Decision of the Complaints Committee 03329-18 Ni Liam v The Mail (Cumbria)
Summary of complaint
1. Anne Ni Liam complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Mail (Cumbria) breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Firefighters rescue stranded woman from Barrow slag bank cliff”, published on 27 April 2018, and an article headlined “Police warn woman rescued from slag bank over social media comments”, published on 1 May 2018.
article reported that police, paramedics and fire crews had been called to
carry out a rescue on a slag bank “after a young woman got stranded”. It did
not name the woman.
3. The second
article reported that “police investigating a woman’s claim she was assaulted
before becoming stranded on Barrow’s slag bank have warned her to stop posting
allegations on social media”. It said that “she told police she had been
assaulted by a gang of balaclava-clad people…but firefighters said she had no
visible signs of recent injury and she was not treated by paramedics at the
scene”. It went on to report that the police had recently “been made aware of
posts made by the woman on Facebook in which she falsely named two people she
believed to be responsible”, but stated that the publication “understands
police have confirmed to those women they are not suspects”. It concluded that
“police have since warned the woman who was rescued to ‘refrain from posting
anything further on social media in relation to this incident’”.
4. The complainant
believed that the first article had been amended, and that it had originally
named her, based on the fact that, in the Facebook comments under the article,
a commenter had speculated that she was the subject of the article. In addition,
the complainant said that this article had originally stated that she “fell”
down the slag bank, when she says that she was pushed.
5. The complainant
said that the second article breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) because it stated
that she had “falsely named two people she believed to be responsible”, when
she had in fact written “it seems that the…hate groups run by [the two named
women] have now taken recourse to actual violence”. She had been suggesting
that the groups, not the individuals, were responsible. She also said that the
article was inaccurate in reporting that she was uninjured – in fact, she had
had to attend a fracture clinic with an arm injury. She said that the
publication had failed to contact her to verify this. The complainant also said
that it was wrong to state that she had been “warned” by the police; in fact,
she had been asked not to post on social media until investigations were
complete, and the same request had been made to the two named women. She said
that the headline and the article text did not make clear that in fact all
three women had received this “warning”.
6. The publication
denied that the first article was amended after it was published; it had not
named the complainant in the article, and the publication had not been aware of
her name until after it was published.
7. The publication
denied any breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) with respect to the second article. It
considered that the complainant had, in her Facebook post, been stating either
that the named women had ordered the violence against her, or that they had
carried it out themselves. The publication said that the police had made clear
that there were no suspects, and that the two women were not suspects in any
attack. In these circumstances, it said that it was not misleading to say that
the complainant had “falsely named two people she believed to be responsible”.
The publication said that the article had been amended shortly after
publication to make clear that all parties had been asked to refrain from
posting on social media. However, it said that the article’s initial focus on
the complainant being ‘warned’ was not misleading: the complainant had been
asked to stop posting comments online and it was her actions which were the
focus of the story, not those of the other women. With respect to the article’s
claim that “firefighters said she had no visible signs of recent injury and she
was not treated by paramedics at the scene”, the publication said that this had
been based on information which came directly from the fire service.
8. Although it
denied any breach of the Code, the publication offered to publish the following
clarification as a gesture of goodwill:
Since this article was published, we have been contacted by
the woman who is the subject of the article. She says that, in fact, she was
injured during the incident, and her injuries required treatment at a fracture
clinic. Our report was based on information received from the fire service.
However, we are happy to make her position clear. In addition, this article
originally stated that the woman “falsely named two people she believed to be
responsible” for the alleged attack on her. The woman has since informed us
that, in fact, she had not stated that any individuals were responsible, but
that groups run by two named individuals were behind the attack. Again, we are
happy to make her position clear.
Relevant Code provisions
9. 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.
Findings of the Committee
10. The Committee did not find that the complainant had any basis for the assertion that the first article had originally named her. In any event, this was not a concern that engaged with Clause 1 (Accuracy). Similarly, there was no evidence to indicate that the article had stated that she ‘fell’. There was no breach of Clause 1 on either of these points.
11. The complainant had stated on Facebook that “hate groups
run by [the two named women] have now taken recourse to actual violence”. The
police had subsequently confirmed to these women that they were not suspects in
relation to the alleged attack, and that they had no suspects. In these
circumstances, it was not significantly misleading to state that she had
“falsely named two people she believed to be responsible”; the use of the word
“responsible” did not indicate that the complainant had stated that the women
had themselves committed the alleged violence. The publication was able to
provide the communications from the police in which they made clear that the
named women were not suspects, and in these circumstances there was no failure
to take care over this claim, in breach of Clause 1(i). The article did not
give rise to a significantly misleading impression, such as would give rise to
a breach of Clause 1(ii). However, the Committee welcomed the publication’s
offer to put the complainant’s position on record.
12. Stating that the complainant had been “warned” for
social media comments was not misleading; she had been asked to refrain from
posting, and the publication was entitled to characterise this as a warning.
Focusing on the warning made to the complainant, rather than the other women,
did not give rise to a misleading impression in breach of Clause 1(ii): the
police ‘warning’ had been made in response to allegations she had made, and the
article was published in response to those allegations. The publication was
able to provide the text of the ‘warning’ and the complainant’s original post,
so there was no failure to take care over the accuracy of these claims in
breach of Clause 1(i).
12. The claim that the complainant had been uninjured had
been based on information provided by the fire service, and was presented as
such: the article made clear that “firefighters said she had no visible signs
of recent injury and she was not treated by paramedics at the scene”. There was
no failure to take care over this claim, in breach of Clause 1(i), when the
information had been provided by the emergency services, and the article had
not adopted this as fact – it had stated accurately that the fire service had
made this claim. There was therefore no misleading impression that required
correction under Clause 1(ii). In addition, as the complainant was not named in
the article, and it appeared to be accurate to report that her fracture had not
been treated by paramedics at the scene, adopting the firefighters’ account did
not give rise to a misleading impression of the incident.
13. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial action required
Date complaint received: 02/05/2018
Date decision issued: 06/08/2018
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