Resolution Statement 08191-19 Thompson v Derby Telegraph
Summary of Complaint
1. Harry Thompson complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Derby Telegraph breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Teenager shut cat in washing machine and laughed when he found it dead”, published on 9 October 2019.
2. The article reported on the court case of a teenager who had been convicted of killing a cat. The article stated at multiple times that the teenager had “put a pet cat inside a washing machine” and reported in the headline that he had “shut” it in the washing machine.
3. The article appeared in substantially the same format online under the headline “Swadlincote thug shut pet cat in washing machine overnight until it suffocated”.
4. The complainant, the convicted teenager referred to in the article, said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code. He said that whilst he had plead guilty, he had done so on the basis that he had not placed the cat in the washing machine himself, but that he had failed to assist it in any way. He said that it was therefore inaccurate to report that he had “shut” or “put” the cat in the washing machine.
5. The publication said it had relied on the original court reports, which did not include a note with the basis of the plea that had been accepted by the prosecution. After publication, the newspaper was contacted directly by the complainant. After receiving a letter from the complainant’s solicitor and finding the court reports updated to include a note on the basis of the plea, it amended the online article to remove any reference to the complainant shutting the cat in the washing machine. It also added the following footnote:
An earlier version of this story based on court records stated that Thompson had himself shut the cat in the washing machine. According to Thompson's solicitor, the basis of his plea was that he had not put the cat in the washing machine but that he assumed it was in there and did nothing about it. The court has confirmed that a note has been added to the court record.
Relevant Clause Provisions
6. 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.
7. The complaint was not resolved through direct correspondence between the parties. IPSO therefore began an investigation into the matter.
8. The publication offered to print the following correction in the print version of the newspaper:
Our article 'Teenager shut cat in washing machine and laughed when he found it dead' of 9 October, was based on court records and stated that Harry Thompson had himself shut the cat in the washing machine. According to Thompson's solicitor, the basis of his plea was that he had not put the cat in the washing machine but that he assumed it was in there and did nothing about it. The court has confirmed that a note has been added to the court record. We are happy to clarify this.
9. The complainant said that this would resolve the matter to his satisfaction.
10. 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: 18/10/2019
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 06/11/2019