Decision of the Complaints Committee – 03222-21 Woodcock v Sunday Mirror
Summary of Complaint
1. Leslie Woodcock complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Sunday Mirror breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Grenfell fire 'made worse with water'”, published on 7th March 2021.
2. The article reported that “firefighters who used water to tackle the Grenfell Tower inferno could have made a tragic mistake, an expert [the complainant] has told the government’s inquiry”. It stated that the use of water to try and quell the fire could have made it worse as it would have reacted with the aluminium in the tower’s cladding “to intensify the blaze”.
3. The complainant said that the article inaccurately summarised his evidence to the Grenfell Inquiry; he had not said that firefighters “could have made a tragic mistake”; he had actually asserted in his submission that “the heroic frontline firefighters should be completely exonerated of any blame”. Instead, he had suggested that the blame should lie with the London Fire Brigade (LFB) commanders, who determine policy, and who had instructed the firefighters to use more water when tackling the blaze, in combination with the stay-put instructions. He stated that the firefighters did not make a “mistake” and were not to blame, as they were simply following orders from their commanders.
4. The publication said it did not accept that the article had breached the Code. It emphasised that the complainant had stated in his submission to the inquiry that there was indisputable evidence for the “catastrophic” use of water as an extinguisher for fires of aluminium and plastic-based cladding. The publication also said that it noted that the complainant had elsewhere described 'the failure of the Grenfell Inquiry” as “just as "staggering and shocking" as the use of water by the LFB” and that “The LFB and its political masters [were] seeking to blame the construction materials scientists and engineers, rather than admit to any negligence”. Given these comments made by the complainant, the publication said that it was not inaccurate for the article to have summarised his position as suggesting that the firefighters who attended the Grenfell Tower fire “could have made a tragic mistake” by using water.
Relevant Code Provisions
5. 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.
iv) The Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
Findings of the Committee
6. In his submission to the Grenfell Inquiry, the complainant had referred to the use of water in attempts to extinguish the fire as “catastrophic”. He had stated that “Water must never again be used” in fires involving aluminium material and that CO2 extinguishers should be fitted in all flats with cladding. This indicated his view that the use of water in extinguishing fires concerning aluminium-based material was wrong, and that CO2 extinguishers were more appropriate. However, in the complainant’s view, individual firefighters did not make this “mistake”, as they were simply following orders from their commanders, who were to blame.
7. The Committee considered that the article’s characterisation of the firefighters’ actions as a possible “mistake” was justified. It was not in dispute that individual firefighters had carried out some of the actions that the complainant had deemed to be mistaken. The use of the word “mistake” did not necessarily mean that individual firefighters were to blame; making a mistake and being to blame for it are not synonymous as the complainant appeared to suggest. The newspaper had not failed to take care not to publish inaccurate or misleading information in summarising the complainant’s submissions to the inquiry, nor did the article contain a significantly misleading or inaccurate statement relating to this. There was no breach of Clause 1.
8. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 07/04/2021
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 30/06/2021
Independent Complaints Reviewer
The complainant complained to the Independent Complaints Reviewer about the process followed by IPSO in handling this complaint. The Independent Complaints Reviewer decided that the process was not flawed and did not uphold the request for review.Back to ruling listing