Dr Sarah Wollaston MP complained to the Press Complaints Commission about the publication by The Sun of a story and images on the subject of a "devil mark" on a four-year-old child. Dr Wollaston was concerned not only about the possible impact on the child, but also that others might be encouraged to come forward with similar stories on the basis that they could receive payment. She did not believe that publication was in the interest of the child, and felt the Sun should have been more careful in its presentation of the story. In particular, the references to the devil and the occult in relation to a clearly identified child. The appearance of the story on the front page only exacerbated these concerns.
In response to the complaint, the Sun met with both Dr Wollaston and the Children's Commissioner for England. It explained the circumstances surrounding publication, including the fact that the parents - who had approached the newspaper via an agency - had been paid. The newspaper recognised the concerns that had been expressed to it, the difficulties inherent in balancing duties of care with relevant freedoms of publication, and reviewed its internal procedures.
As a result, The Sun committed to ensuring that, in future: all significant stories involving minors should be discussed and approved by the legal and managing editors' office; any front page coverage of children will be given especial consideration with regard to the interests of the child; and payments involving children would be signed off by the legal and managing editors' office. The newspaper said that much of this reflected current practice, but it has now become part of formal procedure.
On reflection, The Sun accepted that the presentation of its story raised valid issues. It accepted that there were legitimate concerns around the tone and prominence, which had been intended as light-hearted and fanciful, but had been clearly received by many in a different spirit. The Sun publicly recommitted to its basic principles of journalism in support of children and their rights. In particular, The Sun stated that it will not make payments for images that might improperly impact on the welfare of the child. It expressed gratitude to Dr Wollaston and the Children's Commissioner for the manner in which the relevant issues had been raised, and the opportunity to learn valuable lessons for the future.
The newspaper agreed to publish the following statement on page 2 of the newspaper:
"The Sun is proud of our record standing up for children and we believe we make a real difference. We have listened to the concerns about a story we ran on 29th July headlined "Boy, 4, has mark of devil" and we accept that, on this occasion, we didn't get it right. As a result, we have tightened our procedures on all stories involving children, including the issue of paying parents". This would be followed by a link to the above agreed summary of the complaint.