Decision of the Complaints Committee 03051-18 McGurk v mirror.co.uk
Summary of complaint
1. Cara McGurk complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that mirror.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock) and Clause 6 (Children) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Boy, 7, collapses and dies hours after celebrating brother's 10th birthday party at soft play centre” , published on 10 April 2018.
2. The article, published on a Wednesday, reported on the sudden death of a young child the preceding Saturday. The article named the child and was illustrated with a photograph of him. It reported that “tributes pour in for tragic seven-year-old, said that it was understood that the child and his family had been “celebrating his brother’s 10th birthday when the tragedy occurred”.
3. The article was also illustrated with a photograph of the child’s mother. It reported that she was “being supported by family members and specialist police officers at her home”.
4. The article was published in substantially the same form online, under the headline: “Tragic seven-year-old collapses and dies just hours after celebrating older brother’s birthday”, and was published on 10 April 2018.
5. The complainant, the child’s paternal aunt, said that publication had been handled insensitively. She expressed concern that the newspaper had published details concerning the child, which had not been formally released by the police, and without parental consent. She said that the publication of the article had caused further distress at a difficult time for the family, and had been intrusive.
6. The complainant said that although close immediate family members had been informed, at the time the article had been published, some family members and friends had been unaware of the child’s death, which had occurred three days earlier. She said that some of these people had found out about the child’s death after seeing the article in print and having been circulated on social media.
7. The complainant said that the photographs of the child and his mother were private. She said that she had no idea how the photos were obtained by the press, but said that no consent was given by the parents for them to be published. She suggested that the photographs may have been obtained from the child’s mother’s Facebook page, but said that she had privacy settings on her account at the time the article was published. The complainant also noted that the child’s father had never used or been active or any social media sites.
8. The complainant said it was inaccurate to report that the child’s mother had been comforted by the police at her home; no such support was received by her either at her home, or elsewhere. She said that the police dealt with the child’s father, his direct family or herself. The complainant also raised concern that the article had disclosed private details of the child’s older brother, namely his age and the fact that it had been his birthday, without parental consent.
9. The newspaper expressed its sincere condolences for the complainant’s loss, but said that it did not accept that the article represented a breach of the Code. It clarified that the two photographs had been obtained from the child’s mother’s Facebook page: it said that at the time of publication her profile was open to seen by the public. It provided screenshots taken at the time of publication, which it said demonstrated that her profile was set to a “public” setting. One of the screenshots disclosed the photograph of the child in its original, before it had been cropped to remove another family member. Another screenshot disclosed the mother’s profile picture, which, similarly to the photograph published in the article, revealed her likeness.
10. The newspaper said that at the time of the child’s death, the police published an operational note, which stated: “Police in Edinburgh are requesting privacy on behalf of a family whose child sadly died”. It said that given that the operational note stated that the police were dealing with the “family”, and it had been specifically requested by the police that the family were not to be contacted, it was reported that the child’s mother had been assisted by the police.
11. While the newspaper did not accept that the article’s claim represented a significant inaccuracy, as a gesture of goodwill it offered to amend the online copy and add a footnote clarification in order to address the complainant's concerns:
A previous version of this article suggested that the specialist Edinburgh Police assisting the family of Harris McGurk visited their family homes. We have been asked to clarify that the Police did not visit the parents of Harris’ properties at any time.
Relevant Code Provisions
12. 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.
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. Account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information.
iii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals, without their consent, in public or private places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.
Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or
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.
Clause 6 (Children)
i) All pupils should be free to complete their time at school without unnecessary intrusion.
ii) They must not be approached or photographed at school without permission of the school authorities.
iii) Children under 16 must not be interviewed or photographed on issues involving their own or another child’s welfare unless a custodial parent or similarly responsible adult consents.
Findings of the Committee
13. The Committee first wished to express its sincere condolences for the complainant, and her family’s, loss.
14. The Committee acknowledged
that the complainant and her family had been distressed at the reporting of the
child’s death. The Committee wished to explain that journalists have a right to
report the fact of a person’s death; a person’s death may have an impact on
communities, as well as individuals, and as such constitute a legitimate
subject for reporting. The Editors Code of Practice does not prevent them from
using any photos of the people who have died. However, the Code also makes
clear that journalists should approach such stories with sensitivity, and give
appropriate consideration to the feelings of the recently bereaved.
15. Clause 4 says that in cases
involving personal grief, publication should be handled sensitively; immediate
family members should not expect to be made aware of the death of a family
member by the publication of an article. In this instance, immediate family
members were aware of the child’s death at the time of the article’s
publication. Further, the Committee noted that the article had been published
three days after the tragedy had occurred. In those circumstances, and where
the article did not contain gratuitous detail of the circumstances surrounding
the child’s death, the Committee did not conclude that the report of the
child’s death represented a failure to handle publication sensitively. There
was no breach of Clause 4.
16. The two photographs published
in the article had been obtained from the child’s mother’s Facebook page. The
screenshots provided by the newspaper had demonstrated that the contents of her
social media account were available to be viewed by the newspaper, including
the photograph, at the time of the article’s publication. The second photograph
published by the newspaper had disclosed the child’s mother’s likeness: it did
not disclose any private or personal information about her, and the Committee
noted that similar photographs remained accessible to be viewed by the public
on her Facebook account.
17. Taking into consideration the
nature of the information disclosed in the photographs, and the manner in which
they had been obtained, the Committee did not establish that the publication of
these images represented an intrusion into the mother’s private life. The
publication of these images did not represent a breach of Clause 2.
18. The reported information
relating to the child’s sibling was limited to his age and the fact that he had
been celebrating his birthday at the time the tragedy occurred. The Committee
noted that the article had not revealed his name or other personal details. In
those circumstances the Committee did not consider that the publication of the
article represented a failure to respect the child’s sibling’s private life, or
was an unnecessary intrusion into his time at school. There was no breach of
Clause 2 or Clause 6.
19. The operational notice
published by the police had not specified that the child’s mother was receiving
specialist support at her home; however, it had made clear that the family were
receiving assistance from the authorities. In those circumstances, it was not a
failure to take care over the accuracy of the article to report that the mother
was specifically receiving support from the police. While the Committee
acknowledged the family’s concerns, in the context of the article as a whole,
the Committee did not establish that the published claim represented a
significant inaccuracy which required correction. Notwithstanding this, the
Committee welcomed the newspaper’s offer to amend the article and publish a
footnote online. There was no breach of Clause 1.
20. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial action required
Date complaint received: 12/04/2018
Date decision issued: 07/08/2018