Resolution Statement 06483-18 Brooks v The Daily Telegraph
Summary of complaint
1. Jonathan Peter Brooks complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Daily Telegraph breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors' Code of Practice in an article headlined "Surgeon must pay £170k tribunal costs to NHS" published on 27 August 2018.
2. The article reported that the complainant, a plastic surgeon who had been suspended for blowing the whistle on colleagues he accused of being too focused on private work and playing golf, faced a bill of £170,000 in legal costs incurred by the Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust. It reported that he was suspended on full pay in 2015 and stepped down in January 2016, and that his appeal for £500,000 compensation had been rejected.
3. The complainant said the article was inaccurate. He said it was misleading to imply that his motivation for whistleblowing was colleagues playing golf; it was about patient safety. He said he had not stepped down in 2016, but in 2012, and remained an employee of the Trust. He said the article also referred to £500,000 compensation, when the actual application was for £5,000,000. The complainant stated in his Application that once his costs had been deducted from this figure, the money would be spent on the NHS Burns and Plastic Service in Nottingham in an effort to make the service safe for patients.
4. The publication denied that it had breached the Code; contemporaneous reports of the tribunal hearing referenced his colleagues' private practice and golfing activities; this was a factor in his whistleblowing. The publication said the complainant "stepping down" was explicitly referenced in the costs judgement and that referring to £500,000 in compensation as opposed to £5,000,000 did not make the article significantly misleading. The publication emphasised that this was a short article and not an exhaustive summary of the case.
Relevant Code provisions
5. 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.
6. The complaint was not resolved through direct correspondence between the parties. IPSO therefore began an investigation into the matter.
7. During IPSO's investigation, the publication offered to publish the following clarification:
Dr Jonathan Brooks
"Surgeon must pay £170k tribunal costs to NHS" (27 Aug) said that Jonathan Brooks was suspended for blowing the whistle on colleagues at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust for being too focused on golf and private practice. Dr Brooks in fact claimed he had suffered detriments including suspension from his post on full pay - he had not 'stepped down', as the article wrongly said - primarily for raising concerns about patient safety at the hospital children's burns unit. Although most of his disclosures were accepted as protected by the Employment Rights Act, an employment tribunal rejected his claim. It found that his evidence "distorted the truth", although he had not been "deliberately untruthful or dishonest", and that he acted unreasonably in pursuing the case. Though costs were awarded against him, he is appealing the judgment. We are happy to clarify.
8. The complainant said that this would resolve the matter to his satisfaction.
9. 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: 03/10/2018
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 05/12/2018
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