Decision of the Complaints Committee 00573-15 Dredger v Braintree and Witham Times
Summary of complaint
Summary of complaint
1. Lorna Dredger complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Braintree and Witham Times had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 3 (Privacy) and Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Surveys undertaken on Chipping Hill to see if safety improvements are needed after fatal crash”, published on 4 February 2015.
2. The article reported that as a result of a collision in which the complainant’s partner had died, road safety officers were carrying out traffic surveys to establish whether safety improvements were needed.
3. The complainant said the police and Essex County Council had informed her that the traffic surveys had nothing to do with the road traffic incident that had involved her partner. She considered that the newspaper had used her partner’s death in order to sensationalise an otherwise mundane story. In addition, she expressed concern that the image used was not of the stretch of road where the collision had taken place.
4. The complainant expressed concern that she had not been informed that the article was to be published and that it had included irrelevant, distressing details. She said the newspaper had contacted her daughter to ask for her views on the safety of the road, which had upset her, and she had asked to be left alone.
5. The newspaper said it was sorry for the distress its article had caused, but there had been no attempt to sensationalise the story. The article was based on the agenda for a Braintree District Local Highways Panel meeting, which was published on the Braintree District Council website. The agenda had said “after the fatality in October 2014, the Road Safety Engineer requested that a PV2 was carried out to assess the footfall at this location”. However, as Essex County Council, the responsible local authority, had since confirmed that the surveys were unconnected to the collision, it published the following correction on page four of the newspaper (where the original article had appeared) and online:
IN a report published in the Witham Times (January 29 2015) titled ‘Safety hope on road where biker killed’, we reported that a road survey was in response to the death of Antonio Dredger. We would like to clarify the report posted online by Braintree District Local Highways Panel was factually incorrect and the survey was unrelated to this incident. We are sorry for any distress this may have caused.”
6. With regards to the photograph, the newspaper said it was a stock image of the road; the article had not stated that the collision had taken place at that exact location.
7. The newspaper said it was not normal practice to contact readers if upcoming stories might affect them directly or indirectly; though, in this instance, it considered it good practice to contact the complainant’s daughter to ask her if she wished to comment before the story was published. She had stated that the road needed a crossing and requested that the newspaper made no further contact with her or her family. The newspaper had refrained from making any further contact.
8. The complainant said the newspaper had not provided her with a draft correction before publication. The correction itself was unsatisfactory because it was too small; it had referred to her partner as Antonio Dredger, rather than Mr Dredger, as requested; and the newspaper had blamed the council for the mistake. She also expressed concern that the original article had been referred to on the newspaper’s Facebook page, but the correction had not.
Relevant Code Provisions
9. Clause 1 (Accuracy)
i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures.
ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and - where appropriate - an apology published. In cases involving the Regulator, prominence should be agreed with the Regulator in advance.
Clause 3 (Privacy)
i) Everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence, including digital communications.
ii) Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual's private life without consent. Account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information.
Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock)
i) In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively. This should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings, such as inquests.
Findings of the Committee
10. The Committee first wished to convey its sympathy to the complainant and her family for their loss, before turning to consider the complaint.
11. The newspaper had been entitled to rely on the accuracy of information regarding the reason for the survey published on a local council website. It had not failed to take care over the accuracy of the information. As such, this point did not raise a breach of Clause 1 (i).
12. It had transpired, however, that the information on the council’s website had been misleading. While the recommendation to carry out traffic surveys had been the result of observations made by Essex County Council during the site visit for the collision, the surveys themselves were not intended to address the causes of the collision, as suggested in the article. The Committee took the view that this was a significant inaccuracy, and therefore the newspaper was obliged, in accordance with the terms of Clause 1 (ii), to correct this promptly and with due prominence.
13. The newspaper had published a correction online and in the next edition of the newspaper. The prompt publication of the correction on page four, where the original article had appeared, and online was sufficient to meet the terms of Clause 1 (ii). The newspaper had been entitled to inform readers in the correction that the council had been the source of the information. It had also been entitled to use the full name of the complainant’s late partner. The article had also been removed from the newspaper’s website. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
14. The Committee noted the complainant’s concern regarding the image that had accompanied the article. The caption, however, had stated that the image was of Chipping Hill, Witham. It had not suggested that the image showed the exact location of the traffic accident. This point did not raise a breach of Clause 1.
15. With regards to the complaint under Clause 3, the Committee sympathised with the complainant’s position that it had been distressing to read about her partner’s accident in the newspaper. The newspaper, however, had been entitled to publish the article, which concerned road safety, an issue of local concern. The article had not disclosed private information about the complainant; as such, there was no breach of Clause 3.
16. The complainant had also raised concerns under Clause 5. The purpose of Clause 5 is to ensure that, in cases involving personal grief or shock, stories are presented appropriately and sensitively, and enquiries are made with sympathy and discretion. Although it was regrettable that the inaccuracy had caused distress, the article itself had not contained insensitive details, nor had its tone or presentation been inappropriate. While the Committee understood that the complainant’s daughter had found the newspaper’s pre-publication phone call intrusive, the call was made four months after the accident. The Committee did not consider that it had been unsympathetic of the newspaper to contact the family for comment at that time, nor had the conduct of the reporter during the phone call been inappropriate. There was also no suggestion that the newspaper had made any further contact when asked to desist. The complaint under Clause 5 was not upheld.
17. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 05/02/2015
Date decision issued: 28/04/2015Back to ruling listing