09742-21 Woodcock v metro.co.uk

Decision: No breach - after investigation

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 09742-21 Woodcock v metro.co.uk

Summary of Complaint

1. Simon Woodcock complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation, through a representative, that metro.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Club ‘served underage girl 10 Jägerbombs in an hour for £7.50’”, published on 30 July 2021.

2. The online article reported that a mother had criticised a named nightclub after claiming that it permitted entry to and served alcohol to her underage daughter. The article included comments made by the mother to a separate publication, 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 the response from the complainant, the club’s manager, who made clear that the venue did “not encourage excessive drinking” and that its staff were “trained to serve responsibly”. The article then stated that the club “said they would investigate the incident and work with police and the council to address ID issues”.

3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate, in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy). He said that incident reported on had never occurred; there was no evidence that the child had entered the club 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 publication did not accept a breach of the Editors’ Code. It said that the disputed claims originated from an article published by a local newspaper, and reported in good faith. It said that the headline and text of the article made clear the status of the allegations put forward. Furthermore, it noted that the complainant had been contacted for comment prior to publication by the local newspaper; his position was made clear in the text of the article.

5. Upon receipt of the complaint, the publication had contacted the local newspaper to ascertain its position in relation to the concerns raised. In response, the newspaper said that it had been unable to contact the family member and as result was taking corrective action. In such circumstances, the newspaper decided to remove the online article and publish the following clarification as a standalone item:

“On 30th July, Metro.co.uk published an article with the headline ‘Club ‘served underage girl 10 Jägerbombs in an hour for £7.50’, which had first appeared on YorkshireLive. Since publication of the article, the owner of The Acapulco Club, Simon Woodcock, has advised that he is satisfied there was no record of the individual described in the article entering the club via their QR/ticketing system and CCTV footage. 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 position clear and have removed the article from our website.”

6. The complainant, however, did not consider that the steps taken by the newspaper were 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 publication had relied upon information which had been syndicated by a trusted newspaper group. While there was no reason to doubt that the newspaper had acted in good faith, it was ultimately responsible for the accuracy of the content published.

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. In considering the care taken by the newspaper, the Committee noted that the information had been syndicated by a trusted newspaper group. Further, the article had appropriately distinguished the allegations put forward by the mother as claims. They had been attributed to this individual and presented as such; they had not been adopted, or presented, as fact by the publication. The Committee also noted that the text of the article made the complainant’s position clear, and that an investigation into the alleged incident was ongoing. 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).

9. 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 was notified by the other newspaper group that it was unable to obtain further testimony from the mother following a further enquiry with the police. It had promptly removed the online article, and published an item which updated readers on the situation.

Conclusion(s)

10. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

11. N/A


Date complaint received: 07/09/2021

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 12/07/2022

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