Decision of the Complaints Committee – 09788-20 A Man v liverpoolecho.co.uk
Summary of Complaint
1. A man complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the liverpoolecho.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 4 (Intrusion into shock and grief) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Tributes to hero of Hillsborough disaster who died after coronavirus battle”, published on 14 April 2020.
2. The article reported on the death of a named man who “was pictured sitting on the Leppings Lane terrace with his head in his hands following the [Hillsborough] disaster”. The article described the image as “poignant” and reported that it had been shared online thousands of times. The article published tributes to the named man after his death, and described his role in the Hillsborough disaster. The article also included several quotes from the named man’s daughter, such as that he “often denied the harrowing image of the survivor sitting alone with his head in his hands on the afternoon of April 15, 1989, was him” which his family said was because it brought back too many painful memories. However, the article went on to report that “When he moved home and found the jacket he was pictured wearing, [his daughter] said it opened up old wounds”.
3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 because it had named the wrong person as the subject of the photograph. The complainant said that he was the person in the photograph, but that this had been consistently misreported. The complainant supplied contemporary pictures of himself, as well as a video taken on the day of the disaster which he said showed him in the same tracksuit as the person in the photograph was wearing under a coat. He also provided another photograph of the man, which was taken at the same time and positioning as the published photograph but showed the man’s face, rather than it being hidden in his hands. The complainant also noted that the named man had previously denied that it was him in the photograph.
4. The complainant also said that the publication of the photograph without his consent caused him distress and made him recall the painful memories of the Hillsborough disaster in breach of Clause 4.
5. The publication said it did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that the image had been shared on Twitter by a close friend of the named man, was shared thousands of times across multiple platforms, and that there was no evidence that the identity of the person was disputed. It also said that it had taken care to publish accurate information, and had spoken to the daughter of the named man prior to the publication of the article, who said that the family were absolutely confident that the person in the photograph was the man named in the article. It pointed to the fact that the article even included a quote about how the named man had found the jacket he had worn on the day. The publication accepted that the photo provided by the complainant where the person photographed was turned towards the camera was the same person as in the published photograph, however it did not accept that this was conclusive evidence that this was the complainant. It said that on this basis it would not be appropriate to correct the article.
6. The publication said that as it believed the photo correctly identified the named man, the complainant did not have standing to complain under Clause 4, and there was no breach.
Relevant Code Provisions
7. 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.
8. 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.
Findings of the Committee
9. The Committee acknowledged the very difficult emotions that the Hillsborough disaster still generates for many people, and expressed their sincere sympathies to the complainant, and all those who have been affected by it.
10. The Committee stressed that its role was not to make findings of fact regarding the definitive identity of the man; instead the Committee was asked to consider whether the publication had taken care over the accuracy of the information it had published, and whether any information was significantly inaccurate so as to require correction under the terms of the Editors’ Code.
11. Firstly, the Committee considered the care demonstrated by the publication, prior to publication, in line with its obligations under Clause 1(i). The image had been shared thousands of times on social media, from the original post of a close friend of the named man who had said that he had died. There was no publicly available dispute regarding the identity of the man it named. The newspaper had taken further steps by going to the daughter of the named man for comment, who had confirmed she was positive it was her father. As there was no public contestation of who was featured in the image, and the publication had sought and received further confirmation from the immediate family of the named man, the Committee found that the publication had taken care not to publish misleading information on this basis, and therefore there was no breach of Clause 1(i).
12. The Committee then considered whether there was a significant inaccuracy that required correction under Clause 1(ii). The Committee reiterated that it was not in a position to determine who was in the photograph, but to consider the evidence provided by both the complainant and the publication and to make a decision as to whether the newspaper had complied with its obligations under the Editors’ Code. The complainant had provided further images and a video from day of the Hillsborough disaster, however, even with this evidence the Committee was not able to conclusively decide which man was pictured in the photograph, and was therefore unable to make a finding as to whether the article was inaccurate in order to require a correction under Clause 1(ii).
13. The Committee recognised the trauma of the Hillsborough disaster and the impact and distress that the publication of the photograph had caused the complainant. However, the test under Clause 4 relates to whether the publication of information had been handled sensitively. The publication had published the article in good faith on information that was in the public domain. Whilst this was upsetting for the complainant, it was entitled to publish the photograph and there was no breach of Clause 4.
14. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 14/06/2020
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 11/11/2020Back to ruling listing