Case Number: 649

Council Meeting: APRIL 1997

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Evening Post

The New Zealand Press Council has not upheld a complaint that the Wellington newspaper the Evening Post acted unethically by referring to a five year old fraud case involving two Upper Hutt lawyers within the context of a report on recent charges against a solicitor and an accountant from the Wellington region.

The report, published on 28 November 1996, was principally concerned with allegations of fraud totalling two million dollars against two men whose names at the time were suppressed, but who were later revealed to be Wayne and Ian Ross of Upper Hutt. It went on to say that the previous major fraud case in the region was that of the Upper Hutt firm of Patrick Renshaw and Keith Edwards. It gave details of their offences and sentences and then said that there was no link between this firm and those subject to the latest fraud investigation.

On 10 December, Mr B.S. Renshaw, Patrick Renshaw’s father, complained to the editor of the Evening Post. He said that the firm of Renshaw Edwards had been singled out as an example of major fraud even though since that case there had been five other instances of major fraud by other solicitors in the Wellington area. Those cases were on the public record and the offenders could have been named. But the Post had chosen to refer to Renshaw Edwards alone and not to mention those other cases.

The effect on his family and particularly his wife, was to increase the stress they had experienced over recent years. His son and his partner had both paid their debt to society by going to prison and, having been paroled, should now be allowed to get on with their lives.

He contended that the Post article was unethical and designed to focus unnecessary attention on his son. Since, at the time of the article, the Post was constrained from naming the Rosses and where they worked, the reference to his son’s former place of business could have been taken, despite the Post’s disclaimer, as a possible connection with them.

In her reply on 19 December, the editor of the Evening Post, Suzanne Carty, said that she was sorry the article had offended the Renshaw family who were among many victims of the frauds committed by Renshaw Edwards. She said that the article had made fleeting reference to those actions because they had constituted - and probably still did - the biggest and best known fraud case involving professional people in Upper Hutt in recent years. The prison terms served by Patrick Renshaw and his partner did

not alter the facts that the frauds had occurred - and had many victims. They would long be remembered in the Wellington region by lawyers who had to help make good the losses and by clients who had lost savings. The paper had not acted unethically in reminding readers of the last major fraud case in the region and it had specifically stressed that it had no link with the charge against the Rosses.

Mr Renshaw’s complaint to the Press Council, was substantially on the lines of his letter to the editor. He said that his son and partner were entitled to rehabilitate themselves in society. He said that substantial repayments had been made. Their convictions in 1992 were no longer a topical issue and mention of them was gratuitous since there were was no mention of other major fraud cases that had occurred since. They were mentioned because, at the time, the paper was unable to mention the names and location of the offenders charged by the Serious Fraud Office. The article was unethical and designed to suggest a connection with the offences alleged against the Rosses.

The editor’s response to the Press Council was that the frauds committed by Renshaw Edwards had become a benchmark in the scale of the offences and their local impact. They stood apart from other cases and would inevitably continue to be referred to when instances of professional misconduct arise. The editor stressed again that the article had specifically ruled out a connection between Renshaw Edwards and the case involving the Rosses.

In the view of the Press Council, it was understandable that members of the Renshaw family should have been distressed at the newspaper’s reference to events that they would have wished to be consigned to the past and forgotten. But it could hardly be said the Post had acted unethically or could be found at fault in referring to those events within the setting of a report on allegations of major fraud in the Wellington region.

Since the two men had been released from prison and were re-shaping their lives, it was unfortunate for them and their families that these considerations did not wipe the slate entirely clean.

The magnitude of the offences and their repercussions for their victims and others gave a certain colouration to the case which set it apart from others and would not speedily die away. It remained part of the factual public record to which the newspaper was entitled to refer. Its failure to mention other cases did not affect that circumstance.

The Press Council did not uphold the complaint.

(Ms Suzanne Carty, editor of the Evening Post, and Mr Brent Edwards, political editor of the newspaper, who are both members of the Press Council, were not present at the meeting when the complaint was dealt with.)