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New breed press body throws out Lord Harley complaints

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Newspaper watchdog rules that two Fleet Street tabloids and a regional publication did not breach its code of practice in reporting the elaborate claims of one of the country’s most renowned advocates

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It may be only six months old and its genius highly controversial, but the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) has already attracted the attention of Lord Harley of Counsel.

Legal Cheek can reveal that the Rochdale-based solicitor-advocate — who has attained notoriety for an idiosyncratic approach to court dress and a resultant dust-up with a Crown Court judge last August — made three separate complaints regarding coverage of claims made on his elaborate LinkedIn profile. Lord Harley — aka Alan Blacker — took issue with articles in the Mail Online, Daily Mirror and Wales Online.

The complaints were made to IPSO — which is chaired by retired Court of Appeal judge Sir Alan Moses — between late October and early November last year, with the findings made public in late February.

In relation to the Mail Online and Daily Mirror, Blacker said the articles had inappropriately questioned his “bona fides”, particularly his membership of the Order of St John, of ambulance and Jerusalem eye hospital fame. He also alleged that the Mail Online was wrong when it reported he claimed to speak several languages fluently — and furthermore the use of his image was a breach of his intellectual property.

The Mail Online and Daily Mirror satisfied IPSO that they had reported the matter fairly and accurately, both submitting a statement from the Order of St John in Wales stating that Blacker was in no way associated with the organisation. The Mail Online also provided IPSO with screenshots of Blacker’s LinkedIn CV, on which he continues to claim to have “native or bilingual proficiency” in Urdu, Gujarati, Luo, Punjabi and Hindi.

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In relation to Wales Online’s coverage, Blacker took issue with a reference to a Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) statement, which he claimed was never actually issued. The paper ran comments from the regulator saying that it was aware of concerns raised around Blacker’s purported credentials and that officials were investigating.

Blacker was also unhappy with a reference in the paper to him as a “Walter Mitty character”, maintaining it was unfair that the Wales Online had failed to disclose the source of the comment.

IPSO — which is the successor to the widely discredited Press Complaints Commission and was controversially launched in the wake of Sir Brian Leveson’s year-long inquiry into press ethics — was satisfied that Wales Online acted within the regulations.

In arriving at that decision, IPSO reviewed contemporaneous notes of the website’s conversation with the SRA, and considered assurances that the Walter Mitty comment was made by a source familiar with Blacker personally and that the remark was the unnamed source’s personal opinion.

In dismissing Blacker’s three complaints, the IPSO committee did not identify any significant inaccuracies that would require correction under the terms of its code.

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