Sunday, 1 October 2017

Complaint to Financial Times

As I have posted previously, I believe that the portrait which the National Portrait Gallery has authenticated as being by James Northcote of Mrs Smith and dated 1803 to be a fake.

I have complained to the Financial Times without success. Today I took my complaint to Mr Greg Callus who is the Financial Times' editorial complaints commissioner. 

(You may not be aware, as I was not, that membership of IPSO, the successor to the Press Compaints Commission is entirely voluntary. The Financial Times therefore has decided to regulate itself.)

You can read more about this in this Guardian article HERE

As you can see HERE Mr Callus has generally found in favour of the newspaper. 

Let's see what he decides about my complaint. 

You can read the text of my complaint below:

Dear Mr Callus,

I wish to make a formal complaint regarding the article titled 'Me, Mrs Smith and the mysterious Jane Austen' which featured in the Financial Times earlier this year, published online on 30 March 2017 and in print on 01 April 2017.

The article was written by the Financial Times journalist Anjana Ahuja and recounts how she allegedly purchased a portrait at auction which she subsequently discovered to have a direct bearing on another portrait, in private ownership, which is believed by its owners and many others to be a portrait of Jane Austen as a girl. 

I believe that the painting which Ms Ahuja claims to be a portrait of 'Mrs Smith' by James Northcote painted in 1803 to be a fake. I also believe the story published in your paper is a fabrication. It is my belief that Anjana Ahuja, her husband Tom Parker and Jacob Simon, former Chief Curator of 18th Century Collections at the National Portrait Gallery, have colluded to pass off a portrait as being by James Northcote and dated 1803, when in fact it is not. The purpose was to descredit and devalue the portrait claimed to be of Austen, commonly known as the Rice Portrait. It is undoubtedly the case that this article published in the Financial Times has had a substantially detrimental effect on the value of the Rice Portrait, particularly given the prominence of the article in the Financial Times' Weekend Edition and online.

The reasons I believe the article by Anjana Ahuja to be untrue are as follows:

1. Ms Ahuja claims that she and her husband did not previously know Jacob Simon of the National Portrait Gallery. Yet the email held in the NPG archives which purports to be the first contact between them opens 'Dear Jacob' and closes 'Tom'. As Mr Parker's email address gives no indication as to his identity it is not credible that he would have addressed Mr Simon or signed of in this informal fashion it they were not known to each other. Indeed, if they did not know each other then how would Mr Simon know who 'Tom' was? 

2. Ms Ahuja claims to have attended the auction for 'a speculative look' and refers to the painting being in the boot of her car. If she had really attended either a viewing or the auction itself then she would have known that the portrait she claims to be of Mrs Smith was one of a pair. Neither she or her husband make any reference to this companion portrait in their initial correspondence with Mr Simon, despite the fact that the existence of this second portrait casts serious doubt on her portrait being Mrs Smith. Both pictures show scuffing in the same area, where the Northcote signature is placed on the portrait of 'Mrs Smith'. 

3. Had Ms Ahuja been in the auction room as she claimed then it is impossible that the previous lot would have escaped her attention. She would undoubtedly have known that this companion portrait was the previous lot and she would have known how much it sold for. Records in the National Portrait Gallery indicate she did not know how much the companion portrait fetched at auction. She stated that it sold  for more than her own portrait when in fact it sold for a mere £300.

4. Ms Ahuja made no attempt to contact the owners of the Rice Portrait until the day before she was due to submit her article for publication. If she was truly impartial she would, as a journalist, have sought both sides of the story as it is clear from even a cursory search online that Jacob Simon has a long standing history of campaigning against the Rice Portrait.

5. Ms Ahuja refuses to allow her picture to be examined and she also refuses to provide high resolution images of the Legg stamp and the excise stamp on the back of the portrait. Her reluctance to do so is inexplicable if she is an innocent party in this long running dispute, as she claims. 

6. The National Portrait Gallery have told me that Jacob Simon did not take any images of the Legg stamp or the excise stamp when he verified the picture as being of Mrs Smith. Neither did he write an authentication report. Mr Simon has campaigned against the Rice Portrait for decades. It is utterly implausible that he would not take images of this picture if it is as claimed and could vindicate his long standing campaign against the Rice Portrait.

I acknowledge that the Financial Times could not have known at the time of publication that the picture is a fake and Ms Ahuja's story a fabrication. However, I do not believe that the FT have dealt adequately with my subsequent complaint, nor have the issues that I raised been investigated. Indeed it seems to me that the Financial Times has been content to accept Ms Ahuja's version of events without question.

I believe that Ms Anjana Ahuja has clearly breached the FT's editorial code of practice in publishing this story and I am therefore requesting that you fully investigate my complaint. If Ms Ahuja, Mr Simon or the Financial Times believes that my statements are in any way defamatory as the Financial Times has alleged, then this should be challenged through the proper legal procedure of an action for defamation, in which case I would defend my statements as being true; my honestly held opinion and made in the public interest.  

Yours sincerely,

Ellie Bennett

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