A complaint by a member of the public against King William Fortified Wine was upheld by the alcohol industry’s Independent Complaints Panel (Panel). A copy of the full decision is available here.

The drink is produced by Belcondie and the complaint was upheld for causing serious offence.

The Panel noted that King William of Orange was a historical British monarch and that in some communities, his image and certain events associated with him, could be intrinsically linked to sectarianism, especially in Scotland and Northern Ireland. As part of its discussion, the Panel noted that sectarianism still caused serious conflict in some areas of the UK today. The Panel discussed the meaning of symbolism and noted that in this particular instance, there would be some individuals who would celebrate King William of Orange and others who would find reference to him offensive, meaning that the overall impression conveyed by the packaging was very important.

The Panel noted that the product had an alcohol by volume (ABV) strength of 16.90% which was an unusual presentation of a drink’s ABV, as UK labelling legislation stipulated it should be presented to one decimal place. The Panel considered that the ABV was intentionally presented in this manner to associate it with a year, particularly in the context that it appeared five times on the packaging. The producer explained that 16.90 had been used as a reference to the 1690 Distilling Act. However, the Panel considered it would be far more likely to be understood by consumers as a reference to the year when the Battle of the Boyne took place; a significant event in British history that was a key turning point in terms of its ramifications for religious and political views, particularly in relation to sectarianism. The Panel considered this in the context of the product packaging which also incorporated the colour orange, imagery of King William on horseback as though leading his troops into battle, above the description of the product as “fortified” and repetition of 16.90 beyond factually communicating the drink’s ABV.

The Panel stated that while King William of Orange, in and of himself as a monarch, did not cause serious offence, the combination of elements on the label were likely to be divisive and inflammatory, fuelling division in certain communities where religiously aggravated crime was prevalent. The Panel therefore concluded that the presentation of the packaging, particularly the overt references where the product’s ABV had been used to signify a year that linked the product, and King William, to a specific conflict associated with sectarianism, was likely to cause serious offence to certain communities. The complaint was therefore upheld under Code rule 3.3.

Commenting on the decision, the Chair of the Independent Complaints Panel, Nicola Williams, said: “The overall impression of a product should always be considered carefully and in this instance, it was a combination of elements that when considered together, created a clear link to sectarianism in a manner that could still be considered divisive and inflammatory today. I welcome the producer’s intention to make changes to the product packaging and encourage other producers to note how a combination of factors can lead to a breach of the Code.”