|Times editor defends Elton John article
Saturday, October 20 2012
The editor of the Times has defended an article that Elton John claimed falsely linked him to a tax avoidance scheme in 2011.
In a statement to the Leveson inquiry into press standards, James Harding said the Times was mistaken when it linked the singer to an accountant mentioned in the article. However, he defended the paper's decision not to give Elton prior notification that he would be named in the story. Harding said in his witness statement: "We did not contact him in advance because, at no point, have we either suspected or suggested that he was involved in tax avoidance schemes. The story did not say that he had invested in any such schemes. Instead, his name and photograph appeared in order to put Patrick McKenna into context. In this, unfortunately, we made a mistake. We immediately corrected it."
The high court threw out Elton's attempt to sue the Times for libel over the two articles on "The secrets of tax avoiders" published on June 21, 2012. Elton complained that the articles, part of the Times's prominent tax avoidance investigation, falsely claimed that he had used Patrick McKenna of Ingenious Media as his accountant in a tax avoidance scheme. The court ruled that they could not bear that meaning.
The day after the story was published the Times published a correction in which it acknowledged that McKenna had never been John's accountant. A second clarification was added on July 26, 2012 stating that Ingenious Media was not involved in moving money offshore to avoid tax. Harding added: "To be clear, there was nothing sinister at work here: the reporter made an error in transcribing from his notebook and this was explained to Sir Elton John's lawyers. Sir Elton's lawyers were also told on the day of the complaint that the apology would run the following day and were informed of the placing of the apology. The original story was illustrated with a small, portrait-sized picture of Sir Elton. Its publication was a consequence of the initial mistake, and we apologised promptly."
The editor added that the Times had taken great care to notify in advance anyone who it would suggest was avoiding tax. He said that politicians who had shaped tax laws or celebrities who appeared in films apparently financed by avoidance schemes did not need to be notified in advance because "they were part of the context of the story, they were not the subjects of our investigations".
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