Decision of the Complaints Committee – 09738-21 Woodcock v Huddersfield Daily Examiner
Summary of Complaint
1. Simon Woodcock complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation, through a representative, that the Huddersfield Daily Examiner breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Girl, 16, 'passes out' in doorway after club sells her ten 75p Jagerbombs”, published on 31 July 2021.
2. The article reported that a mother had criticised a named nightclub after it had permitted entry to and served alcohol to her underage daughter. It said that the mother found her “teenage daughter ‘passed out in the doorway’ of a nearby bingo hall after she spent just £7.50 on ten drinks in the space of an hour” at the club, noting that her daughter went to the “nightclub on July 19 with a group of friends, but became unwell after drinking too much”. The article included the comments made by the mother, who called on the nightclub to review its entry and drinks policy as well as the local authority to take preventative action. The article also included a response from the complainant, the club’s manager, who made clear that the venue was “deeply concerned about this story”, did “not encourage excessive drinking” and that its staff were “trained to serve responsibly”. It made clear that the club would “investigate the incident and work with police and the council to address ID issues”. The article also included comments made by a local councillor, responsible for public services and communities, who said that the council would “work closely with the police to ensure compliance with licensing legislation and will follow up on any reports of under-age drinking”, adding that “if concerns are raised”, the council would “respond and take enforcement action if necessary”.
3. A substantially similar version of the article also appeared online with the headline “Girl, 16, 'passes out' in random doorway after Halifax nightclub sells her ten 75p Jagerbombs”.
4. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate, in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy). He said that the reported incident had never occurred; there was no evidence that the underage girl had entered the venue or been sold alcohol. He also denied that the family member quoted existed. He said that the article’s publication had been seriously damaging to the reputation and finances of the business.
5. The newspaper said that the article had been based upon a press release. Upon receipt of this, it had contacted the following subjects for comment: the family member; the complainant (as the manager of the venue); the local council; and the police. It maintained that the article accurately reported the allegations made by the family member, adding that the article made clear the status of these allegations. It also noted that the article made clear the venue’s position, and published the complainant’s comments in full as well as the response provided by the local council.
6. Notwithstanding this, following the article’s publication, and upon receipt of further concerns raised by the complainant after his review of the venue’s CCTV footage, the publication returned to the family member for further comments and in order to obtain a police reference number. When the family member did not respond to this request, the newspaper contacted the police for a public statement, removed the online article and published the following correction online. This included the statement provided by the police and the complainant’s denial in full, and appeared as a standalone item on the newspaper’s website:
“In regards to our story 'Girl, 16, 'passes out' in random doorway after Halifax nightclub sells her ten 75p Jagerbombs,' 29 July, the owner of The Acapulco Club, Simon Woodcock, has since advised that he is satisfied that there was no record of the individual entering the club via their QR/ticketing system, and that there was no-one on the CCTV matching the individual's description. Furthermore, Mr Woodcock has advised that no footage of the individual was found on the CCTV of the location where she was suggested to have been found. YorkshireLive contacted the Police for comment, who stated that 'West Yorkshire Police has not found any evidence to support the allegations made.' We are happy to make the above positions clear.”
7. The complainant, however, did not consider the actions taken by the publication sufficient. The wording did not state unequivocally that the events described did not happen, nor did it adequately address the financial consequences of the article’s publication or include an apology.
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.
Findings of the Committee
8. The newspaper had relied on claims which had been made by the mother, and shared within a press release, against the complainant’s establishment. These allegations were serious, claiming that it had sold alcohol to a person under the age of 18, potentially in breach of the law and licensing regulations. While the newspaper acknowledged that it had subsequently been unable to obtain further testimony from the mother following a further enquiry with the police, it considered that the article had not breached the Editors’ Code because it had taken care to present the claims made by the mother only as allegations, with the text of the article making clear the respective positions of the relevant parties: the complainant’s business had launched its own investigation into the allegations and the council would “follow up” on any reported incidents of under-age drinking.
9. In the case, the Committee was not in a position to reconcile the conflicting accounts, or to rule on the accuracy of the claims made by the mother. However, the Committee considered that the article had misleadingly presented, and adopted, these allegations as fact.
10. The Committee considered that the headline – read on its own or in conjunction with the text of the article – did not make sufficiently clear that the article was reporting a claim which had been made by the mother. The headline and text of the article stated, as fact, that the child was permitted entry to and then sold a specific amount of alcohol by the complainant’s establishment, without qualification or attribution. The inclusion of quotation marks within the headline, only around the words “passes out”, and the responses of the relevant parties, did not adequately indicate that the article was reporting a claim when the article was considered as a whole. By presenting serious allegations about the conduct of a licensed establishment in this way, the publication had not taken sufficient care over the accuracy of the article – both in print and online – in breach of Clause 1 (i) and Clause 1 (iv). The presentation of these claims as fact was significant, where they related to serious allegations that alcohol had been sold to someone under the age of 18. For this reason, the newspaper was required to publish a clarification under the terms of Clause 1 (ii).
11. While the Committee welcomed the steps taken by the publication when it was unable to obtain further testimony from the mother, the published wording did not address that the article had misleadingly presented the claims made. For this reason, there was a breach of Clause 1 (ii).
12. The complaint was upheld.
Remedial Action Required
13. Having upheld a breach of Clause 1, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required. In circumstances where the Committee establishes a breach of the Editors’ Code, it can require the publication of a correction and/or adjudication, the terms and placement of which is determined by IPSO.
14. In coming to a view on the appropriate remedy in this case, the Committee considered the seriousness and extent of the breach of the Code. It also noted the steps taken by the newspaper following publication, including the removal of the online article and the publication of standalone correction. However, this item had not addressed that the article had misleadingly presented the allegations as fact. As such, the appropriate remedy was the publication of a clarification.
Committee then considered the placement of this clarification. This
clarification should appear as a standalone clarification in the publication’s
Corrections and Clarification’s column both in print and online. The wording of
this clarification should be agreed with IPSO in advance and should make clear
that it had been published following an upheld ruling by the Independent Press
Date complaint received: 07/09/2021
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 12/07/2022Back to ruling listing