The Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) has upheld a complaint made against the MailOnline by the Metropolitan Police after the MailOnline published an article entitled: “Sarah Everard murder suspect was tracked by plain clothes detectives for several days before they swooped in to arrest him”.
The article – published on 11th March 2021 – reported on the Metropolitan Police’s search for the suspect in the Sarah Everard murder case.
It reported that “Metropolitan Police officer Wayne Couzens ha[d] been arrested on suspicion of her kidnap and murder” after being “tracked by plain clothes detectives for several days”.
It later noted that; “Sources have suggested that plain clothes detectives may have been secretly monitoring the suspect’s movements for days before he was arrested”.
Additionally, it stated that Couzens “works in Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection Command and is armed as part of his job”.
It added that “The case has prompted the possibility that perhaps for the first time in the Met’s history, armed surveillance officers were watching one of their own firearms officers [Couzens] while he was on duty guarding one of the most important buildings in London”.
It elsewhere reported that a “police insider said: ‘There are two possible approaches the Met could have taken when the officer emerged as the main suspect [one being] to maintain his normal duties whilst having an armed capacity…watching him’”
In the complaint, the Met said that it was untrue that the suspect was either known to or tracked by police for several days before his arrest.
In fact, Couzens was located just a few hours before his arrest.
In light of this, the Met said that it was also inaccurate to speculate that Couzens had returned to work after being identified as a suspect.
IPSO said that the Met had contacted the MailOnline shortly after the story was published to express its concern that the article was inaccurate.
It said that the publication’s failure to promptly delete and correct the article when the Met first contacted it on the day of publication was regrettable.
In response, the MailOnline said that it had relied on an anonymous police source regarding the claim that “The case has prompted the possibility that perhaps for the first time in the Met’s history, armed surveillance officers were watching one of their own firearms officers [Couzens] while he was on duty…”.
However, whilst it said the source was reliable, following the direct complaint from the Met to the publication, the source had clarified that they could not guarantee the accuracy of their claim.
Concerning the claim that Mr Couzens had been “tracked by plain clothes detectives for several days”, the publication said this was based on speculation from a neighbour that had appeared in the press.
The neighbour had claimed that plainclothes officers had been watching the suspect’s property the day before the arrests and that there were unmarked police cars in the street. But this was also not true.
The MailOnline also emphasised that it had sought the Met’s comments on the claims before publication but was told the complainant would not comment.
On receipt of the direct complaint from the Met on the day of publication, the newspaper amended the article.
In its first response during IPSO’s investigation after the Met had provided further clarification on several points, 47 days after it had first been notified of the complaint through direct correspondence from the Met (the day after publication), the MailOnline offered to remove the article from its website and publish the following standalone correction online:
‘An article published on 11 March about the arrest of Wayne Couzens on suspicion of the murder of Sarah Everard included claims that Mr Couzens had been allowed to return to work as a firearms officer after having been identified as a suspect, and that he had been tracked by undercover officers for several days before being arrested.
‘We have since been contacted by the Metropolitan Police who have advised that neither allegation is true, which we accept, and the article has been removed from the website.
‘We are happy to set the record straight’.
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