Decision of the Complaints Committee – 04370-21 Brundrett & Bailey v Daily Star
Summary of Complaint
1. Angela Brundrett and Susan Bailey complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Star breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Greedy granny”, published on 21st April 2021.
2. The print version of the article reported that a woman had been jailed after stealing “£175,000 from her bosses to fund a champagne life-style”. The headline and the text of the article described the 66-year-old woman as a “[g]reedy granny” and “greedy gran” respectively.
3. The article also appeared online under the headline “Woman who stole £175k from work for holidays, a hot tub and a £33k pay rise jailed”. The online article described various ways in which the woman had spent the money, including buying herself a “hot tub” and “paying for her niece’s £60,000 wedding”. It also reported that the woman previously lived in Stoke-on-Trent and was “now living in Ashbourne, Derbyshire”.
4. The complainants said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) as the print version of the article described the woman as a “granny” and “gran”, whereas the woman had no children or grandchildren.
5. The complainants also said that the online article breached Clause 1 as it incorrectly stated that the woman was “now living in Ashbourne, Derbyshire”. The complainants confirmed that the woman had never lived in Ashbourne, Derbyshire, and that she had lived in Stoke-on-Trent for over twenty years. In support of their position, the complainants provided the charge sheet, which listed the woman’s address as being in Werrington, Stoke-on-Trent.
6. The complainants further said that the article was inaccurate as it stated that the woman had “[paid] for her niece’s £60,000 wedding”, whereas the wedding cost approximately £25,000. The complainants provided the opening note from sentencing which stated that the niece’s wedding had cost “over £25k”. They also said that the claim that the woman had bought a hot tub was inaccurate. The complainants variously claimed that the woman’s sister owned a hot tub and that a previous partner of the woman had purchased the hot tub in question, but that the woman had never purchased one.
7. The publication did not accept that there were any breaches of the Code. In relation to the print article, it said that the term “granny” is commonly used in tabloids in order to denote an elderly or old woman. It added that it was used in an alliterative headline, and while the publication acknowledged the error, it did not consider it amounted to a significant inaccuracy. The publication apologised to the complainants for the error in referring to the woman as “gran” and “granny”. While the publication did not accept that the error amounted to a significant inaccuracy, it offered to publish the following correction and apology in print, should it resolve the complaint:
Correction: In regards to our article on 21 April, headlined 'Greedy granny', which reported Susan Bailey's conviction after stealing tens of thousands from her employer to fund luxury lifestyle, we would like to make clear that Ms Bailey is not a grandmother, and would like to apologies for this error.
8. The publication said that it had relied on a Staffordshire Police press release which it was entitled to do, and that save for the description of the woman as a “granny” and “gran”, the alleged inaccuracies were included in it. The publication said that the information had been published in good faith and that the police press release had said that the woman had purchased a hot tub; that she had paid for her nieces £60,000 wedding; and that she now resided in Derbyshire. The publication also said that there was an original police press release which had stated that the woman was now living in Ashbourne, Derbyshire, which had been amended and the reference to ‘Ashbourne’ removed. The publication said that upon receipt of a direct complaint from one of the complainants, it had removed the reference to Ashbourne, Derbyshire from the online article and amended it to state that the woman was now living in Werrington.
9. The publication further said that they had contacted the police on numerous occasions to confirm if any of the details included in the press release were inaccurate, however, the police had made no comment on the accuracy of the content of the press release. The publication made clear that were the police to confirm that any of the disputed information was inaccurate, they would amend the online article accordingly. The publication further said that even if incorrect, it did not accept that the specific itemised purchases such as the hot tub or amount spent on the wedding would amount to a significant inaccuracy, particularly where the total figure of fraudulent payments was reported correctly.
10. In addition, the police explained to the publication that they had received their own complaint from one of the complainants regarding the information included within the police press release and were taking reasonable steps to address it.
11. The complainants did not accept the wording of the proposed clarification and apology as a resolution to their complaint.
Relevant Code Provisions
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
12. The complainants were concerned that the print version of article had inaccurately described the woman as a “granny” and “gran” when she had no children or grandchildren. The Committee rejected the publication’s position that “granny” and “gran” are terms that simply refer to older women. Representing the woman as a grandmother without verifying this information represented a failure to take care not to publish inaccurate information, and the Committee found that there had been a breach of Clause 1(i). It was the Committee’s view that, as the phrase “greedy granny” was a prominent descriptor in the headline, and “greedy gran” was repeated in the opening paragraph of the article, this was a significant inaccuracy, and therefore the newspaper was obliged, in accordance with the terms of Clause 1(ii) to correct this promptly and with due prominence.
13. The Committee noted that once the publication had been made aware of the complaint, it had offered to publish a correction and apology on page two of the newspaper. The wording of this correction identified the error and made the correct position clear. This was offered promptly and with sufficient prominence to meet the terms of Clause 1(ii).
14. The Committee next considered the complainants’ concerns regarding the online article’s claim that the woman was “now living in Ashbourne, Derbyshire”. The publication had provided two versions of the police press release; the original stated that the woman now lived in Ashbourne, Derbyshire, and the current version was substantially the same, but with the reference to Ashbourne removed. The Committee acknowledged that on some occasions reliance on a press release might not be sufficient to demonstrate that a publication had taken care over the accuracy of the information it published. It considers each complaint on a case-by-case basis, taking full consideration of the source of the release, its content, and any relevant external factors relating to the distribution of the release. The Committee noted that at the time of publication neither the rest of the information contained in the statement, nor any other information of which the publication could reasonably have been aware, indicated that the original press release issued by the police contained inaccuracies on this point. In this instance, the Committee was satisfied that the publication was entitled to rely on the information contained in the press release issued by the police. This demonstrated due care not to publish inaccurate or misleading information with regard to the location of where the woman now resided. There was no breach of Clause 1(i) on this point.
15. In circumstances where the police had not removed the reference to Derbyshire in the press release, and where they had made no comment on the accuracy of the information contained within the original and subsequent versions of it, the Committee were not in a position to determine whether this point was inaccurate. The Committee noted however, that the publication had updated the online article to remove the reference to Ashbourne, Derbyshire, upon receipt of a direct complaint from one of the complainants. The Committee also noted that the police confirmed they were dealing with their own complaint regarding the information in the press release, and given the evolving situation, the publication should be alert to any further changes to the press release. In any event, the Committee considered that where the woman was residing, was not significant to the context of the whole article, and therefore, there was no breach of Clause 1(ii).
16. The complainants also said that it was inaccurate for the article to claim that the woman had purchased a hot tub, and that the sum of money spent on the nieces wedding was £25,000, rather than £60,000. The publication had provided the police press release which stated that the woman had bought a hot tub and paid for her niece’s £60,000 wedding. The Committee noted that these points remained in the press release and had not been amended. The Committee considered that due care had been taken not to publish inaccurate or misleading information regarding these points. There was no breach of Clause 1(i).
17. Where the disputed information remained online and where the police had made no comment on whether the information included in the press release was inaccurate, the Committee was not in a position to determine whether it was inaccurate to state that the woman had purchased a hot tub or had paid for her nieces £60,000 wedding. In any event, the Committee considered that these points were not significant to the context of the whole article, particularly where the article correctly reported the total figure of money the woman obtained fraudulently. There was, therefore, no breach of Clause 1(ii).
18. The complaint was partially upheld under Clause 1.
Remedial Action Required
19. The correction which was offered clearly put the correct position on record, and was offered promptly and with due prominence, and should now be published in print.
Date complaint received: 23/04/21
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 08/12/21Back to ruling listing