Decision of the Complaints Committee 08089-16 Versi v The Sun
Summary of complaint
1. Miqdaad Versi complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sun breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Ramadan train driver in crash”, published on 20 August 2016. The article was also published online with the headline “RAMADAN TRAIN WRECK Muslim train driver crashed after going without food or drink for 15 hours during Ramadan.”
2. The article reported that a Muslim train
driver had run through a double red light, causing his train to derail, hit a
gantry and bring down powerlines. It claimed that the driver “crashed after
going without food or drink for 15 hours during Ramadan”. It reported that
“rail accident experts claimed his fast caused the rush-hour derailment”. The
article went on to report that the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB)
was “unable to conclude that fasting was a factor in the crash. But it pointed
out studies showed not eating can cause ‘sleepiness and reduction in
concentration which can result in safety concerns’”. The article also reported
that the company operating the train in question had said that its drivers were
“regularly briefed and monitored for competence”.
3. The online version of the article included some additional pictures of the crash and Paddington Station, and the following sub headline: “Officials reveal the driver ran through TWO red lights at London’s Paddington Station”. It was otherwise identical to the print version of the article.
4. The complainant said that the RAIB report on the incident had concluded that it was unable to determine whether the driver’s fasting was a factor in what happened. He noted that the RAIB report stated that the accident demonstrated the importance of a number of other factors, including drivers refreshing their knowledge of track layout, and being alert to the operation of signals. In addition, the complainant said that the driver had run through one signal, displaying two red lights. He said it was therefore inaccurate to report that the driver had run through two red lights.
5. The newspaper said that the RAIB report described the driver’s observance of Ramadan, in the section headed “cause of the accident”. The newspaper said that although the RAIB report said it was “unable to determine” whether the driver’s fasting “was a factor in what happened on this occasion”, the report did observe that “there is research showing that fasting can affect people’s concentration levels”, and that guidance on the effects of fasting on fitness to drive had published by the Rail Safety and Standards Board. The newspaper said that this represented a clear indication that there were concerns expressed to the RAIB about the driver’s fasting contributing to the accident.
6. The newspaper said that article made clear that the RAIB had said it was unable to conclude that fasting was a factor in the accident. The newspaper said that although the RAIB report was the main source for the article, it had also approached the railway company for its comment. It said that the reference to the driver passing two red lights in the online article was a mistake introduced during the editing process.
7. The newspaper removed the article from its website permanently. It offered to publish the following correction in its corrections column on page 2 of the newspaper, and on the homepage of the newspaper’s website for 24 hours, and on the online corrections page thereafter:
In a story ‘Ramadan Train Driver in Crash’ (20 Aug) we implied that Rail Accident Investigation Branch said the cause of the derailment at Paddington was that the driver had been fasting during Ramadan. In fact they were unable to conclude that fasting was a factor in the crash on evidence available, although they observed that there is research showing that fasting can affect people’s concentration levels. It was also stated that the driver of a derailed train ran through TWO red lights at London’s Paddington Station. In fact the two red lights were on the same signal. We are happy to clarify.
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.
Findings of the Committee
9. The RAIB report noted research showing that fasting can affect concentration levels, and described the driver’s fasting prior to the accident. The report was explicit that it was unable to determine whether this was a cause of the accident. The report did not refer to rail accident experts having made this claim, and while there was a clear implication that the driver’s fasting had been discussed as part of the RAIB’s inquiries, there was no implication that an expert had claimed that it was a cause of the accident. The newspaper was unable to demonstrate the accuracy of the claim that the “rail accident experts claimed his fast caused the rush-hour derailment”.
10. The Committee acknowledged that the article went on to set out the correct position, which was that the RAIB was unable to conclude that fasting was a factor in the crash. However, the article was principally a report on the RAIB’s findings, and in that context, it was significantly misleading to include the claim that experts had referred to the driver’s fasting as a cause of the accident.
11. The misleading statement resulted from a failure to accurately interpret the RAIB report, representing a failure to take care not to publish misleading information, in breach of Clause 1 (i).
12. The wording of the correction offered by the newspaper identified the misleading statement, and set out the correct position. The newspaper had offered to publish the correction during the referral period. It offered to publish the wording on the homepage of its website for 24 hours, and in its corrections and clarifications column on page 2 of the newspaper. The article under complaint had been permanently removed from the newspaper’s website, and the print version of the article had been published on page 28. In all the circumstances, the Committee considered that the correction offered by the newspaper complied with its obligation to correct the significantly misleading statement promptly, and with due prominence. There was no breach of Clause 1 (ii).
13. The Committee noted that the RAIB report described the train passing a signal displaying two red lights, rather than past two separate signals showing red lights. However, while the sub headline of the online article suggested the latter, the Committee did not consider that this was significantly misleading in the context of the article. This aspect of the complaint did not raise a breach of Clause 1.
14. The complaint was upheld.
Remedial action required
15. Having upheld a breach of Clause 1 (i), the Committee considered what remedial action should be required. The Committee considered that the breach of Clause 1 would be appropriately remedied by the publication of the offered corrections. The wording of the online correction should refer to the headline of the online version of the article. In light of the Committee’s decision, they should now be published.
Date complaint received: 22/08/2016
Date decision issued: 16/11/2016