of the Complaints Committee - 03863-18 Acharya v northamptonchron.co.uk
Summary of Complaint
1. Vivin Acharya complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the northamptonchron.co.uk breached Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in articles headlined “Northampton General Hospital worker claims all wards are ‘under immense pressure’” and “Identity of man who died after waiting nine hours at Northampton General Hospital is revealed”, both published on 12 March 2018.
2. The first article reported that a man – the complainant’s relative – had died at a hospital “after waiting for nine hours in the emergency department last week”. It reported that the hospital’s medical director had said, in a leaked email, that the death “was a direct result of emergency department pressures”. It went on to describe details of the events leading up to the death of the man, including the time of his admission, his treatment from then onwards, and the time of his death.
3. The second article said that the police had confirmed the identity of the man who had died. It revealed his name and repeated his age and the time of death, and stated that the inquest was due to begin in three days’ time. The article referred again to the leaked email mentioned in the first article.
4. The complainant said that the articles were insensitive and intrusive, in breach of Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock). He said that the first article included a level of detail about the circumstances of the man’s death that was intrusive. He said that the second article, in naming the man publicly, had breached a police embargo which was designed to prevent this from happening prior to the inquest later in the week. Releasing this name had led to unwanted media coverage and contacts from other publications. The complainant was also concerned that, by referring to “police” having confirmed the man’s name, the second article insensitively led to speculation and confusion regarding the circumstances of the man’s death.
5. The publication apologised for the distress the articles had caused the family, but denied any breach of Clause 2 (Privacy). It said that the information in the first article relating to the patient’s time in hospital had already been made public in a journal article published the previous week, and this had been covered in the national media. In relation to the naming of the man prior to the inquest, the publication denied any breach of Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock). The guidance note from the police had included information on all the inquests on the relevant date, and had been headed “For information only, not for publication or broadcast”, but related to a number of inquests and was not a legal embargo, or subject to any court orders. The publication also said that a death, and any inquest process initiated, was a matter of public record. It said that its reporter had understood that the complainant’s family did not wish to comment on the matter, and had therefore left his details, but not made any further attempt to contact the family. As the police had supplied this list, it was not misleading or insensitive to refer to this in the second article.
6. Notwithstanding the above, the publication accepted that it had fallen short of its own standards, in publishing the man’s name prior to the inquest. It wrote a private letter of apology to the complainant’s mother, and published the following text on p6 of its print edition:
Sad death of man, 85, at NGH: an apology: In March this year, the Chronicle & Echo reported on the sad passing of an 85-year-old man at [the hospital] and a leaked email from a medical director blaming pressures on the accident and emergency department for the man’s death. Information was given to the Chronicle & Echo regarding the identity of the man in an advisory note three days ahead of the opening of the inquest. This was given on a ‘for information only, not for publication’ basis. However, the Chronicle & Echo published an online story, identifying the 85-year-old man. The Chronicle & Echo would like to sincerely apologise for the distress that the publication of this article caused to the family.
Relevant Code Provisions
7. 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. In considering an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy, account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information and the extent to which the material complained about is already in the public domain or will become so.
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.
Findings of the Committee
8. The Committee wished to express its condolences for the complainant’s loss, and understood that the family had been distressed by the publication of the articles. The first article was a follow up to a story that had been widely covered in a number of media sources. The information about the complainant’s relative’s death was already in the public domain, and this information was not handled insensitively. The newspaper was entitled to report on pressures at a local hospital, which some staff were concerned had led to a patient’s death. There was no breach of Clause 2 or Clause 4.
9. The second article had identified the complainant’s relative by name, as the patient whose death had been widely reported. The fact of the man’s identity was not information about which the complainant had an expectation of privacy; deaths are a matter of public record, and identifying the deceased by name did not represent an intrusion into the complainant’s privacy. There was no breach of Clause 2.
10. The Committee recognised that there may be circumstances in which the publication of the name of someone who has died could raise a breach of the Code. In this case, the family of the deceased had been made aware of his death a number of days before the article was published. The name had been released by police, in the context of an upcoming inquest. The list was marked as “not for publication”. However, failing to respect a non-binding police embargo, in circumstances where the family were aware of their relative’s death, did not represent a failure to handle publication sensitively. The information about the identity of the man had been supplied by the police, and it was appropriate to attribute this information to its source. Doing so was not insensitive or intrusive. There was no breach of Clause 4.
11. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial action required
Date complaint received: 04/06/2018
Date decision issued: 16/10/2018Back to ruling listing