Decision of the Complaints Committee – 01139-20 Wood v Grimsby Telegraph
Summary of Complaint
1. Paul Wood complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Grimsby Telegraph breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief and shock) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “HEARTACHE AS TEEN LEFT IN 'DREAM STATE' AFTER CAR CRASH / 'She hasn't woken up and is in a dream state'”, published on 21 February 2020.
2. The article reported on a “19 year old” “teen” who had been involved in a car crash. It said that a “Cleethorpes woman” had initially been in a coma after the incident, and was now in a “dream state” and had potential brain damage. The article also detailed the police force’s appeals for witnesses to come forward. It also contained several comments made by the woman’s father and close friend on Facebook, which thanked friends and family for their support and gave updates on the woman’s condition. The article also included several photographs of the woman.
3. The article appeared online in substantially the same form under the headline “Heartache over teenage driver in 'dream state' after suffering brain injury in car crash”.
4. The complainant, the father of the woman who had been involved in the car crash, said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. He said that she was 20, not 19 as reported, and the newspaper had inaccurately reported the place where she lived.
5. The complainant said that the article had breached Clause 2, as his Facebook had been set to private and therefore his comments were private and should not have been used. He also said it was an invasion of privacy to use photographs from social media and to run the story without the family’s consent.
6. The complainant also said that the article had intruded into his and his family’s grief and shock in breach of Clause 4 by posting pictures of the scene of the car crash which they previously had not seen and by posting the story without consent. He said that when contacted by the newspaper, he had not responded, which the newspaper should have understood to mean that he did not want the story to be published. He was also concerned that when he complained to the newspaper about them publishing the story, it did not remove it, and then other newspapers reported on it. He also said that the publication had acted without sensitivity, as a family member was told by the publication that the sister of the complainant’s daughter had spoken to a reporter when she had not.
7. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that the difference in age and the incorrect address did not constitute significant inaccuracies, however it was willing to correct the online article accordingly. It also said that it had contacted the complainant and the complainant’s daughter’s boyfriend prior to publication but received no response.
8. The publication said that the details of the incident had come from police press releases which were appealing for witnesses, and from public social media posts and comments. It provided screenshots of comments made on Facebook by the complainant. Some of these were posted on the wall of the complainant’s daughter’s friend, whose Facebook page was not private. Another one of the published comments had been taken from a heading on the complainant’s profile picture, which could be seen by the public.
9. The newspaper apologised for the distress caused by the publication of images showing the location of the accident, which the complainant and members of the family had not previously seen, but it noted that these were taken from Google Maps using the location that had been published in the police press report. It also apologised for the conversation held between the complainant’s wife and the publication, but said that this was a genuine misunderstanding: the person who worked for the newspaper had got the story confused with another, and that the sister of the complainant’s daughter had not spoken to anyone at the publication.
Relevant Clause Provisions
10. 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.
11. Clause 2 (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. 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.
12. 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.
Findings of the Committee
13. Firstly, the Committee acknowledged and expressed sympathies to the complainant due to the distressing circumstances.
14. The Committee understood the complainant was upset by the publication of the article, and his concern that he had not consented to its publication. However the Editors’ Code does not require that consent is obtained from the subject of an article or their family before a newspaper can report on a story. In cases of grief or shock, Clause 4 states that enquiries and approaches are made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively.
15. In this instance, the article reported on an accident that had been made public by a police press release, which had also called for witnesses. The tone of the article was not insensitive: it gave a factual account of the car crash and subsequent police appeal for witnesses, as well as containing the comments from social media from friends and family.
16. Whilst the Committee noted that seeing images of the location of the car crash was distressing for the complainant and his family, these images had been taken from Google Maps and simply showed where the car accident had taken place, rather than any graphic images of the accident itself. The publication of these images was not insensitive in breach of Clause 4. In addition, the phone call between the publication and the complainant’s wife had been the product of an unfortunate misunderstanding for which the publication had apologised. While the Committee recognised that it had caused upset, this did not represent a breach of Clause 4.
17. The Committee noted that the complainant had not consented to the publication of his comments or the photographs of his daughter in the article. However, his comments had been taken from a public Facebook page and his Facebook profile picture, which was open to public view. The comments expressed thanks for the concern and messages that had been given by family and friends, and gave brief details on his daughter’s condition. By sharing information about his daughter in comments he made on a social media post which was open to public view, the complainant had put his comments in the public domain and they contained no information about which he had a reasonable expectation of privacy. The article did not disclose private information about the complainant in breach of Clause 2.
18. The article had stated that the complainant’s daughter was 19, when she was 20 and that she was from a town around seven miles away from the place in which she lived. In these circumstances, and within the context of the article, the errors were not significantly misleading and there was no breach of Clause 1. However, the Committee welcomed the amendment offered by the publication.
19. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 21/02/2020
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 26/05/2020Back to ruling listing