SCRIVEN'S 'NEWS OF THE WORLD' SMEAR STORY CONDEMNED BY PCC

'Dr JULIAN LEWIS MP AND THE PRESS COMPLAINTS COMMISSION'

News of the World – 9 August 2009

DR JULIAN LEWIS MP complained to the Press Complaints Commission that an article published in the News of the World on 1st March 2009, headlined "Tory secrecy campaigner's £60k payout", was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors' Code of Practice.

The complaint was upheld.

The article reported how the MP had received a 'second home' allowance on a property in London, despite the newspaper's claim that it was his main home.

Dr Lewis denied claims in the piece that he was 'hardly' at his constituency home in Hampshire, or that 'locals' had confirmed this: he had letters from neighbours confirming he was regularly there. In fact, he lived at this property for part of every week of the year, and when Parliament was not sitting he was there more. It was not true he had sought to 'censor' the story in advance of publication: he had simply expressed concerns about the identification of his properties, while making clear that there was 'no reason why you can't write exactly whatever story you want to write about'.

The newspaper said the piece had included a long quote from Dr Lewis setting out his position, and that it had been informed by several sources, including a local political rival and the agency that provided the photographs, that he was not often at his constituency home. However, it accepted that it could not substantiate the claim he was 'hardly there'. It offered to publish a correction on this point, and to correct the claim that he had attempted to censor the story.

Dr Lewis said this offer was inadequate so long after the original complaint.

ADJUDICATION:

The Commission was not impressed with the newspaper's evidence for claiming that Dr Lewis was 'hardly' at his constituency home: there seemed to be no convincing reason to doubt his assertion that he was there regularly throughout the year. Nor had the newspaper been able to substantiate the claim that he had sought to 'censor' the story. He had just requested that the precise location of his homes be withheld.

The central claims in the story were therefore misleading, and the newspaper should have offered a prompt and clear correction. It failed to do so until too late. The Commission was satisfied that Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code had been breached and upheld the complaint.

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[NOTE: For Liberal Democrat Terry Scriven’s responsibility for initiating this false and misleading story, click here, here and here.]

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'PCC UPHOLDS MP’s COMPLAINT AGAINST NEWS OF THE WORLD'

Lymington Times – 15 August 2009

A national newspaper has been forced by a New Forest MP to publicly rubbish one of its own stories after it accused him of “milking” the parliamentary allowances system. Under the headline “Tory Secrecy Campaigner’s £60k Payout”, the News of the World in March claimed “locals” said Julian Lewis was seldom at his [constituency] house despite nominating it as his main residence to claim expenses on his second home in London.

But Dr Lewis took his case to adjudicator the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) which described the central claim as “misleading” and said there was “no convincing reason” to doubt the MP’s assertion that his [constituency] property was his main home. He said he was there for part of every week of the year, and more when Parliament was not sitting. The findings, which the newspaper published on Sunday, said it should have offered a prompt and clear correction and its eventual offer to do so came too late.

The PCC also rejected the News of the World’s claim that Dr Lewis had tried to “censor” the story, ruling instead that he had only asked for the exact addresses of his homes to be withheld.

The newspaper argued it had given the MP the chance to comment and its number of sources included a “local political rival”. But it accepted it could not substantiate the claim that he was “hardly there” in [the constituency home].

The PCC found this had broken the Editors’ Code of Practice, but it did not consider Dr Lewis’s other concerns had, such as publishing pictures of his house, nor who the main source had been, although it “noted” Dr Lewis’s evidence.

The New Forest East MP told the Lymington Times:

“I was pleased but not surprised, because the whole story hinged on the false claim that I was hardly ever at my home, whereas I am constantly – as my neighbours confirmed to the PCC.”

Asked if he had considered launching a libel action, he would only say: “I reserve my position on that”. He added:

“A hostile political rival made a phone call to a sleazy newspaper, and it took me five months and the help of the PCC to undo the damage.”

He blamed his Lib Dem competitor at the next election, Terry Scriven, for being the source of the story. Mr Scriven denied the accusation:

“Clearly, I am not the political rival referred to as I did not instigate the article that he is hardly ever here. What I do know is that he has repeatedly stated he lives with his partner in London.”

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[NOTE: For Scriven’s responsibility for initiating the News of the World's false and misleading story, click here, here and here.]

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'HAMPSHIRE MP FORCES NATIONAL PAPER TO BACK DOWN'

Southern Daily Echo – 10 August 2009

By Chris Yandell

A Hampshire MP has forced a national newspaper to back down over allegations that he “milked” the parliamentary expenses system. Dr Julian Lewis has had his complaint against the News of the World upheld by the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), which regulates the newspaper industry.

The article focused on Dr Lewis’s two homes – a flat in London and a house in [New Forest East]. It was claimed that Dr Lewis had pocketed more than £60,000 in second home allowances on his Westminster apartment after listing the [local] property as his main residence – despite “hardly” ever being at the property. The paper also accused the MP of threatening to invoke police security powers in a bid to gag the paper.

Dr Lewis denied the allegations, saying he lived in [the constituency] for part of each week of the year – and spent even more time there when Parliament was not sitting. He also denied attempting to censor the story, saying he had merely expressed concern about his homes being identified in the Press.

In its adjudication the PCC says:

“The commission was not impressed with the newspaper’s evidence for claiming that Dr Lewis was ‘hardly’ at his constituency home. There seemed to be no convincing reason to doubt his assertion that he was there regularly throughout the year. Nor had the newspaper been able to substantiate the claim that he had sought to ‘censor’ the story. He had just requested that the precise location of the homes be withheld. he central claims in the story were therefore misleading and the newspaper should have offered a prompt and clear correction.”

Last night Dr Lewis welcomed his victory. He said:

“Smears such as this are easy to initiate and take time to demolish – but it was worth the effort.”