01293-20 Garner v Mail Online

Decision: No breach - after investigation

Decision of the Complaints Committee 01293-20 Garner v Mail Online

Summary of complaint

1. Mandy Garner complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Mail Online breached Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “EXCLUSIVE: Shocking moment young woman is killed by speeding hit-and-run driver escaping police - as she is flung 20 feet into the air and lands in front of horrified onlookers at London bus stop”, published on 20 February 2020.

2. The article reported that a young woman had died the night before after being hit by a speeding car. It described the woman as having been “catapulted 20 feet in the air” and then was “flung across the road”. The article included a video of the incident, which showed the woman crossing the road as the speeding car drove towards her. The video did not show the moment that the woman was hit by the car, but instead cut to a different angle showing the moments after she was struck. From this angle, the video showed a pixilated image of the woman’s body as she was being attended to by members of the public before the arrival of the emergency services. The article reported that the video was CCTV footage from a local newsagent and was provided to the publication “in a bid to help trace” the driver of the car, who had failed to stop at the scene. It included a statement from the police confirming the details of the incident, and that the police itself were under investigation for their role in the events prior to the collision. It said that the woman’s next of kin were in the process of being informed.

3. The complainant was the mother of the woman who died. She said that the publication of the video in the article was extremely distressing to her and her family and represented a breach of Clause 4. She said that she was not informed that the video would be published and was only made aware of its existence after she was contacted by a friend of her daughter. She said that it was not the case that the publication could justify publishing the video on the basis that it would bring forward witnesses – it was her understanding that the publication had been asked by the police not to publish the video as it would cause the family distress. As such, she said that the inclusion of the video in the article was gratuitous, and the decision to publish it was taken despite it knowing that this would upset her and her family.

4. During IPSO’s investigation, the complainant contacted her family liaison officer to confirm her understanding of events. The officer confirmed that the publication had contacted the police about the video, and the police had asked for it not to be published as it was its opinion that it was insensitive. When the publication refused, it asked for the moment of collision to be edited out, and publication delayed until the officer had met with the family. The complainant said that her meeting with her family liaison officer took place after the video had been added to the article. At this meeting, the officer mentioned that there could be media coverage, but the complainant said she did not recall being told that there was CCTV footage, or that a video would be published. She reiterated that she was only made aware of its existence the following day, after she was contacted by a friend of her daughter.

5. The publication offered its condolences to the family but did not accept that the inclusion of the video breached Clause 4. It said that although it accepted that the video would be very upsetting to the family, consideration had been given to the terms of Clause 4, and it had taken steps to minimise the intrusion into the family’s grief. It said that it had included parts of the video with the intention that they may prompt readers to come forward with information that may help locate the driver of the car; this was made clear in the article. It said that only the outline of the woman was visible, and she was not identifiable – in contrast, it said that the car was quite clear. Furthermore, it noted that there was an ongoing investigation into the police’s role in the events prior to the incident; it was reasonable to include the video as part of the examination of what had happened. In order to demonstrate the consideration given to its obligations under Clause 4 prior to publication, it provided an internal email from the newsdesk to the editorial compliance department, asking for advice on the video. The editorial compliance department said that it thought the video was “fine” and that there was a public interest in showing the circumstances prior to the incident. In that correspondence, the publication had also referred to a previous IPSO decision, which related to a video of a person being struck by a car which also did not include the moment of impact, and noted that this decision was not upheld by the Committee as a breach of Clause 4.

6. The publication said that when the reporter obtained the footage, he contacted the police. During the course of IPSO’s investigation, it provided a statement from a police officer which showed that the officer who had been approached by the reporter had asked him not to publish the video as it would upset the family. Although the publication did not agree to this request, it said that it would delay publication until the family had been informed. The police originally asked for four hours to inform the family; the newspaper said that this was not possible and said that the video would be published in approximately one hour. The statement provided by the police said that an officer had spoken with the woman’s father on the phone to inform him that an edited video would be published, and that the officer had confirmed to the reporter that this had taken place. As such, it said that it was satisfied that the family were aware that the video would be published prior to publication. The publication said that when it was contacted by a member of the woman’s family, it removed the video, and said that it would be happy to lend its resources to removing any third-party copies of the video if they were brought to its attention.

Relevant Code Provisions

7. 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

8. The Committee expressed its sincere condolences to the complainant and her family for the loss of her daughter.

9. The Committee carefully considered whether the publication had complied with the terms of Clause 4, both in relation to the content of the video itself, and the circumstances in which it was published,  which included the timing and the publication’s contact with police before publication.

10. The Committee recognised that the publication of the video of this nature was highly sensitive, particularly so soon after the death and considered first whether its publication in itself breached the terms of Clause 4. The Committee noted the nature of the footage.  The video was of poor quality and had been edited in such a way that it did not show the moment of impact. The complainant’s daughter was not readily recognisable from the footage as the woman involved in the incident. Furthermore, the images, which had been taken from a public place, did not show the extent or nature of her injuries. While the Committee acknowledged the family’s position that the footage should not have been published in any form, it concluded that the publication of the video, as a part of a news report on the incident, in itself did not breach Clause 4.

11. The Committee also considered whether the timing of publication and contacts between the publication and the police prior to publication had complied with Clause 4. The publication had independently obtained the footage shortly after the incident had taken place and had shared it with the police. The complainant said that the family had not been aware of the footage before publication, which was extremely regrettable. However, the publication had supplied correspondence which showed that it had received confirmation from police before publication that the family had been informed. While the Committee noted that the police had originally requested that the video should not be published, the terms of Clause 4 do not require editors to comply with requests by police of this nature. While the Committee expressed concern about the relatively short time frame that had been provided for the police to inform the family prior to publication, on balance it concluded that the publication had adequately met the requirements of Clause 4.

Conclusions

12. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action

13. N/A

Date complaint received: 29/02/20

Date decision issued: 28/09/20

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