A complaint by Prince Harry that the Daily Star breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply) and Clause 3 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Harry and Pippa in ‘secret romance’” has been partially upheld for inaccuracy. The article said that a US magazine had claimed that Prince Harry and Pippa Middleton had been involved in a “secret romance”. It stated that the pair “first snogged” at the royal wedding in 2011 and that they had been “caught in the act” by their older siblings. The article concluded by stating that “Clarence House declined to comment last night”. Prince Harry complained that the Daily Star had published claims that were “completely untrue” and had failed in its duty to independently corroborate the facts. He claimed that the ‘fictitious’ story had intruded into his private life without any public interest justification and the online article had fueled the publicity of the claims.

In its defence, the newspaper said that the article had been removed from its website when it received his complaint and it offered its assurances that the claims would not be repeated. It had also circulated a notice to staff and placed a warning in its cuttings file. The newspaper did not otherwise seek to defend the publication.

IPSO ruled that The Daily Star had breached Clause 1 by failing in its duty to publish accurate information. IPSO found that while the Daily Star had not stated that the US magazine’s claims were true, the article had not questioned their authenticity. It also noted that the newspaper had never sought to verify the story with Clarence House, and made no attempt to print a correction.
IPSO ruled that although the prince’s privacy rights were engaged (regardless of the truth of the claims), given the extent to which the story was already in the public domain his privacy (Clause 3) had not been breached. Prince Harry also complained that he had not had an opportunity to reply to the published inaccuracies (Clause 2). IPSO ruled that there was no breach of this clause as he had only requested removal of the piece not an opportunity to reply.
Prince Harry had also complained about similar articles appearing in the Daily Mail print and online editions, but no complaint was upheld. The most significant difference between reports in the Mail and the Daily Star were that the Mail was skeptical of the claims. The Mail articles attached no credence to the story and made it clear that the photo shown (which Harry complained was doctored to make him appear semi naked) was part of the US magazine’s cover. For this reason the Mail articles were not found to be inaccurate or misleading, as the reader was left in no doubt that the US Magazines claims were to be taken with a pinch of salt.

The decisions show that content providers will be held responsible for the content that they publish and cannot avoid their ‘accuracy’ obligations simply by attributing stories to third parties. In addition, even though in this case IPSO found there was no unwarranted infringement of privacy, because of the extent of prior publication of the story, the complaints are a reminder that stories can infringe privacy even where claims are untrue. What matters is the nature of the claims, and whether they impinge on privacy issues, not their truth or falsity.