Decision of the Complaints Committee 07929-19 Dunn v Liverpool Echo
Summary of Complaint
1. Ian Dunn complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Liverpool Echo breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 4 (Intrusion into Shock and Grief) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Graffiti slur seen prior to attack”, published on 9 October 2019.
2. The article reported on the attack and subsequent death of the complainant’s brother, Terry Dunn. It reported that “[d]isturbing and unpleasant graffiti” had appeared “just before the attack” which named Mr Dunn and described him as “a grass”. The article stated that “there is no known evidence to back up the claim” and included a quote from Mr Dunn’s best friend who said that he was unaware of what it was potentially referencing “but one month after the graffiti surfaced, Mr Dunn was viciously attacked.” It reported that friends of Mr Dunn had said that he had died of a heart attack.
3. The article appeared online in substantially the same terms, under the headline “Disturbing graffiti painted on walls before man attacked with golf club who later died” on 8 October 2019. This article reported that the attack had occurred “one month after the graffiti surfaced”. It also said that the graffiti had described Mr Dunn as “a grass”.
4. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 as there was no link between the graffiti and the attack, yet the graffiti was referenced in the article to misleadingly suggest that there was a connection between the two events. He also said it was inaccurate for the print article to say that the graffiti had appeared “just before the attack” and for the online version to say one month before, as it had actually appeared four months previously.
5. The complainant also said that the cause of his brother’s death had been reported inaccurately. Further, the complainant said that the article had also reported the place of the attack inaccurately: it occurred in a passageway between Kilrea Close and Wapshare Road and his brother had been found on Wapshare Road, whereas the article had described the attack as taking place on “Wapshare Lane”.
6. The complainant also said that the article constituted a breach of his privacy under Clause 2 as the publication had named his brother against the instructions of the Merseyside Police. He also said it was a breach of privacy to take photos from his brother’s Facebook page without permission, and to post the story without contacting family members.
7. The complainant also said that the article was an intrusion into grief in breach of Clause 4 as it had inaccurately connected the graffiti to the attack of his brother. In addition, the newspaper had left comment boxes open on the articles which led to nasty comments being posted. He also said that the reporter who wrote the story had been very insensitive in direct correspondence, and had lacked empathy and laughed at him when the complainant had spoken to the reporter about the comments posted about the article.
8. The publication said it did not accept that there were any breaches of the Code. It said that the article made no connection between the graffiti and the attack; it had just reported on the two events without saying that they were related. In any event, after the article was published the police had confirmed that there was no connection, which the publication said demonstrated that there had been speculation that the two events were connected. The publication explained that it had reported that the graffiti had appeared “one month” prior to the attack as this was said during a 40 minute interview with Mr Dunn’s friend. The reporter had taken notes which were supplied to IPSO during the investigation. The publication said that this represented taking care in compliance with Clause 1(i). In light of the complaint, it offered to amend this point in the online article.
9. The publication said that it had reported the cause of death as a heart attack because this is what the reporter had been told during the interview with Mr Dunn’s friend, as could be seen in the reporter’s notes. The publication said that this represented taking care in compliance with Clause 1(i). It nevertheless offered to amend the cause of death in the online version of the paper. The publication acknowledged that it had reported that the attack had happened on Wapshare Lane rather than Wapshare Road, however it did not consider this to be a significant inaccuracy. It changed this detail in the online version of the article once it became aware of the error.
10. The publication said Clause 2 had not been breached. It said that Mr Dunn’s name had been provided by neighbours and locals, as well as during the interview with Mr Dunn’s friend. The Police were also aware of the newspaper’s intention to publish his name. It noted that another publication had already published an article so that Mr Dunn’s identity was in the public domain prior to publication.
11. The publication said that, as there was no mention of a connection between the graffiti and the attack, the terms of Clause 4 were not engaged on this point. In addition, it apologised if the complainant felt that the reporter had lacked empathy. It said that it had been assured by the reporter that he had acted professionally and sensitively and had not at any point laughed at the complainant.
12. During IPSO’s investigation the publication offered to remove the word “just” from the first paragraph of the online article to make clear that the attack had not occurred immediately after the appearance of the graffiti. It also offered to replace the sentence "One month after the graffiti surfaced, Mr Dunn was viciously attacked" with "The ECHO has been told that the graffiti surfaced about four months before Mr Dunn was viciously attacked". Towards the end of IPSO's investigation, it proposed publishing the following wording as a footnote to the online article:
"An earlier version of this article stated that the graffiti surfaced a month before Mr Dunn was attacked. We have amended this to four months based on further information which we have now been given by a member of his family."
