· Decision of the Complaints Committee 00588-15 Burbage Council v The Hinckley Times
Summary of complaint
1. Burbage Parish Council (Leicestershire) complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Hinckley Times breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Dispute over grave plots after burial of Gypsy”, published on 5 February 2015.
2. The article reported on a dispute over grave plots at Burbage Cemetery, following the burial of Shadrack Smith in the grave adjacent to the grave of a Muslim man. The first sentence of the article stated that “A Romany Gypsy family face having to exhume the body of a recently-buried relative because of a row over grave plots at Burbage Cemetery”. It reported the comments of Mr Smith’s daughter-in-law, who said that “I think [the Muslim family] were under the impression it was a Muslim plot but it isn’t”. The article went on to report her comment that “we don’t want any of the bodies exhuming but it looks like that might happen”. The article contained a statement from the chairman of the Parish Council in which he said that representations from both families had been received, and that the Council was working with both families to reach an “amicable and acceptable solution”.
3. The complainant said that the Council had not considered the exhumation of Mr Smith. The newspaper had not simply reported the family’s comments, but had adopted their concerns as fact. The Council denied that the newspaper had mentioned the family’s claim about exhumation when seeking comments from a representative of the Council.
4. The newspaper said that it had received an email from Mr Smith’s son following a meeting of the Council on 2 February at which the dispute was discussed. This email referenced the possibility of exhumation. The newspaper then telephoned Mr Smith’s daughter-in-law, who also referenced the family’s concern that Mr Smith might be exhumed. The newspaper then contacted the Council to provide it with an opportunity to reply. It said that the reporter specifically mentioned the family’s fear in relation to exhumation. The Council said that it could not answer questions over the phone, but would provide a statement via email. This statement was then included in the article.
5. The newspaper published a follow-up article which reported that the dispute had been resolved. This article included the Council’s denial that there had ever been any suggestion that Mr Smith’s body would have to be exhumed. The newspaper offered to publish a clarification to the article under complaint which would state that the newspaper “have been asked to make clear by Burbage Parish Council that at no stage did they consider or specify that exhumation was a possibility”.
Relevant Code Provisions
6. 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.
iii.) The Press, whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
Findings of the Committee
7. There was no dispute as to the nature of the Smith family’s concerns, which the newspaper was entitled to report on. As was appropriate, the newspaper had contacted the Council for its comments on the dispute. The Committee was unable to reconcile the newspaper’s and Council’s claims about whether the newspaper had raised the family’s specific concern about exhumation in seeking the Council’s response. Nevertheless, the Council had responded to the newspaper’s inquiry by providing a written statement about the dispute generally, which had been included in the article. This statement made clear the Council’s position that it was seeking an “amicable and acceptable solution” to the dispute. The article did not claim that the Council had proposed exhuming Mr Smith’s body, but was an accurate report of the family’s concerns. The article distinguished clearly between comment, conjecture and fact. There was no breach of Clause 1.
8. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 09/02/2015
Date decision Issued: 01/06/2015Back to ruling listing