04544-19 Collinson v The Chronicle (Newcastle)

Decision: No breach - after investigation

Decision of the Complaints Committee 04544-19 Collinson v The Chronicle (Newcastle)

Summary of complaint

1. Lorna Collinson complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Chronicle (Newcastle) breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Expect a long sentence, judge tells killer driver” published on 30 May 2019.

2. The article reported that a man had been found guilty of causing death by dangerous driving, causing serious injury by dangerous driving, and causing death by driving uninsured, after crashing his car into a pub. The article named Paul Collinson as the person who was killed in the crash, and included a photograph, which the article said was “Victim Paul Collinson”.

3. The article also appeared online with the headline “Danger driver admits killing popular dad Paul Collinson and injuring three others in horror crash”. It was substantially the same as the print version, apart from the photograph. The print article included a cropped version of this photograph – the uncropped version included in the online version showed two men standing beside each other.

4. The complainant was the ex-wife of the man who died. She said that the photograph included in the print article did not show her ex-husband. She said that instead it showed her son, who had not died but was also called Paul Collinson. She said that therefore, the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy). She said that that this error had caused her and her family much distress, and so the article was also in breach of Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief of shock).

5. The publication expressed its sincere condolences to the complainant, and apologised for the error. It said that the uncropped photograph had been originally published by Northumbria Police on its social media, however it accepted that the police’s caption to this photograph made clear that the complainant’s ex-husband was the person on the left. It said that it was unfortunate that the image had then been cropped to show the person on the right instead, the complainant’s son.

6. The publication said that the day after the wrong photograph appeared in print, it had printed an apology and a correction on page 2. It said that this wording had been agreed with the complainant’s son, and made clear the error as well as including the correct photo of the complainant’s ex-husband. The publication said that these steps satisfied Clause 1(ii). It did not accept that the article represented a breach of Clause 4, however, on receipt of the complainant, the publication also offered to write the complainant a private letter of apology. This was declined. The correction which was published, along with the correct photo showing the complainant’s ex-husband, was as follows:

PAUL COLLINSON

In yesterday’s Chronicle, in the page four lead story, we incorrectly identified Paul Collinson’s son, also called Paul, as the victim of death by dangerous driving. The picture caption was incorrect. We apologise to Paul and his family for the error.

Relevant Code Provisions

7. 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 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 expressed its condolences to the complainant and her family.

9. The print article included a photograph of the complainant’s son, which it captioned with “Victim Paul Collinson”. This was a cropped version of the photograph posted by the police on its social media which showed two people – the complainant’s ex-husband and her son. The police’s caption to this photograph made clear that the person who had died was the person on the left. Where the publication had published a photograph which had been cropped to show the person on the right, contrary to the police’s caption, this represented a failure to take care not to publish inaccurate information, and a breach of Clause 1(i). Where the image was used to illustrate a person who had died, and labelled him as the “victim”, this was a significant inaccuracy, and so the print version of the article required correction under the terms of Clause 1(ii).

10. The publication printed a correction which clearly identified the inaccuracy, and by including the photograph of the complainant’s ex-husband, also put the correct position on record. It also contained an apology to the complainant’s family. Where the publication had printed a correction on page 2, the day after the inaccuracy appeared in print, this was sufficiently prominent and prompt. This action was sufficient to remedy the inaccuracy, and there was no breach of Clause 1(ii).

11. The question for the Committee under Clause 4 was whether publication of the article had been handled sensitively; this was distinct from its considerations under Clause 1. While a factual inaccuracy had been published in relation to a story which concerned the complainant’s grief, the Committee considered that the circumstances that ordinarily engage the terms of Clause 4 relate to the presentation and selection of material about the deceased. For example publications should not mock or belittle the deceased or include gratuitous detail about a death without reason. In this instance, while the complainant had been distressed by the inaccuracy, which was the result of human error, the Committee did not find grounds to find a separate breach of Clause 4. Nevertheless, the Committee welcomed the publication’s apology to the complainant’s family which was included in the correction.

Conclusion

12. The complaint was upheld under Clause 1(i)

Remedial Action required

13. Having upheld the complaint, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required.

14. The publication had published a correction to the print article both promptly and prominently. The Committee found that this was sufficient to meet the requirements of Clause 1(ii) and no further remedial action was required.

Date complaint received: 03/06/2019

Date decision issued: 08/08/2019

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