Sunday Express story on asylum seekers breached Editors’ Code

IPSO has said rapped the Sunday Express over a report claiming that “two thirds of asylum seekers who claimed to be unaccompanied children were found to be over 18”.

The press regulator said this was “misleading and distorted the Home Office data” cited in the article in its ruling that the newspaper had breached Clause 1 (accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.

The offending article from July was headlined: “Asylum ‘children’ actually over 18.” The online headline read: “Two thirds of asylum seekers who claimed to be children were found to be over 18.”

The article went on to say that between January 2021 and March 2022 “the Home Office [had] resolved 2,520 cases after it suspected someone who claimed to be an unaccompanied child was actually an adult – 1,626 (65 per cent) of them were found to be 18 or over”. The story also claimed that “more than half of those claiming to be unaccompanied children from the start of 2018 were actually adults”.

Jonathan Portes, an economics professor at King’s College London, complained about the article, pointing out that the Home Office figures cited only covered cases in which the government had disputed the age reported by the asylum seeker.

Between January 2021 and March 2022 there were 1,766 unaccompanied children claiming asylum whose ages were not in doubt – meaning the overall proportion of unaccompanied children found to actually be adults was approximately 36%. Similarly, that proportion for the period between January 2018 and March 2022 was 20%, not greater than 50% as the Sunday Express had reported.

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IPSO said in its ruling: “In the context of an article about migration and asylum, misrepresenting publicly available figures that suggested that the proportion of unaccompanied child asylum seekers was higher than was actually the case was considered significant…”

It also said that giving more detailed information about the figures in the body of the article was “not sufficient to rectify the misleading impression already given by the headline. The publication of the headline and sub-headline amounted to a clear failure by the newspaper to take care not to publish misleading or distorted information…”

The Sunday Express published clarifications in print and online just under a month after publication explaining the missing information and providing the revised percentages but IPSO ruled nonetheless that the paper had breached Editors’ Code standards governing corrections because they even though they were “sufficiently prominent” they were not “sufficiently prompt”.

The complaints committee also found that the wording of the corrections did not meet required standards “as they did not identity, and then correct, the significancy inaccuracies within both versions of the article”.

IPSO said that the Sunday Express should publish a correction, which was made online on Wednesday 7 December.

Portes wrote on Twitter that the original story’s author had, “to be fair, admitted quickly that the headline and his tweet were untrue”, but: “The Express, however, while accepting that they’d got it wrong, offered a weasel-worded and pathetic excuse for a correction, which I rejected and ISPO rightly found to be inadequate.”

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