Decision of the Complaints Committee 03052-18 McGurk v Daily Record
Summary of complaint
complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily
Record 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 “Rest in Paradise Wee Dude”, published on 10 April
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
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 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
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
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
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