Decision of the Complaints Committee 07799-19 Morse v worcesternews.co.uk
Summary of Complaint
1. Tyla Morse, who was also complaining on behalf of her partner and his family, complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that worcesternews.co.uk breached Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Man allegedly stabbed multiple times in city centre”, published on 20 September 2019.
2. The article reported on claims that a man had been stabbed in Worcester several hours prior to publication. The article said the man had been “named locally”, and gave his name.
3. The complainant, who was the partner of the victim of the stabbing, said that the article was an intrusion into shock in breach of Clause 4 as it was published just four hours after the incident occurred and the family had not been fully notified of the incident – the victim’s sister and daughter had found out about the incident after seeing the article on social media. She said that the police had not posted an official statement; she had found out that the incident had occurred because her partner had called her and his mother in order to tell them.
4. The complainant also said that several members of her partner’s family had been contacted on social media after the incident to give a comment, which she said was insensitive. She provided one of the messages in which the reporter identified himself, and asked if the family member would “be happy to speak to me about how Paul is currently doing?” and that they “appreciate it may be difficult to see something about a family member in the press but I’m only looking for the facts”.
5. The publication denied it had breached Clause 4. It had taken care to use the terms “reportedly” and “named locally” in the article. It had also been contacted by sources naming the victim, and there were many posts on social media that named the victim, including a comment from his aunt which said “my nephew is involved in this”. The publication accepted it had contacted members of the complainant’s family in order to gain comment, but it not accept these approaches were insensitive.
Relevant Code Provisions
6. 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
7. The article reported the name of the victim before it had been announced officially by the police and four hours after the incident had been taken place. The publication had established that the victim had been named on social media before the article was published and a source had told the newspaper his name and what had happened. The Committee found that as the information involving the attack had been reported on social media, and it was clear from social media that family were aware of his involvement, the publication of the article was not insensitive. There was no breach of Clause 4 on this point.
8. The Committee noted that a reporter acting on behalf of the publication had contacted the complainant’s family members for comment by a Facebook message. While in this instance, the family had not wanted to comment, there may be occasions where members of a victim’s family may want to speak to the press and to give out information. However, the Code makes clear that in circumstances of grief or shock, approaches by reporters must be made with sympathy and discretion. In this instance, the message the complainant had provided was written sympathetically; there was nothing in this message that was insensitive. Furthermore, when one of the contacted family members had requested the publication to desist from contacting them, the reporter had respected this. The Committee found that there was no breach of Clause 4 on this point.
9. The complaint was not upheld.
Date complaint received: 02/10/2019
Date decision issued: 02/12/2019