Resolution Statement 07897-19 A Family v Sunday World
Summary of Complaint
1. A family complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Sunday World breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock) and Clause 5 (Reporting of suicide) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “IRA KILLER IS BURIED WITH PAST” published on 16 June 2019.
2. The article reported on a man who had recently died. It reported as fact that he was a paramilitary, and that he “…took part in two of the most cynical murders of the entire Troubles”. It also reported that “police on both sides of the border” believed that he was involved in a murder in 1972 that took place in a shed which the article reported was “under [the man’s] control”, and that he was subsequently wanted for questioning by police in Northern Ireland. It also reported claims about the man’s wife’s death in 1984, and included comments from an unnamed person described as having been in conversation with the woman prior to her death.
The complainants were the family of the man who died. They said that the article breached Clause 1 because there was no evidence that their father was a member of a paramilitary organisation, or that he was involved in any way with any murders as alleged in the article. They said that he was never arrested or wanted by the police, and worked and travelled freely in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland; it was not the case that he was ever wanted by police on either side of the Irish border. They said that if he were ever suspected of the crimes set out in the article, he would not have been able to live his life as freely as he was able to do. As part of their complaint, the family submitted contemporaneous written evidence that disputed the series of allegations made in the article.
3. The complainants also said that the article breached Clause 4 and Clause 5 by reporting speculation about the woman’s death; they disputed the claims put forward in the article as to the circumstances surrounding her death, and said that reporting these claims had caused them much distress, especially in light of the man’s recent death.
4. The newspaper did not accept that there was a breach of the Code. It said that the information about the man and the woman had been provided by three independent sources, which it said were reliable. It noted that the complainants did not have first-hand knowledge of the events which were alleged to have taken place – either in regard to the man, or his wife.
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.
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.
Clause 5 (Reporting of suicide)
When reporting suicide, to prevent simulative acts care should be taken to avoid excessive detail of the method used, while taking into account the media's right to report legal proceedings.
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 newspaper offered to print the following apology to the complainants:
Apology: [Named persons]
On 16 June 2019 we published an article following the death of [named man]. In that article we made a number of allegations based on information provided to us by sources, including that [named man] was an IRA member who was involved in the murders of [named victim] and [named victim]. [Named man]’s family have rejected as completely untrue any suggestion that he was a member of the IRA or had any involvement in the murders. The article claimed that a source had told us that the late [named woman] had suffered from depression and took her own life as a result of witnessing events related to the murder of [named victim]. We acknowledge that [named man] was never arrested or questioned by authorities on either side of the border, that [named man and woman] had not met each other at the time of the events referred to in the article and that the [complainants] assert that [woman]’s death resulted from postnatal depression. We apologise to [complainants] for the upset caused to them by the publication of this article so close to the death of [named man]. This apology was agreed with the assistance of IPSO.
8. The complainants said that this would resolve the matter to their 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: 08/10/2019
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 27/02/2020