Just prior to the May 2013 local elections that took place across England, national broadsheet The Daily Telegraph ran an article titled, “Racism, Romanians and chemical castration: what UKIP candidates really believe”.
In the article, comments appeared that were attributed to Isle of Wight UKIP candidate Richard Wilkins.
Hoaxers words published
Rowena Mason, political correspondent at The Daily and Sunday Telegraph (You may know her name from her running the Godfrey Bloom ‘bongo bongo land‘ story – also a member of UKIP), reported that Mr Wilkins had made comments to her about Mick Philpott, the man found guilty of causing the death of six of his children.
It’s transpired that the ‘quotes’ that Rowena Mason printed didn’t come from Richard Wilkins at all, but someone pretending to be him.
After the article was published on 26th April, Mr Wilkins denied that he’d ever spoken to the journalist, tweeting the following day,
I did not speak to a journalist, we have evidence someone pretended to be me and the matter is with my solicitor and telegraph editors
— Richard Wilkins (@iow_richard) April 27, 2013
Conservative Party member tips off UKIP to hoax
OnTheWight followed up the story at the time and was told by a UKIP spokesperson,
“A complaint has been lodged with the PCC following the Telegraph inaccurately reporting comments as being from Mr Wilkins.
“Party sources received a tip off from within the Conservative Party telling us that someone called up the Daily Telegraph pretending to be Mr Wilkins.
“The matter was also given to the police.”
Representation of the People Act
The fact this occurred in the run up to an elections – less than a week, in this case – makes the whole situation all the more serious. There are special laws governing publishing untrue things about people standing for election.
Section 106 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 (law) specifically covers making false statements about candidates. It’s not clear if just Rowena Mason, or the hoaxer, or both could be prosecuted under this law.
Telegraph apologises to Richard Wilkins
Nearly four months and a PCC investigation later, The Telegraph have now amended their article, removing the comments falsely attributed to Mr Wilkins and added an update at the bottom of the report which states,
Update: when this article was first posted it made reference to remarks that Ukip candidate Richard Wilkins was said to have made about Mick Philpott, who killed six of his children in a house fire.
We were subsequently informed that these remarks were not made by by Mr Wilkins but by someone pretending to be him during a telephone call. We have therefore removed the remarks and apologise for Mr Wilkins for any distress caused by their publication.
These have only appeared on line – not, as yet, in the paper – and any damage to Richard Wilkins’ character has yet to be addressed.
How did it come about?
It seems the hoax occurred when the journalist openly tweeted her phone number to Mr Wilkins asking him to get in touch.
Hi @iow_richard Any chance u cd ring me re some of yr tweets eg about chemical castration + hanging. I write for the Telegraph 020 7931 2723
— Rowena Mason (@rowenamason) April 26, 2013
He ignored her request, but according to the UKIP spokesperson, someone else purporting to be Mr Wilkins called the Telegraph journalist and giving ‘quotes’ to the journalist as if they were him.
The accusation is that the journalist did not check her source was legitimate and went ahead and published the article. OnTheWight emailed the journalist – who has in the meantime moved from the Telegraph to the Guardian – but, as yet, she hasn’t responded.
Journalist “told police she’d lied”
Now with the Telegraph running the correction on their site, OnTheWight followed up to find out how things had progressed. A spokesperson for UKIP told OnTheWight this week,
“We have had the apology online from the Telegraph and now we are chasing a printed apology too. There were huge, nasty repercussions for Mr Wilkins following this lax journalism and we feel he should be compensated accordingly.
“We have forwarded this admission from the Telegraph to the police officer who was dealing with the case.
“We understand from the police that the journalist in question told the police that she had lied about recording the call. From the apology from the Telegraph we hope the police will be realising that her story to them and the Telegraph apology to us do not add up.
“Should the police not follow this up we will be following it up with the Hants Police and Crime Commissioner.”
IW Police provide no answers
OnTheWight has made seven requests to IW Police for details on this case, between 29th April 2013 and yesterday, but they have failed on all of those occasions to answer questions about this case.
Isle of Wight CID have informed UKIP that there is nothing they can do at this stage, but advise that if the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) find that Rowena Mason published the false statement whilst knowing it was false, they will be able to review the case.
We’ll let you know what the outcome of this PCC investigation is.
The updated Telegraph article, complete with altered headline, is available “Racism and Romanians: what Ukip candidates really believe”.