PCC slams Sunday Mail for 'bad practice' over 'Captain Conman' story

The Press Complaints Commission has this week upheld a complaint against the Sunday Mail for what it termed "a serious matter" and "rare example of bad practice".

The complaint relates to Clause 1 of the PCC Code and the accuracy of the paper's
story "Ship of fools" about 'Captain Conman' Alex Lothian. The Scottish paper ran a story on 14th October 2007 about Mr Lothian who it said was helping the owners of the HMS Bounty (which featured in the 1962 film 'Mutiny on the Bounty')tour the boat round Europe.

The essence of the piece linked into an article that had appeared in the same paper back in 2003 that claimed Lothian was a conman and questioned his naval credentials.

Mr Lothian had complained to the PCC about the earlier piece and while there was no admission of wrong, there had been an undertaking to add a file note to ensure that any future reference to Lothian or the story acknowledged that the facts complained of were 'disputed'.

This was seemingly ignored and the Sunday Mail referred to his "Walter Mitty" claims that were "first exposed by the Sunday Mail in 2003" that alleged he "once tricked the charity Maritime Volunteer Service, claiming to be a recently-retired Navy officer embarking on a plan to form a coastal patrol called Dads Navy." It also referred to a 1995 conviction.

Mr Lothian had complained that the article was in breach of the PCC code for being inaccurate in that it failed to take into account the facts that had previously been disputed.

The PCC upheld his complaint and was particularly critical over the issue of repeating allegations without acknowledging these had been disputed and denied:
"Despite the newspaper’s contention that the allegations were true, the Commission concluded that by omitting the complainant’s position on the matter – contrary to the undertaking – the article was misleading. The Commission regarded the failure to adhere to an offer made during the course of a previous PCC investigation as a serious matter and a rare example of bad practice."

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