Decision of the Complaints Committee – 04216-18 Chapman v Daily Mail
Summary of Complaint
1. Gillian Chapman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Mail breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Ex-mayor kills herself after years of torment caused by menopause”, published on 30 June 2018.
2. The article reported that an inquest had heard that “a former mayor was driven to suicide after struggling with the menopause”. It then described the details relating to the death that were heard at the inquest. It went on to say that the woman “had been involved in Dacorum borough council since 2007”, and described how she had moved to the area with her husband, who it named, after he retired from the Army. The article said that the woman’s husband had died in 1997, and that she had been mayor from 2011 to 2012. The article included a photograph of the complainant, with the caption “Depressed and ill: Gillian Chapman”. The article also mentioned the complainant’s daughter by name, saying that she had discovered the woman who had taken her own life.
3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) because it had incorrectly identified her – the former mayor of the Borough of Dacorum – as the subject of the inquest, and included her photograph, when she had no connection to the events described. She said it had breached Clause 2 (Privacy) because it included details of her late husband’s name, career and death, as well as naming her daughter. She said that, by incorrectly identifying her as deceased, the article had caused considerable shock and distress to her family and friends.
4. The publication apologised to the complainant for the distress caused by the article, but denied any breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy). In relation to the care taken over the article, the publication said that the story had been provided by an established agency; it had not undertaken further inquiries to verify the story, as it appeared to be a straightforward report of an inquest, with no obvious inconsistencies. It said that the error was highly unusual, and could not have reasonably been anticipated by its own reporter. Nevertheless, the publication accepted that the article was inaccurate, and offered to write a private apology to the complainant. In addition, it published an apology on page 2 five days after the article was published, which read as follows:
An article in Saturday’s paper about the tragic death of Gillian Chapman included incorrect information supplied by a news agency that she was the former mayor of Dacorum. We would like to clarify that the former mayor is a different Gillian Chapman who has no connection to the events described. We apologise for the error.
The publication said that this apology was sufficient to meet the terms of Clause 1(ii): it made the correct position clear, and included an apology, which was directed at both the complainant and the family of the woman who was the subject of an article. It also considered that the complainant had indicated that she had been content with the text of this apology prior to its publication.
5. The publication denied any breach of Clause 2 (Privacy). It said that the information included in the article about the complainant’s husband and daughter – which did not, in any event, reveal anything private about her - had previously been published on a village website, and was therefore already in the public domain.
6. The complainant said that the publication had publicised the information about her husband and daughter far beyond its original audience. She said that the apology was not adequate in the face of the distress the article had caused, and in view of the fact that it did not refer to the inclusion of information about her husband and daughter.
7. The publication offered to make a donation to a charity of the complainant’s choosing, and made a further offer of correction to the complainant, as follows:
A June 30 inquest report about the sad death of Gillian Chapman included incorrect information provided by an agency published in good faith that the deceased was the former Mayor of Dacorum. In fact, the former Mayor has the same name but has no connection to the inquest or the events described. We apologise to her and her family for the error, and for the article’s references to her family members.
8. The complainant declined this offer. She also noted that the original article, which appeared on page 51, had taken up a large portion of the page, and had included a large photo of her; this should be taken into consideration in relation to any further correction issued.
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.
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.
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.
Findings of the Committee
10. This article was a report of an inquest, in which the deceased had been inaccurately identified. This was a fundamental and damaging error on a basic point of fact. The Committee considered that, in circumstances such as these, where the inaccuracy was potentially damaging to an individual, and the correct position was readily available, there had been a failure on the part of the agency providing the story to take care over its accuracy. The Preamble to the Code makes clear that publications are ultimately responsible for any breaches of the Code that might result from the use of external contributors. Consequently, there was a breach of Clause 1(i).
11. The publication had issued a correction within five days once it was made aware of the error in the article, and this had appeared substantially farther forward in the publication than the original article. It was therefore sufficiently prompt and prominent to meet the terms of Clause 1(ii). The published correction had made clear the correct position in relation to which person had died, and this was the core inaccuracy within the article. While the article had included additional information about the complainant’s late husband, and her daughter’s name, this was by way of association with the complainant, and the Committee considered that the offered correction was sufficient to address the inaccuracy in the article. There was no breach of Clause 1(ii), and no further correction was required.
12. The information about the complainant’s husband and daughter was already in the public domain, and this information did not reveal anything inherently private about the complainant or her relationships. Publishing this information did not represent a breach of Clause 2.
13. The complaint was upheld under Clause 1(i).
Remedial action required
14. The publication had published a
correction which addressed the inaccuracy within the article, promptly and with
due prominence. This was sufficient to meet the terms of Clause 1(ii), and no
further correction was required.
Date complaint received: 01/07/2018
Date decision issued: 16/10/2018Back to ruling listing