Is the child heir to Luxembourg’s richest tycoon really going to inherit £1 billion? Has his biological father spent his life savings fighting with his former fiance to prove his paternity? The UK Sun and Times of London reported on a man’s complaints about such alleged paternity struggles in March and April 2017.
But the man’s complaints, aired in the media last year, prompted complaints from the mother of the child. The mother, who is unnamed in the complaints, complained to IPSO over the Sun and Times stories about the man who claimed he “won an 11-year battle to prove that a child destined to inherit nearly £1billion is his son,” via a DNA test, as the Sun put it.
The man, Steve Marston, claimed the mother of the child was his former fiance, with whom he was involved for six years and who is the daughter of “Luxembourg’s richest tycoon.” The man also claimed he spent his “life savings” fighting for his child and he wanted the woman’s family to pay him back.
The woman, however, denies the whole thing. She says she and her child aren’t heirs to any massive fortune, she wasn’t engaged to the man, and she wasn’t in a relationship with him for six years. On the paternity issue, she told IPSO she can’t say anything because of Luxembourg’s laws. Last year, three UK news outlets — the Echo, the Metro and Mail Online — deleted their stories on the man’s claims of paternity and the child’s potential inheritance after the mother complained to IPSO.
Despite the complaint, the Sun stood by its reporting, saying it tried to contact the woman for fact checking but she refused to respond. The Sun offered to post an update to its story reflecting her denials of Marston’s characterizations of their relationship and her denial about any fortune. The Times also defended its reporting, explaining its reporter “visited Luxembourg, spoke to the man and others, and examined the documents, photographs and statements which had been assembled by the man’s lawyer,” before publishing its second, in-depth article on the man’s complaints. The Times noted it also contacted the woman for her side of the story, but she didn’t “provide a substantive response,” according to IPSO.
IPSO ruled that the Sun was inaccurate because it didn’t have any evidence for its the claim the woman’s family was worth £1billion; the Sun based that claim on Marston’s speculation, without verification. IPSO also called out the Sun for presenting the man’s allegations of a relationship and engagement “as fact, rather than as the man’s account of the relationship.” As such, again, the Sun was inaccurate and had to correct. The Sun must publish a correction on page 2, as per the IPSO ruling, concerning the claims about the woman’s wealth and relationship to the man.
IPSO also ruled against the Times, but only on one matter — that it similarly failed to provide evidence of the claims about the money the woman’s family had. The Times offered to publish a correction addressing that. IPSO also noted that the Times, unlike the Sun, “had not adopted his claims as fact, they were clearly presented as his account of the dispute.” Further, the Times didn’t name the woman or her family, so those issues weren’t ruled as inaccurate or an invasion of privacy.
The Sun posted a clarification on Jan. 29 about the story.
AN article headlined “Billionheir” (March 21) reported a paternity case of a child.
The article claimed that the child was “destined to inherit nearly £1billion”.
This claim was based on the man’s speculation as to the family’s wealth.
In a complaint to the Independent Press Standards Organisation, the child’s mother denied that the child would inherit this sum.
She said that in fact, the child was likely inherit a substantially smaller sum.
The article also reported as fact the man’s claims that the relationship between him and the mother had lasted for six years, that the pair had been engaged, and that the mother had been secretly married to another man.
The child’s mother states that she strongly contests that they were engaged, that the relationship lasted for six years, or that she was secretly married, which was not made clear in the article.
This correction has been published following the complaint being upheld.
iMediaEthics has asked IPSO if it is acceptable that the Sun labeled its correction a “clarification.”
The Times‘ Feb. 1 correction reads:
In reporting on legal proceedings in which Steve Marston was seeking to establish his paternity of a child, we reported Mr Marston’s claim that the child was the heir to a £1 billion fortune (News, March 22, 2017). We also reported that the child was a member of one of Luxembourg’s wealthiest families. The mother of the child has asked us to put on record her position that the child is in fact set to inherit a substantially smaller sum. We are happy to do so.