Decision of the Complaints Committee -- 08980-19 Tweddle v chroniclelive.co.uk
Summary of Complaint
1. Craig and Kenneth Tweddle complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that chroniclelive.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 3 (Harassment) and Clause 9 (Reporting of crime) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Estranged father and son in court on same day for separate drink drive offences”, published on 15 November 2019.
2. The article reported that the complainants, referred to in the article as an “estranged” father and son “who didn’t often speak”, had been “called to court on the same day for separate drink drive offences”. The son, Craig Tweddle, pleaded guilty to “driving with excess alcohol and driving without insurance or a licence, while the father, Kenneth Tweddle, “pleaded guilty to one count of driving with excess alcohol”. It reported that Kenneth Tweddle was a “school caretaker”; that he was fined “£205 and banned…from driving for 12 months”; and that he had given “a [breathalyser] reading of 43 microgrammes of alcohol in 100ml of breath”.
3. Craig Tweddle said that following his court case, a journalist had attended his home and had asked him questions regarding his relationship with his father. He provided a physical description of the man, who he said had not identified himself by name, but had claimed to be a journalist. The complainant said that although he had told the journalist he did not wish to discuss the matter, the man had persisted in asking him questions for several minutes and, after leaving the property, had sat in a black car outside his home for another 30 minutes. The complainant said that he believed the journalist was acting on behalf of the publication being complained of, and that this exchange amounted to harassment in breach of Clause 3. The complainant provided a message his partner had sent following publication of the article, which referenced a visit by a journalist, in support of his position.
4. The complainants also said that it was inaccurate for the article to state that they were “estranged”. They said that they had a close relationship and that no comment was made on their relationship during the course of their separate proceedings. They also said it was inaccurate to refer to the father as a “school caretaker” when he was a caretaker for the local authority; to state that he had consumed “excess alcohol” when his reading was just 43 microgrammes; and, to state that he was fined £205 when in fact he was fined approximately £435 when adding in costs and a victim surcharge. The father also said that it was misleading for the article to omit that the court heard that he was unable to pass a breathalyser test due to his medication. Finally, the complainants said that the article breached Clause 9 by misreporting the court proceedings and breached Clause 2 by referencing Kenneth Tweddle’s place of work.
5. The publication did not accept it had breached the Code. It confirmed that no journalist acting on behalf of the publication made a direct approach to the complainants. It said that the message provided by the complainants only indicated that a journalist had attended the home but did not state that they were from their publication. Further, the complainants had confirmed that the alleged journalist was male, while the journalist who had reported on the matter for the publication was female.
6. The publication also did not accept that it was inaccurate for the article to state that the complainants were estranged. While the publication accepted that this had not been heard during formal proceeding, it said that the journalist had heard the solicitor for both defendants saying that “they don't speak much” in a conversation with the clerk, usher and prosecutor, which it said was sufficient to support its claim that they were estranged. Regardless, the publication said that as a gesture of goodwill it had removed reference to father and son being “estranged”, following a direct approach by the complainants. During the referral period, as a gesture of goodwill, the publication offered to add a footnote clarification to the online article addressing the complainants’ relationship, should it resolve their complaint. This offer was not accepted. Nevertheless, the publication proposed a formal wording during IPSO’s investigation:
“A previous version of this article reported that the father and son were estranged. We have been asked to clarify that they are, in fact, not estranged. We are happy to clarify this”.
7. The publication also stated that the court had heard that the husband was a “school caretaker” and provided the reporter’s contemporaneous shorthand notes, which recorded this. Further it said that it was not in dispute that the father had been fined £205 for the offence. It did not accept that omitting further details regarding the costs and victim surcharge he was also ordered to pay made the article inaccurate or misleading.
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.
9. 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.
10. Clause 3 (Harassment)*
i) Journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit.
ii) They must not persist in questioning, telephoning, pursuing or photographing individuals once asked to desist; nor remain on property when asked to leave and must not follow them. If requested, they must identify themselves and whom they represent.
iii) Editors must ensure these principles are observed by those working for them and take care not to use non-compliant material from other sources.
