· Decision of the Complaints Committee 02096-14 Webber v The Daily Telegraph
Summary of complaint
Summary of complaint
1. Deborah Webber complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Daily Telegraph had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Should we have jailed this teen girl for life for killing a violent man”, published on 13 November 2014.
2. The article reported that Stacey Hyde was appealing her conviction for the murder of the complainant’s brother, Vincent Francis. Mr Francis had been involved in an altercation with his partner in their home, after Ms Hyde and Mr Francis’ partner had returned from a nights’ drinking. It explained that Ms Hyde had intervened during that incident, and that she had had stabbed Mr Francis to death.
3. The article detailed comments made by Stacey Hyde, and family members, in advance of the appeal. It set out the basis on which Ms Hyde and her supporters believed her original conviction was unsafe.
4. Shortly after publication of the article, Ms Hyde’s appeal was allowed by the Court of Appeal, which ordered a retrial.
5. The complainant said the article had set out to inaccurately portray Vincent Francis as a violent man. Mr Francis had not been held responsible for 27 separate incidents of domestic violence. Further, the article had failed to report that Ms Hyde could be violent when angry. The complainant was also concerned about a reference to the Mr Francis’ flat – which she believed had suggested that the flat was owned by his partner – as well as the statement that his partner had called out for help; in fact she had called out Ms Hyde’s name.
6. The complainant was also concerned that comments from individuals quoted in the article were misleading. These suggested that Ms Hyde would not harm other individuals; that she had no previous criminal convictions, when the complainant said she had received a juvenile caution for shoplifting; that Mr Francis had a long history of violence against women; and that Ms Hyde had received injuries during the confrontation which lead to Mr Francis’ death. These comments were attributed to Ms Hyde’s aunt, and a Justice for Women campaigner.
7. The complainant said that, in the context of the distressing circumstances of her brother’s death, the inaccuracies in the article represented a separate breach of Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock) of the Editors’ Code.
8. The newspaper said that the original trial had heard substantial evidence that Mr Francis was routinely violent towards his partner. The prosecution had accepted the defence’s position that there were 27 separate incidents of domestic violence, and the Judge had referred to evidence that Mr Francis was violent in his summing up. The Forensic Medical Examiner had given evidence that Ms Hyde had received multiple injuries. The newspaper explained that the details from the original trial had been provided by a source who attended those proceedings in full. The newspaper had also relied upon an account of the original trial prepared for the Court of Appeal, and contemporaneous news reports.
9. The newspaper said that the article had not referred to Mr Francis’ partner owning the flat – it simply referred to her living there, which was accurate. It did not accept that the complainant’s contention about the “shout for help” could amount to a significant inaccuracy. While Ms Hyde had received a juvenile caution for shoplifting she had no previous criminal convictions. It was clear that comments from named individuals represented the views of those closely involved in the campaign to have Ms Hyde’s conviction overturned.
10. The complainant did not appear to dispute that this evidence was given in court; however, she maintained that the claims had not been proven and were based solely on hearsay.
Relevant Code Provisions
11.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 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
12. It was entirely understandable that the complainant was distressed by reference to evidence which suggested that Mr Francis had been violent. Nonetheless, the newspaper was entitled to discuss the forthcoming appellate proceedings, in the context of a report of the campaign to overturn Ms Hyde’s conviction: these were matters of public interest. In any case, the newspaper was able to publish matters put into the public domain by the original trial.
13. The Committee recognised the complainant’s position that the specific allegations about Mr Francis’ conduct were based on evidence which she described as “hearsay”; that Mr Francis had not been found responsible for incidences of domestic violence, nor arrested in relation to these; and that claims made by the defence – including the specific allegation about 27 separate incidences of domestic violence – had not been proven.
14. Nonetheless, she did not dispute that these had been claims heard in evidence during the original trial, and were not disputed by the prosecution. The newspaper was entitled to report details of that evidence. The account of the proceedings it published clearly focused on the defendant’s position in light of the forthcoming appeal. In this context, the manner in which the evidence had been reported did not represent a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article.
15. The fact that Mr Francis’ partner had cried out Ms Hyde’s name as opposed to an explicit cry for help did not amount to a significant inaccuracy; neither did the concern that readers might have been misled as to the ownership of the flat. The Committee noted the complainant’s position that Ms Hyde had received a juvenile caution for shoplifting. However, it did not consider that the reference to her having no previous convictions raised a breach of Clause 1; given the nature of the offence, the caution had no bearing on the case.
16. It was clear from the article that the individuals quoted were supporters of the campaign for Ms Hyde’s conviction to be overturned. In this context, the comments made in support of her character and appeal did not breach Clause 1; they were clearly characterised as individual comment.
17. In light of the Committee’s findings regarding accuracy. the publication of the details identified in the above paragraphs was not insensitive. The complaint under Clause 5 was not upheld.
18. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 28/11/2014Date decision issued: 19/02/2015 Back to ruling listing