Decision of the Complaints Committee 08070-18 Family of Tony Carroll v Mail Online
Summary of Complaint
1. The Family of Tony Carroll complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Mail Online breached Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock) of the Editors’ Code of Practice, in an article headlined “Seconds from death: Horrific moment man, 70, is mowed down and killed by police car while carrying presents home from the pub on Christmas Day”, published on 26 December 2018.
2. The article reported on a video of the moments before Tony Carroll stepped in front of a police car, and was hit and killed. The article included a video of the incident, in which Mr Carroll could be seen stepping out into the road, and the car could be seen approaching; the video faded out a moment before Mr Carroll was hit by the car. The article also included a number of still images from this video, as well as a photograph of Mr Carroll’s shoes and trousers in the road following the incident.
3. Mr Carroll’s family said that the publication of the video and photograph was insensitive in breach of Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock), particularly where the video faded out only a fraction of a second before the police car hit Mr Carroll.
4. The publication offered its condolences to the family, but denied any breach of Clause 4. It acknowledged that the video had caused distress, but said that it had a responsibility to closely examine the events surrounding Mr Carroll’s death, particularly in circumstances where the vehicle which struck him was a police car responding to an emergency call. The publication said that it had obtained the footage from a local shopkeeper. It said that it had taken care prior to publication to ensure that the video faded out at a moment prior to the collision, and that the moment of impact was not published. It said that the moment in which Mr Carroll was shown stepping into the road was highly relevant to the exact circumstances of his death, and that removing the moment of impact from the video represented sensitive handling of the material, in line with the obligations of Clause 4. The publication said that the image of Mr Carroll’s shoes and trousers had been widely published, and was unremarkable in content.
5. Nevertheless, the publication said that it had removed the video on 28 December in response to concerns raised by members of the public, and had no plans to re-publish it. It offered to write the family a private letter of apology for the distress caused, by way of resolving the complaint.
6. The complainant declined this offer of resolution.
Relevant Code Provisions
7. 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
8. The Committee wished to express its sincere condolences to the family of Mr Carroll for their loss.
9. News organisations play an important role in reporting on accidents and fatalities that occur in public, and even when this is done sensitively, this will often cause great distress to the families of individuals involved. The terms of Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock) do not prohibit reporting on distressing circumstances and events, but rather set out that such publication should be handled sensitively.
10. In coming to a decision as to whether the publication of the video had been handled sensitively, the Committee considered the nature and contents of the video, and the manner in which it was presented within the article.
11. The Committee understood that the video must have been deeply distressing for the family to view. The Committee also took into account that the footage had been taken from some distance, in relatively low resolution, so that the man’s features and appearance were not clear in the video, which featured no sound. The video had not included the moment of impact, or footage of the man following the accident.
12. The Committee acknowledged the justification for the inclusion of the footage in the article, which allowed readers to better understand the circumstances leading up to the accident. This was particularly the case given that the accident had involved a member of the public and a police car responding to an emergency. The article itself was presented as a factual news story; there was no attempt to demean or humiliate the man who had been involved in the accident, or to make light of the circumstances of his death.
13. The Committee appreciated the distress caused to the family by the inclusion of the video. However, in circumstances where the article in which it was contained was a factual and non-sensational account of the incident; where care had been taken to fade the footage prior to the moment of impact; where there was a justification for the inclusion of the video in the article; and given the low resolution of the footage itself, the Committee considered that the publication of the video had been handled sensitively. There was no breach of Clause 4 on this point.
14. The image of Mr Carroll’s clothing on the road did not show anything of the circumstances of the accident, or the injuries he had suffered; while this image would have been distressing for the complainant to see, the Committee did not consider that its inclusion was insensitive. There was no breach of Clause 4 on this point.
15. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial action required
Date complaint received: 28/12/2018
Date decision issued: 07/03/2019
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