs. Wass' conduct while prosecuting the case.
This, the IPSO noted, amounted to a failure to correct hugely inaccurate information, which was a breach of Clause 1(ii) of the Editors' Code of Practice.