Decision of the Complaints Committee – 09739-21 Woodcock v mirror.co.uk
Summary of Complaint
1. Simon Woodcock complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation, through a representative, that mirror.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Girl, 16, 'passes out' after nightclub 'sells her 10 Jagerbombs for £7.50 in one hour'”, published on 30 July 2021.
2. The headline of the online article was followed by the sub-heading: “[Named] nightclub has come under fire for its cheap drinks after a teenage girl drank 10 Jagerbombs for £7.50 there, it is claimed”. The article reported that a mother had criticised the nightclub after claiming that it permitted entry to and served alcohol to her underage daughter. The mother 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 matters fully” and “cooperate fully with police and offer a review of [its] CCTV to figure out what has happened.” 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. 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.
4. The newspaper said that the article had been based upon a press release. Upon receipt of this, its sister publication 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 mother, 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 as well as the response provided by the local council.
5. 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, its sister publication returned to the mother for further comments and in order to obtain a police reference number. When the mother did not respond to this request, the sister publication contacted the police for a public statement. Upon receipt of this, the publication then removed the online article and published the following correction online. This included the statement provided by the police to the sister publication 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 [named nightclub] 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.”
6. 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
7. The Committee was clear that a newspaper’s obligations under the Editors’ Code extends to all editorial content it publishes, including material obtained from sister publications.
8. The allegations made by the mother against the complainant’s establishment were serious, claiming that it had sold alcohol to a person under the age of 18, potentially in breach of the law and licensing regulation. The sister publication had approached a number of relevant parties for their comments on these allegations prior to publication, including the complainant. The responses received were then included within the text of the article, which made 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. On this basis, the Committee found that the publication had demonstrated that it had taken care over the accuracy of the article under Clause 1 (i).
9. The Committee next turned to the presentation of these allegations within the article. It considered that the article appropriately distinguished these allegations as claims. They had been attributed to the mother, via the use of quotations marks, and presented as such; they had not been adopted, or presented, as fact by the publication. Given this, the Committee considered that the newspaper had taken sufficient care in reporting the claims made. There was no breach of Clause 1 (i) or (iv).
10. While the Committee recognised the complainant’s concerns, it was not in a position to reconcile the conflicting accounts, or to rule on the accuracy of the claims made by the mother. The publication was entitled to report these claims, and had done so accurately. There was, therefore, no breach of Clause 1(ii). Notwithstanding this, the Committee welcomed the steps taken by the publication when it had been notified by its sister publication that it was unable to obtain further testimony from the mother following an additional enquiry with the police. It had promptly removed the online article, and published an item which updated readers on the situation.
11. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 07/09/2021
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 12/07/2022Back to ruling listing