11. Clause 9 (Reporting of Crime)*
i) Relatives or friends of persons convicted or accused of crime should not generally be identified without their consent, unless they are genuinely relevant to the story.
ii) Particular regard should be paid to the potentially vulnerable position of children under the age of 18 who witness, or are victims of, crime. This should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings.
iii) Editors should generally avoid naming children under the age of 18 after arrest for a criminal offence but before they appear in a youth court unless they can show that the individual’s name is already in the public domain, or that the individual (or, if they are under 16, a custodial parent or similarly responsible adult) has given their consent. This does not restrict the right to name juveniles who appear in a crown court, or whose anonymity is lifted.
Findings of the Committee
12. While the journalist had overheard a conversation which lead them to believe the complainants were estranged, no further steps were taken to verify this information, nor was it presented as a claim within the article. In these circumstances, the publication had failed to take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information in reporting that the complainants were “estranged”. There was a breach of Clause 1(i).
13. The claim that the two men were “estranged” was significant as the nature of the relationship between the two men was central to the article. Therefore, a correction was required under the terms of Clause 1(ii). A footnote clarification was offered during the referral period, around a month after publication. Despite a formal wording being proposed later, this was due to the complainants declining the initial offer. Where the publication showed a willingness to correct the article much earlier, the Committee considered that this was sufficiently prompt. The proposed correction identified the inaccuracy and put the correct position on record. Adding a footnote in circumstances where the word “estranged” had already been removed represented due prominence in this case. In these circumstances, the Committee found that there was no breach of Clause 1(ii).
14. The Committee noted the parties’ accounts regarding the conduct of an alleged journalist. It noted that the publication did not dispute the complainants’ account. Rather it stated that the journalist could not have been from their publication and that the complainant made reference to a male journalist when their reporter was female. Therefore, the Committee noted that the publication for which the alleged journalist worked was not clearly established. It also noted the limited nature of the alleged questioning and that there was no hint in the article of an approach having been made. In light of all the circumstances, the Committee did not find that there was any evidence to reasonably find that a journalist acting on behalf of this publication had made direct contact with the complainants. The terms of Clause 3 were not engaged.
15. The Committee noted that the publication had provided a contemporaneous shorthand note to evidence the claim that the court heard that Kenneth Tweddle was a school caretaker. It was entitled to rely on what was said in court as long as it accurately reported this. In any event, the Committee did not consider there to be a significant difference between the article’s claim that the husband was a “school caretaker” and the complainants’ position that he was a caretaker who worked for the council, in the context of the article as a whole. The Committee also noted that it was not inaccurate to refer to Kenneth Tweddle having driven “after consuming excess alcohol” in circumstances where he “pleaded guilty to one count of driving with excess alcohol”. It did not find the reference to him being fined £205 to be inaccurate as it was not in dispute that this was the fine he received, regardless of any further costs of surcharges ordered by the court. Finally, the Committee did not consider that it was misleading to omit details of Kenneth Tweddle’s medical conditions and the possible effect this may have had on his breathalyser results, in circumstances where, regardless of any mitigating factors, he pleaded guilty of drinking with excess alcohol. There was no breach of Clause 1 on these points.
16. Finally, reporting that one of the complainants worked in a school was a general detail relating to his employment that did not constitute private information. There was no breach of Clause 2. Clause 9 generally relates to the unnecessary identification of the friends and family of individuals who are accused or convicted of crime; and the identification of those under 18 who are accused of, a witness to or a victim of crime. As the complaint did not relate to this, Clause 9 was not engaged.
17. The complaint was upheld under Clause 1(i).
Remedial Action Required
18. Having upheld the complaint under Clause 1, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required.
19. The correction was offered with sufficient promptness and prominence to meet the terms of Clause 1(ii) and should now be published.
Date complaint received: 15/11/2019
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 15/04/2020