The Sun story about Chris Huhne that was a total invention (and which the other papers happily copied)

by Stephen Tall on May 19, 2013

Remember that front page Sun story from 13 March? On the off-chance Voice readers missed this exclusive, let’s refersh your memory of the splash:

Disgraced MP Chris Huhne was ridiculed on his first day in Wandsworth jail yesterday — after a warder called him to breakfast by yelling “Order! Order!”

Only one small problem with the story: it was a complete fabrication.

sun huhne lie

The Guardian’s Roy Greenslade has the story:

According to the article, “the mocking warden” mimicked the commons speaker by saying: “The right honourable member for Wandsworth North — down to the office.”

It also said other prisoners laughed at Huhne, that they had bullied him and that he had been transferred to a wing for vulnerable prisoners.

But the story was just that – a story. When Huhne’s partner complained about the article to the Press Complaints Commission, the paper was unable to substantiate any of the claims.

The result? The PCC negotiated a resolution of the complaint, which involved The Sun removing the article from its website and publishing the following “correction”:

“In an article, ‘Order! Order! The Rt Hon Member for Wandsworth. Come to the office’ (13 March), we stated that a prison officer ridiculed Chris Huhne by calling him to breakfast on the Tannoy system.

We also reported claims by families of inmates that he had been moved to a wing for vulnerable prisoners after being bullied and badgered for money. We have been contacted by Mr Huhne and his partner Ms Carina Trimingham who say that he was not been moved or bullied and got on well with other prisoners. We are happy to set the record straight.”

In other words, the main page one page story breached the first, and arguably most important, clause of the editors’ code of practice, about accuracy.

Happy to set the record straight? You bet. Happy because the commission did not feel it necessary to censure the paper for publishing claims that it obviously could not prove.

Happy because it published the mealy-mouthed correction seven weeks later at the foot of page 2. Happy because it had got away with a flier. And it didn’t even have the grace to apologise.

Of course the too-good-to-be-true-(literally) story was picked up by the rest of the press. And not just by the tabloids.

Roy Greenslade’s own Guardian still has the story here (‘The disgraced former cabinet minister Chris Huhne was ridiculed on his first day in jail, when a prison officer called him to breakfast shouting “Order! Order!”, it was reported’), as do the Telegraph here (‘Disgraced former Cabinet minister Chris Huhne was ridiculed on his first day in jail when a warder called him to breakfast shouting “Order! Order!”, it was reported today’).

Only the Independent (of the non-paywalled quality press) appears to have updated its original story to reflect the facts rather than The Sun’s inventions.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum, and also writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.