At this point, it also proposed publishing the following clarification in the print version of the paper on page 2:
"On October 9, 2019, we reported on the death of Terry Dunn and stated that graffiti had been daubed around Clubmoor just before he was viciously attacked with a golf club in June. We have now been told by a member of Mr Dunn's family that the graffiti appeared about four months before the attack and are happy to make this clear."
13. The complainant rejected this offer of clarification.
Relevant Code Provisions
14. 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.
15. Clause 2 (Privacy)*
i) Everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, 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.
16. 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
17. The Committee wished to express their sincere condolences to the complainant and his family.
18. The article had reported on the attack on the complainant’s brother, his subsequent death, and graffiti that had appeared prior to the attack. The article did not explicitly report a connection between the attack and the graffiti, but had reported that the graffiti had appeared “just before” the attack and that “one month after the graffiti surfaced, Mr Dunn was viciously attacked”. The newspaper had relied on comments made by Mr Dunn’s friend, but only the print article attributed the timings to the friend; the online article had presented the timings as fact. The newspaper did not dispute that the attack had occurred four months after the appearance of the graffiti and accepted the family’s position that the graffiti was not connected to the attack. The Committee considered that the publication’s reliance solely upon the account of Mr Dune’s friend represented a failure to take care not to publish inaccurate information in breach of Clause 1(i). The inaccurate report of the timing of the attack by reference to the appearance of the graffiti represented a significant inaccuracy because it suggested a connection between the graffiti and the attack. The inaccuracy, therefore, required a correction in order to avoid a breach of Clause 1(ii).
19. The publication accepted that the article was inaccurate and had made an offer to amend the online article; to print a clarifying footnote to the online article; and to publish a correction in the paper. The publication's offer identified the inaccuracy, set out the correct position and was offered promptly, during IPSO’s investigation. Publication of the correction on page 2, namely on an earlier page in the newspaper than the article under complaint, and as a footnote to the online article represented due prominence. The correction and footnote should now be published to avoid a breach of Clause 1(ii).
20. The article had also inaccurately reported Mr Dunn’s cause of death and the name of the road on which the attack had taken place. The Committee found that in the context of an article which reported that Mr Dunn had died following the attack, these were not significant inaccuracies. The complainant accepted that the cause of death was connected to injuries which Mr Dunn had sustained in the attack and that Mr Dunn had been attacked in a location which was close to the reported location. Whilst there was no breach of Clause 1 on these points, the Committee welcomed the offer of the publication to amend the online article.
21. The Committee noted that the complainant had concerns that naming his brother in the article and including a photograph of him which had been taken from his social media account was an intrusion into his brother’s private life. However, the terms of Clause 2 are not engaged in relation to the deceased.
22. Clause 4 requires that publication is handled sensitively in cases involving grief or shock and that enquiries and approaches are made with sympathy and discretion. Although reporting on the death of family members can be very upsetting to families or friends, deaths affect whole communities and the obligation to handle publication sensitively does not restrict the right to report on them. The article was not insensitive in breach of Clause 4 as it was a report of the death of Mr Dunn and previous events to which he had been connected. The Committee noted the complainant’s position that the reporter had lacked empathy and laughed when he called to complain about comments which had been posted on the article, which the publication disputed. A recording of the conversation was not available, but the Committee noted that the newspaper had apologised if the complainant had felt that the reporter lacked empathy when he complained about the coverage. The Committee did not find a breach of Clause 4.
23. The complainant had also said it was a breach of Clause 4 for the publication to allow comments to be posted on the article. The Committee understood that the comments had upset the complainant, but the decision to allow comments to be posted on particular articles is a matter of editorial discretion. Additionally, the comments had been deleted by the publication once they had been reported by the complainant. There was no breach of Clause 4 on this point.
24. The complaint was upheld under Clause 1(i).
Remedial Action Required
25. The correction which was offered clearly put the correct position on record, and was offered promptly and with due prominence, and should now be published.
Date complaint received: 10/10/2019
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 18/03/2020Back to ruling listing