Resolution Statement 05805-19 Howarth v Stirling Observer
Summary of Complaint
1. Mark Howarth complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Stirling Observer breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors' Code of Practice in publishing a reader’s letter headlined “Still many questions in Binos trust board saga" published on 20 March 2019.
2. The reader’s letter under complaint was in response to an earlier article which detailed concerns raised by an unnamed former coach in a letter to the Scottish Football Association (SFA) about the standard of child protection at a local football club.
3. The reader’s letter under complaint, which criticised the earlier article, cited an email allegedly sent by the unnamed coach (the complainant) who had raised safeguarding concerns to the SFA. It said the following: “I intend going to this evening’s informal club board meeting (minus the trust reps) gathering which will be held at a neutral venue”.
4. The complainant said that the reader’s letter was significantly inaccurate as he did not send the specific statement cited from the email and it had been used to cast doubt on whether his concerns about child protection at the club were genuine. He said that the letter implied that his concerns were instead part of a broader battle for control over the board which runs the club.
5. The publication did not accept that they had breached the Code and said that it had published the letter in good faith. However, on receipt of the complaint it contacted the author of the reader’s letter. It was unable to verify the author’s claim that the complainant had in fact sent the alleged email.
6. As such, the publication offered to either publish a letter written by the complainant or invite him to participate in a follow-up article on the topic.
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.
8. The complaint was not resolved through direct correspondence between the parties. IPSO therefore began an investigation into the matter.
9. During IPSO’s investigation, it said as a gesture of goodwill, the newspaper offered to publish the following statement on its letters page in order to put the complainant’s position on the record:
“A reader’s letter headlined ‘Still many questions in Binos trust board saga’ (20/3/19) was published in response to the article 'Albion are accused on child protection' (27/2/19), which had detailed the concerns of a former Stirling Albion Junior Academy coach. The letter quoted from an email purported to have been sent by the coach thus: “I intend going to this evening’s informal club board meeting (minus the trust reps) gathering which will be held at a neutral venue”.
From this, it was inferred that the coach had behaved dishonestly with others in pursuit of aims unrelated to child protection.
The coach, Mark Howarth, has provided the email which this letter purports to have quoted from and it does not include the statement set out above. We are happy to make this position clear.”
10. The complainant said that this would resolve the matter to his satisfaction.
11. As the complaint was successfully mediated, the Complaints Committee did not make a determination as to whether there had been any breach of the Code.
Date complaint received: 30/07/2019
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 09/09/2019