Resolution Statement – 00419-24 Hedges and Baker v Mail Online

Decision: Resolved - IPSO mediation

Resolution Statement – 00419-24 Hedges and Baker v Mail Online

Summary of Complaint

1. Sian Hedges and Sarah Baker complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Mail Online breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 3 (Harassment) and Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Evil Lucy Letby strikes up a friendship with toddler murderer Sian Hedges: Sick child killers are prison pals and enjoy watching 'crime shows and The Traitors' together”, published on 19 January 2024.

2. The article reported that a female prisoner, one of the complainants, had “struck up a friendship” in prison with another inmate. The article stated that a “a source” had said they watched “crime shows and The Traitors together behind bars”.

3. The complainants said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 because they disputed that the complainant in prison was friends with the other inmate. They denied the complainant watched television with the other inmate and said it was not possible for the pair to watch The Traitors together, because the programme aired after they had to return to their cells.

4. The complainants also said the article breached Clause 4 for the same reasons.

5. Additionally, the complainants said the article breached Clause 2 because they believe it included unverified information leaked from a prison. They also said the article breached Clause 3 because it harassed their family.

6. The publication said the article under complaint was based on a story published by another news website, which remained online and which it had reported on in good faith. It said that this meant it was not possible to ascertain whether the article was inaccurate.

7. The publication did not accept Clause 4 had been engaged.

8. The publication did not accept the article breached Clause 2 – it said the friendship between the complainant and the other prisoner was not inherently private. It also denied Clause 3 had been engaged, as it said no one from the publication had made repeated unwanted contact with the complainant.

Relevant Clause Provisions

Clause 1 (Accuracy)

i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.

ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and — where appropriate — an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator.

iii) A fair opportunity to reply to significant inaccuracies should be given, when reasonably called for.

iv) The Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.

Clause 2 (Privacy)*

i) Everyone is entitled to respect for their private and family life, home, physical and mental health, and correspondence, including digital communications.

ii) Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual's private life without consent. In considering an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy, account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information and the extent to which the material complained about is already in the public domain or will become so.

iii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals, without their consent, in public or private places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Clause 3 (Harassment)*

i) Journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit.

ii) They must not persist in questioning, telephoning, pursuing or photographing individuals once asked to desist; nor remain on property when asked to leave and must not follow them. If requested, they must identify themselves and whom they represent.

iii) Editors must ensure these principles are observed by those working for them and take care not to use non-compliant material from other sources.

Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock)

In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively. These provisions should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings.

Mediated Outcome

9. The complaint was not resolved through direct correspondence between the parties. IPSO therefore began an investigation into the matter.

10. During IPSO’s investigation the publication offered to remove the online article, and offered to print the following correction:

“An article published on 19th January, which followed up on a story published in [another publication], reported that Sian Hedges had struck up a friendship with Lucy Letby while they are both being held at Bronzefield Prison. We have been contacted by a representative of Ms Hedges who says the article is incorrect. We are happy to make their position clear, and have removed the claims from MailOnline.”

11. The complainants said that this would resolve the matter to their satisfaction.

12. As the complaint was successfully mediated, the Complaints Committee did not make a determination as to whether there had been any breach of the Code.

Date complaint received: 21/01/2024

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 09/04/2024

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