Decision of the Complaints Committee – 09079-21 Wardleworth v Liverpool Echo
Summary of Complaint
1. Emma Wardleworth complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Liverpool Echo breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 3 (Harassment), Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock), Clause 5 (Reporting of suicide), Clause 9 (Reporting of Crime), Clause 11 (Victims of sexual assault), Clause 12 (Discrimination), and Clause 14 (Confidential sources) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Police name couple found shot dead at their home”, published on 1st July 2021.
2. The article reported that “[a] married couple who died from gunshot wounds have been named locally” and identified them by name. It stated that “[t]heir bodies are yet to be formally identified, but the couple have been named locally as [name of couple]” and that they were a “man and woman, who were both in their 70s”. The article said that the “police remained at the scene of the deaths on Dinorwic Road, in the Birkdale area of the town” and that “the woman died from a shotgun wound to the chest and the man died from a shotgun wound to the head”. It stated that “[t]heir next of kin have been made aware and are being supported by specially-trained police”. The article also reported that “Merseyside Police has highlighted domestic violence support networks in relation to the incident”. It quoted a statement made by a Detective Superintendent from the force who said “’We are committed to working with our communities and partners to tackle violence against women and girls and will continue to work closely with our local communities and partners to assess how we can work together going forward’”.
3. The article also appeared online under the headline, “Married pensioners shot dead in their home named locally”.
4. The complainant was the daughter of the couple who had died. She said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 because the headline had wrongly reported that police had “name[d] couple found shot dead at their home”. She said that police had not yet released the names of her parents as she had not yet completed the formal DNA identification process. She said the main text of the article contradicted the headline as this made clear her parents had been named “locally”.
5. The complainant said that publishing her parents’ names further breached Clause 2 because this information was confidential and had not been released by police. She said the article had also breached Clause14 for this reason.
6. The complainant said that, in addition, the article breached Clause 3 because a reporter for the publication had contacted her using Facebook Messenger on 8th July 2021 and that this message was later deleted. She had asked her Police Family Liaison Officer [FLO] to put out a request that the publication not contact her in relation to this matter again. She said that her FLO was later asked for photos of her parents on the day of their funeral. This request was passed on to the complainant by the FLO roughly a month after the funeral. The complainant also said that, after her request for privacy, there had been someone in a car watching her parents’ house who drove off when she went out to look. She was not sure who they were, but she thought that it was a journalist.
7. The complainant said the article also breached Clause 4 because it published the name of her parents before she had completed a DNA test to identify the bodies, and, furthermore, that members of her family and friends learned of her parents’ death from the article.
8. The complainant said the article also breached Clause 5 and Clause 9 because the inquest had not concluded a cause of death and the final death certificate had not been issued. In addition, she said the article breached Clause 11 and Clause 12 because the article had focused on violence towards “women and girls” and had overlooked violence towards men and people who are transgender.
9. The publication did not accept a breach of Clause 1. It said that the article had made clear that the couple had been named “locally” and that these names had matched the information that was a matter of public record. For example, they had appeared on an online directory and the complainant also had a company registered to the address. The publication said the complainant had a business registered to this address but that she was too young to be the people who had died as they were “in their 70s”. Nevertheless, it offered to publish the following correction on page 2 of the newspaper if it would resolve the complaint:
“Our article of 1 July 2021 inaccurately reported in the headline that the Police had named the victims found shot dead in their own home as Catherine and Leslie Wardleworth. In fact, at the time the article was published, although the Police had informed their next of kin, the victims had only been named locally. We are happy to clarify this.”
10. The publication also did not accept a breach of Clause 2. It said that the police press release that reported the deaths was published nearly a week before this article. The press release stated that “Officers were called at 9.40am on Wednesday 23rd June to a house in Dinorwic Road, following the discovery of the married couple, who were both in their 70s”. It also said that “The couple have not yet been formally identified but next of kin have been made aware and are being supported by officers”.
11. The publication did not accept a breach of Clause 3. It stated that it could not find any record of an attempt to contact the complainant. It said that there should be a record of this at the complainant’s end, even if the message was deleted as the app would say “Sender unsent a message”. It said that the publication had not made the request for photographs in August and noted that such a request would not make sense given the article had already been published by that point.
12. The publication also said there was no breach of Clause 4. It stated that the next of kin had been made aware of the deaths and the article had not been published until six days after the initial police press release.
13. The publication said that Clause 5, Clause 9, Clause 11, Clause 12, and Clause 14 were not engaged.
Relevant Code Provisions
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.
Clause 2 (Privacy)*
i) Everyone is entitled to respect for their private and family life, home, physical and mental 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.
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.
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.
Clause 5 (Reporting of suicide)*
When reporting suicide, to prevent simulative acts care should be taken to avoid excessive detail of the method used, while taking into account the media's right to report legal proceedings.
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.
Clause 11 (Victims of sexual assault)
The press must not identify or publish material likely to lead to the identification of a victim of sexual assault unless there is adequate justification and they are legally free to do so. Journalists are entitled to make enquiries but must take care and exercise discretion to avoid the unjustified disclosure of the identity of a victim of sexual assault.
