Decision of the Complaints Committee – 07265-21 A man v Hull Daily Mail
Summary of Complaint
1. A man complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Hull Daily Mail breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Appeal as blood trail smeared across bins, gates and lampposts”, published on 16th June 2021.
2. The article reported on an appeal for witnesses by police in response to “a trail of blood smeared” across street furniture in the local area. The article explained that “[t]he trail of blood led police through several streets”, which were listed, and that the “blood stains were reported as happening on Sunday night through to Monday morning”. It also reported that “early on Monday afternoon” police vehicles gathered in the area “as they appeared to locate a man who may have been connected with the incidents”. The article explained that the police “officers surrounded an elderly man, dressed in a blue tracksuit, who had a heavily-bandaged hand, after finding him sitting at a bus stop outside a children’s nursery”. It also referenced witnesses who said the man “appeared ‘intoxicated’ and police were talking calmly to him”. The article included an image of several police cars parked by a bus stop, with several officers facing the bus stop. The article quoted posts on social media that members of the public had made that had called the appearance of blood “disturbing” and that they “’Hope whose ever the blood belongs too is OK’” [sic]. Finally, the article included a part of a statement from Humberside Police which said that “’It is thought that an unknown individual may have sustained an injury on [a named road] before walking in the direction of [a named road]. ‘At this stage, there are not thought to have been any crimes committed, however we are concerned for the welfare of this individual, who may require medical attention’”.
3. The article also appeared online under the headline “Blood smeared across signs, gates, bins and lampposts as police appeal for witnesses”.
4. The complainant identified himself as the man at the bus stop referred to in the article. He said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 because it suggested that he (as the person at the bus stop) was responsible for the blood smears that appeared across the area, which he denied.
5. The complainant also said the article was inaccurate because it had reported that he had “appeared intoxicated”. He stated that he had not been drinking. He also said it was misleading to state he had been found outside a “children’s nursery” as this made the situation appear worse than was the case. Finally, the complainant said it was inaccurate to describe him as “elderly” as he was only in his early fifties.
6. The complainant said that the article also breached Clause 2 because it had identified him in connection with the blood being smeared across town. He explained that people had been able to identify him due to the inclusion of the image of police officers at the bus stop and the explanation that they were talking to a man with a bandaged hand and that the article claimed he was responsible for the blood. He said that many people had walked past as he had been talking with police at the bus stop. Passers-by had taken photographs of him that appeared on Facebook and this led to his identification as the individual claimed to be responsible for the trail of blood.
7. The publication said it did not accept a breach of Clause 1. It said that the article did not identify the man at the bus stop as being responsible for the trail of blood. It highlighted, for example, that the article had reported that police “appeared to locate a man who may have been connected” to the incident, thereby distinguishing between comment, conjecture, and fact. The focus of the article had been on reporting the appeal by police for witnesses as well as the speculation and concern of members of the public. It also stated that there were no claims that a crime had been committed, but simply that there were concerns for the man’s welfare.
8. The publication also did not accept a breach of Clause 1 regarding the complainant’s other points. It stated that the article had clearly distinguished the comment regarding intoxication as the speculation of witnesses. Regarding the statement in the article that the man had been found outside a nursery, the publication said this was a true factual statement and so did not constitute a breach of the Code. In relation to the age of the man, the article said this did not represent a significant inaccuracy and was a description based on what the reporter had seen. It apologised for any offence caused.
9. The publication also did not accept a breach of Clause 2. It argued that the individual was neither named nor identifiable in the article. It said that the man had been waiting with the police for a significant period of time and so would have been seen by members of the public who had passed by the area. Whilst it did not consider that the article represented a breach, the publication also said that the article was clearly in the public interest. The police had stated in its original appeal that there was a concern for the safety of the individual and that there had been “no wider risk to the public”.
10. As a gesture of goodwill, and in an attempt to resolve the complaint, the publication removed the online article and social media posts four days after the online article had been published.
11. The complainant did not accept the removal of the online article and social media posts as a resolution to his 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.
Clause 2 (Privacy)*
i) Everyone is entitled to respect for their private and family life, home, physical and mental 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
12. The article had not stated as fact that the man at the bus stop was the individual responsible for the trail of blood that had been left around the area. Instead, the article reported that the police had appeared to locate a man who may have been connected with the incidents; this was distinguished as conjecture, as required by Clause 1 (iv). Further, the article was reporting on the appeal of police for witnesses and stated that the person responsible was “an unknown individual”. The article therefore made clear that the individual responsible had yet to be identified. As such, the Committee did not consider that the article stated or implied that the individual at the bus stop was the individual who was responsible for the trail of blood. It concluded that the publication had taken sufficient care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.
13. The article had also clearly distinguished the comments regarding the appearance of the man at the bus stop from fact, stating that “witnesses said he appeared intoxicated”. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point. As it was not disputed that the man had been found at a bus stop outside a nursery, including this fact did not make the article significantly inaccurate or misleading, and so there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point. Regarding the apparent age of the complainant, the Committee acknowledged the complainant’s objection to the description of him as “elderly”; however, it was a description based upon the reporter’s observations and was not a significant detail in the context of the article. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
14. The Committee then considered whether the article identified the complainant as the man at the bus stop and whether private information about the complainant had been included in the article. The complainant had said he had received messages from several people who had been able to identify him; however, the article did not name him or include an image of him. The only information about the complainant revealed in the article was a description of his clothing and the location in which he had been talking to police officers. This information would not be sufficient to identify the complainant to any readers who were not already aware of the complainant’s interaction with the police. Furthermore, the article did not include any information over which he had a reasonable expectation of privacy: it made no reference to his private or family life, and while it referred to an injury he had sustained, it described only the appearance of the injury in general terms, which would have been apparent to any passer-by. As such, the Committee did not consider that the article intruded into the complainant’s private life and there was, therefore, no breach of Clause 2 of the Code.
15. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 30/06/2021
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 05/01/2022