Decision of the Complaints Committee 03053-18 McGurk v Edinburgh Evening News
Summary of complaint
1. Cara McGurk complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Edinburgh Evening News 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 “Uncle: ‘I still can’t believe he’s gone’ after seven year-old dies”, published on 11 April 2018.
2. The article, published on a Wednesday, reported on the sudden death of a young child the preceding Saturday. It reported that “emotional tributes were paid to a seven-year-old boy who collapsed at an Edinburgh bus stop and died despite frantic attempts to save him”. The article named the child and said that “it was claimed yesterday that he fell ill while heading home from a soft play party, reported to have been in celebration of his older brother’s tenth birthday”. It also reported that it was “understood his mother is being supported by family members and specialist police officers at home”.
3. The article reported testimony from members of the public who had witnessed the incident. One witness, who was not named, stated: “I could see an ambulance and a wee boy getting CPR. There was a man and a woman there with two younger children… It’s such a shame for the family and so sad that the two little ones saw it”. The article also reported comments concerning the boy’s death, posted by his family members on social media.
4. 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. The complainant said it had been particularly distressing for the family to read witness testimony which disclosed details of attempts by the emergency services to resuscitate the boy.
5. The complainant said it was inaccurate to report that the child’s mother had been comforted by 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 disputed the claim made by the witness that “two younger children” had been present at the scene of the child’s death. She said that, in fact, the child’s father, one of his brothers, his father’s partner and her two young children had been present on the day.
6. The complainant said that the article had disclosed details about the child’s siblings which were intrusive. She said 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.
7. The newspaper expressed its condolences for the loss that the complainant and her family had suffered. It said that as the local newspaper, it had a duty to report on tragic events within its community, but recognised that it was vital that such reporting should be conducted in a sensitive and responsible way.
8. It said that the suggestion that the child’s mother was receiving support at her home, came from other media reports, which it checked with the police press office before repeating. It said that it was normal in such circumstances to receive both an on-the-record and off-the-record response from the police press office. It said that reporters had called the police press office at various stages in an effort to check particular details, including the claim relating to the support received by the mother, as more information about what happened became available. While the newspaper did not consider that this claim represented a significant inaccuracy, it offered to print the following correction:
On 11 April we reported that the mother of Harris McGurk was receiving support at home from specialist police officers following the death of her son. We have been asked to point out that this was not the case. We apologise for the error and any upset caused.
9. The newspaper said that publication was handled sensitively. It said that the emphasis of the article was on tributes to the child and expressions of sympathy towards the family. It said that no pictures were used in the report which might be considered intrusive, and only a general photograph of the street and a library picture of an ambulance had been published. It said that the witness statement which it had chosen to publish was a straightforward and unembellished account of uncontroversial actions by the emergency services in a public place and was presented in an unsensational manner. The newspaper said that the witness testimony did not include any graphic description of the attempts to save the child and was accompanied with expressions of sympathy.
10. The newspaper did not accept that the information published relating to the child’s sibling was intrusive. It said that the child was not named and no other information was published which might have led to him being identified. It noted that the information relating to the child’s sibling contained in the report, had already been in the public domain prior to publication.
11. While the newspaper did not accept a breach of the Code, it said that out of respect for the feelings of the family it would be willing to remove the name of the child from the online report as well as references to his brother's birthday celebrations. It also removed the witness statement which had caused the family concern. The editor said that he would also be willing to meet the family to apologise for any upset caused.
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 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. 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. The Committee acknowledged the complainant and her family’s concern that details of attempts to resuscitate the child had been reported in the article. However, this information had been provided in witness testimony, which had not sought to sensationalise the child’s death; it was an unembellished account of the actions by the emergency services and had contained expressions of sympathy towards the child and their family. Further, the Committee considered that the article did not contain gratuitous detail of the circumstances surrounding the child’s death. For these reasons, the complaint under Clause 4 was not upheld.
16. At the time of publication,
it had been widely reported that the child’s mother had received specialist
support from the police officers at her home. The Committee noted that the
newspaper had not simply relied upon this other coverage, but had sought to
confirm the veracity of this claim by contacting the police directly; the press
office had not alerted the newspaper to any inaccuracy. Given this, and where
the article had made clear that it was “understood” the child’s mother was
receiving assistance in this way, the Committee did not establish that the
newspaper had failed to take care over the accuracy on this point. In the
context of the article, and where the family were receiving support from the
authorities, the Committee did not conclude that the claim represented a
significant inaccuracy. Notwithstanding this, the Committee welcomed the
newspaper’s offer to publish a correction.
17. The complainant had said that
“two young children” had been present at the scene, as well as the child’s brother.
The witness testimony, which had been clearly distinguished as such in the
article, had referred to “two younger children” present on the day; the
testimony did not claim that only two children were present at the time. The
Committee did not conclude that the report contain any inaccuracies which
required correction. The complaint under Clause 1 was not upheld.
18. The newspaper had not
published any information about the child’s sibling, apart from 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 disclosed the child’s
name or other personal details, which might lead to the child’s identification.
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 their his at school. There was no
breach of Clause 2 or Clause 6.
19. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 12/04/2018
Date decision issued: 07/08/2018