Due to the high volume of complaints and level of interest, we are providing a summary of our response to complaints about this article and further information which may be helpful.
IPSO has received over 15,000 complaints about an article on the Stonehaven train derailment in the Scottish Sun, published on 13 August and headlined “Death Express”.
We have assessed all complaints individually and each complainant will receive a separate response, though there may be a slight delay in receiving this due to high volumes.
We’ve responded to some of the key elements of the complaints received below, and provide further information which may be useful.
Where complaints relate to harassment concerns, complainants should be assured IPSO has made contact with appropriate parties and will continue to offer its support if required.
Concerns about potential press intrusion
IPSO recognises that there is often press interest in a major incident. Where one is declared, we proactively contact connected organisations such as the police, local resilience forums and hospitals to let them know about the assistance we provide to individuals concerned about press contact. We ask them to pass details on and monitor the situation closely, making a direct approach if possible and appropriate.
IPSO operates a 24-hour anti-harassment advice line offering tailored advice and assistance to anyone concerned about press approaches, and if appropriate can issue a notice to let editors and journalists know that an individual or group of individuals does not want to speak.
More information on help with potential harassment is available here.
Third party complaints
Any incident which results in the tragic loss of life not only has an impact on those directly affected, but on the wider community and beyond. Many people will also have strong feelings about how such an incident is reported in the press.
Under our regulations, IPSO takes forward complaints under Clauses 2 to 16 of the Editors’ Code of Practice – covering issues like privacy, harassment, intrusion into grief or shock – from anyone directly affected by editorial material or a journalist’s behaviour (with their permission, a representative may act on their behalf).
Because complaints made under these clauses generally relate to stories about sensitive or personal issues including bereavement, the party affected must decide whether or not they would like to complain and how to approach any complaint.
For Clause 1 (Accuracy), although anyone can make a complaint about a point of fact, we must also consider the position of those directly affected.
More information on handling third party complaints here.
Taste and offence
Many complainants were concerned that the article, particularly its headline, was offensive. The Editor’s Code does not address issues of taste or offence. It is designed to deal with any possible conflicts between the right to freedom of expression and the rights of individuals, such as their right to privacy.
Newspapers and magazines are free to publish what they think is appropriate so long as the rights of individuals – which are protected under the Code – are not infringed.
While the Code does not cover issues of taste, we welcome the publication’s decision to print a letter from the Editor, apologising for the offence and distress caused by the article.
Reporting on a death
There is often discussion and disagreement about whether and how journalists should approach bereaved people. In some cases, families and friends of the person who has died may choose to get in touch with or speak to journalists. They hope to use media coverage to tell others about what has happened, pay tribute, and sometimes even to campaign to stop the same thing from happening again. In other cases, they may find it difficult to deal with media interest.
Deaths are highly sensitive, but they are matter of public record and may affect a community as well as those who knew the individual personally. Journalists have a basic right to report the fact of a person’s death, but under the Editors’ Code, in cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively. Once someone has asked journalists not to contact them, the journalist(s) should not do so again (unless there is a specific public interest in doing so).
More on the rules around reporting of deaths here.
Some complainants said that the article was inaccurate because they believed that the headline may have misled readers into thinking that the train driver was responsible for the incident. IPSO found that the article made clear the incident was an accident. The article also contained a statement from a representative of the Aslef Train Drivers’ Union, which expressed that “appalling weather conditions” were thought to be at fault in the incident. Where the article did not attribute blame for the crash to the train driver, and made clear that it is believed that adverse weather conditions were responsible for the crash, we found there could be no possible breach of Clause 1.
Reporting on a major incident
There is a public interest in reporting on major incidents. Reporting can make the wider public aware of emerging developments in breaking news stories, can be used to hold public authorities to account over potential failures, and allow families and loved ones the opportunity to pay tribute to the deceased. As such, IPSO upholds the right of the press to report on such incidents but must also ensure that the rights of those directly affected (as set out in the Editors’ Code) are protected.
More information on major incident reporting here.
Other action taken by IPSO
Even where IPSO does not take forward a complaint, our standards department closely monitors these issues. We use the information we gather to identify areas of potential concern to provide targeted interventions to raise press standards. Our team is closely monitoring developments in this area.
More on this work here.