Resolution Statement 07779-19 Wallace v Echo (Basildon)
Summary of Complaint
1. Russell Wallace complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Echo (Basildon) breached Clause1 (Accuracy), and Clause 4 (Intrusion into Grief or shock) of the Editors' Code of Practice in an article headlined "Inquest opens into death of man, 31" published on 1 October 2019.
2. The article reported on the opening of an inquest. It reported that a coroner's officer said that a man, the complainant's son, had been declared deceased at his home and that "a note had been left". The article then reported the comments of the Senior Coroner, who said “I will need a copy of the post mortem examination, and I will also expect a copy of the note that was discovered."
3. The article also appeared online but was removed following receipt of the complaint.
4. The complainant, the father of the deceased, said that the article was inaccurate. He said that the article had twice referred to a note being left; which after consulting the coroner's office was confirmed not to be the case. He said the police statement did not say that any note had been found and therefore the article had inaccurately reported that his son had left a suicide note.
5. The complainant said that publication of the inaccurate material was insensitive and had caused considerable grief and upset for the family. The family was not aware of this information prior to reading the article.
6. The publication said that its reporter believed the note was mentioned at the inquest but after receiving the complaint accepted this was not the case and offered to publish a clarification.
7. The complainant said that removing the online article and publishing a clarification would not adequately address the issue of the note. The publication's offer was not sufficient to resolve the matter, given the distress caused by the article's publication.
Relevant Code Provisions
8. 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.
v) A publication must report fairly and accurately the outcome of an action for defamation to which it has been a party, unless an agreed settlement states otherwise, or an agreed statement is published.
9. 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.
10. The complaint was not resolved through direct correspondence between the parties. IPSO therefore began an investigation into the matter.
11. Upon further review, the publication accepted that the article contained a significant inaccuracy and apologised for the distress caused by its publication. It said that the initial mention of a note by the Coroner’s Officer was not reflected in the reporter's shorthand notes and the reporter had then mistaken a note the coroner wanted to see, for a note left by the deceased.
12. The publication agreed to publish an apology on page two in both the Southend and Basildon editions of the newspaper. It offered the following wording:
"Following an article which appeared on page 2 of the 1-10-19 edition of the Echo regarding the death of Tom Wallace we wish to make the following statement. The Echo now accepts there was serious inaccuracy in its content and apologise unreservedly to Tom Wallace’s family. We wrongly implied Tom, 31, had left a suicide note. This was not the case. This caused unnecessary pain and anguish to Russell, Deborah, Leah, Flora, other family members and close friends who were grieving over the sad loss of Tom. The Echo have now worked with Russell and Deborah on a tribute to Tom. As part of this we have made £100 donation to Trust Links that Tom worked for as a support worker. We will also be writing to the Essex Coroner’s Office to inform the office how we have implemented and reaffirmed our covering of inquests to ensure accurate, compassionate and sensitive coverage to families who suffer such tragic losses."
13. The publication also offered to make a £100 donation to Trust Links, the charity the complainant's son worked for as a support worker. The publication also said that it would collaborate with the charity and the complainant to publish three features on the charity and the work it does for vulnerable people in the local community.
14. The publication also sent a letter to the coroner outlining the internal measures it would take to ensure that inquests were handled sensitively and accurately in the future, including training and advice for staff members.
15. The complainant said that the aforementioned measures were sufficient to resolve the matter.
16. 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: 01/10/2019
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 01/01/2020
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