Clause 12 (Discrimination)
i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's race, colour, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.
ii) Details of an individual's race, colour, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.
Clause 14 (Confidential sources)
Journalists have a moral obligation to protect confidential sources of information.
Findings of the Committee
14. The Committee first extended its sincere condolences to the complainant and was sorry to hear that the article had added to her distress.
15. It then considered the complaint under Clause 1 and whether it was inaccurate for the print headline to state that “Police name couple found shot dead at their home”. The Committee noted that the police press release on which the article was, in part, based stated that the “couple have not yet been formally identified”. The main text of the article echoed this as it reported that ““[t]heir bodies are yet to be formally identified, but the couple have been named locally”. The terms of Clause 1 state that the Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text. In this case, whilst the text of the article contained the correct information, the headline had misreported the press release as police had not yet officially released the names of the couple who had died. Where this was clear in the press release, the publication had not taken sufficient care and there was a breach of Clause 1(i). This was significant where it related to information released by police and their ongoing investigation.
16. The publication had offered a correction on this point at the start of IPSO’s investigation, which was sufficiently prompt. The correction addressed the original inaccuracy and made clear the correct position: that the complainant’s parents had only been named locally at the time the article was published. The publication proposed to publish this correction on page 2 of the newspaper. This represented due prominence as the original article had appeared on page 6. As the inaccuracy had only been published in the print version of the article, only publishing the correction in print was also sufficient. There was no further breach of Clause 1.
17. The Committee then considered the complaint that it was a breach of Clause 2 to publish the complainant’s parents’ names before their identities had been confirmed by the police. The Committee understood that naming her parents in the article at this stage in the police investigation had caused the complainant distress, which the Committee considered under Clause 4 of the Editors’ Code (see below). The Committee also noted that the complainant had not been named in the article. The press release issued by the police had stated the name of the road on which the couple had been found and also gave their ages, which likely made them identifiable within the local community. Further, whilst the Committee acknowledged the complainant’s position, there is a public interest in identifying individuals within a community who have lost their lives. Accordingly, naming her parents in the article did not give rise to a breach of Clause 2.
18. Regarding Clause 3, the Committee acknowledged the publication’s position that it had not attempted to contact the complainant. The complainant stated that she had received contact from the publication on three separate occasions: one via Facebook, another through her Family Liaison Officer, and a third instance of someone sitting in a car watching her parents’ house. She could not find a screenshot showing she had been contacted by the publication and she confirmed she could not be certain that the person she had seen in the car was a journalist. She did, however, provide correspondence with her Family Liaison Officer that showed she had spoken to them regarding unwanted press contact, and that they had issued a request for privacy. The Committee noted the publication denied involvement in any of the approaches. In any event, a request to the Family Liaison Officer for photographs, who was essentially an appropriate representative and had not been covered by a specific request for no further contact, would not breach Clause 3. The Committee concluded, therefore, that there were not grounds to find that the publication had engaged in harassment or persistent questioning, and there was no breach of Clause 3.
19. The Committee then considered the complaint under Clause 4. The complainant explained that her friends and relatives had learned of her parents’ death from the article, and that this had been distressing for them and for her. The Committee were deeply sorry to hear of the difficulties the complainant had experienced and recognised that this must have been an upsetting time for all involved. However, the police press release had made clear that the next of kin had already been informed and were in contact with the police, and the article had been published almost a week after the press release. The Committee also considered that the article was not gratuitous or insensitive, relative to the requirements of Clause 4; rather, it simply reported on what had been said by police and the names of the complainant’s parents. As such, there was no breach of Clause 4.
20. The complainant had complained under Clause 5 and Clause 9 as the inquest had not concluded a cause of death, and the final death certificate had not been issued. Clause 5 requires that care should be taken to avoid excessive detail of the method used when reporting on suicide. The complainant’s concerns did not engage this clause. Clause 9 states that relatives or friends of persons convicted or accused of crime should not generally be identified without their consent. The concerns the complainant raised did not relate to this and so Clause 9 was also not engaged.
21. The Committee then considered the complaint under Clause 11 and Clause 12. The complainant had said that these clauses were breached because the statement included in the article had only referred to domestic abuse and sexual assault against women and had not made reference to trans people or men. Clause 11 says that the press must not identify or publish material likely to lead to the identification of a victim of sexual assault unless there is adequate justification, and they are legally free to do so. The complaint did not engage the terms of this Clause. Similarly, Clause 12 requires that the press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's race, colour, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability and that details of an individual's race, colour, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story. The complainant’s concerns that the article discriminated against men and trans people in general, therefore, did not engage the terms of this Clause.
22. The complainant had also complained under Clause 14 as she considered the article revealed confidential information. Clause 14 states that journalists have a moral obligation to protect their sources. The complainant’s concerns did not relate to this and so the terms of this Clause were not engaged.
23. The complaint was upheld under Clause 1 (i).
Remedial Action Required
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: 06/08/2021
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 18/07/2022Back to ruling listing