Decision of the Complaints Committee – 10091-21 Williams v Hull Daily Mail
Summary of Complaint
1. Kevin Williams complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Hull Daily Mail breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Woman says litter warden was ‘racist’”, published on 17th July 2021.
2. The article reported that “Hull City Council is conducting an investigation after a litter warden was accused of shouting racist remarks in the street”. It said that a woman claimed the litter warden “was ‘spouting racism’ in the town centre while wearing his Hull City Council uniform” and that she had confronted the man, but he had refused to apologise. The article reported that the woman said: “I located a police officer myself to inform him of the situation before he tried to flip it. The man’s colleague and the police officer were both in agreement with myself and my partner”. The article also stated “[t]he council said it is taking the incident ‘very seriously’” and that “Hull City Council have said they are yet to receive a complaint about the incident but will be investigating the incident regardless.” The article included an image of the warden in a Hull City Council jacket with their face obscured.
3. The article also appeared online under the headline, “Council investigating 'racist' comments by litter warden in Hull city centre” and included part of a statement made by the Council that said: “’Any allegations of racial abuse are taken extremely seriously by the council and will be fully investigated […] As a city of sanctuary, Hull City Council has a zero tolerance policy to any form of racial abuse or discrimination’".
4. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 because he had not been racist, and the incident had not happened as reported. The article reported that the woman had claimed that he had been “’spouting his racist views to his clearly uninterested colleague’”. However, he said he had been teaching a new colleague the nature of the role and, during this, they issued a ticket to a person whose English was not fluent, and this resulted in difficulties with communication. The complainant said the person receiving the ticket became verbally abusive and threatening to them. The complainant stated that, after they had finished speaking to this individual, his colleague asked why the individual had been verbally abusive, and that he replied, “we often get that with foreign people”. In addition, the article had reported that the woman had “’located a police officer [herself]… the man’s colleague and the police officer were both in agreement with [her] and [her] partner’”. However, the complainant said that a woman and a man started calling him racist and that a police officer came over and told the two members of the public to go on their way and that it was not racist.
5. The complainant also said the article breached Clause 1 as the Council was not investigating the incident. He explained that he had not been called to the office to describe his version of what happened, and his manager had not been informed of the incident.
6. The complainant said the article also breached Clause 2 as it had included an image of him that had made him identifiable in connection to this incident. He said that whilst his face had been blurred, it was still possible to see that he was wearing a hat and that he was the only enforcement officer who wore that sort of hat and had that build.
7. Furthermore, the complainant said the article also breached Clause 12 because it called him a racist.
8. The publication said it did not accept a breach of Clause 1. It said the article had clearly distinguished between comment, conjecture and fact with regard to the woman’s allegations. It also stated that that the reporter had contacted the council and informed it of the allegations and inquired if there had been any complaints made and if it wished to provide a comment. The spokesperson for the council stated that no complaint had yet been made but that “Any allegations of racial abuse are taken extremely seriously by the council and will be fully investigated”. The publication said that this had been included in the article.
9. The publication also did not accept a breach of Clause 2. It said that the article did not reveal private information about the complainant. It further said that it had blurred the complainant’s face in the image that was included in the article so that he was not identifiable. Furthermore, the publication stated that the complainant did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy as the photograph had been taken in a public street.
10. The publication also did not accept a breach of Clause 12. It said that the article did not include any prejudicial or pejorative reference to the complainant's race, colour, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability and so the Clause was 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 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.
Findings of the Committee
11. The Committee first considered the complaint in relation to the woman’s account of the incident. It noted that it was not in dispute that an altercation had taken place between this woman and the complainant; the primary area of disagreement was as to whether the comment made by the complainant could be characterised as “racist”, which the complainant disputed. Where the article made clear that this was the woman’s account of the exchange, reporting her claim did not constitute a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article. There was no breach of Clause 1(i).
12. The Committee then tuned to the complaint about the claim that the Council was investigating. The publication had approached the Council for comment prior to publication and the Council had provided a statement confirming that “Any allegations of racial abuse are taken extremely seriously by the council and will be fully investigated”. This was quoted in full in the online article and had been paraphrased in the print version, which stated, “The council said it is taking the incident ‘very seriously’”. The statement from the Council was ambiguous and in the view of the Committee could reasonably be understood as confirmation that the matter would be investigated as it involved an allegation of racial abuse, notwithstanding that a complaint had not, at that stage, been received. Where the publication had approached the Council for comment and had quoted or paraphrased the statement provided in both articles, the Committee did not find that it had failed to take care over the accuracy of the article in breach of Clause 1 (i).
13. However, since the publication of the article the complainant had confirmed that no investigation had commenced, a position that the publication did not appear to dispute. The Committee considered that the claim that the Council was investigating the allegation was significant and had been reported prominently, appearing in the opening sentence of the article and in the online headline. In circumstances where the publication appeared to accept that this was not accurate, the Committee considered that a correction was required under Clause 1 (ii). No correction had been offered and so there was a breach of Clause 1 (ii).
14. The Committee then considered the complaint under Clause 2. The image of the complainant in the article had been blurred and showed him on a public street where he would have been visible to passers-by. The article did not reveal information about him that could reasonably be considered to be private: it concerned allegations of misconduct whilst he was acting in a professional capacity. Therefore, there was no breach of Clause 2.
15. Clause 12 is designed to prevent pejorative, prejudicial, and/or unnecessary reference to an individual’s protected characteristics (race, colour, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability). As such, it does not prevent individuals being accused of racism and, therefore, Clause 12 was not engaged.
16. The complaint was partially upheld under Clause 1.
Remedial Action Required
17. Having partially 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 an adjudication, the terms and placement of which is determined by IPSO.
18. The newspaper had not accepted a breach of the Code nor offered a correction regarding whether the Council were investigating the incident. Given that the Council’s statement had been reflected in the articles, the Committee considered a correction was the appropriate remedy in order to make the Council’s position clear.
19. The correction should identify the original inaccuracy and set out the correct position: that the Council were not investigating this incident. The article had appeared on page 6, the correction should appear on page 6 or further forward. The correction should also be added to the online article. If the publication intended to continue to publish the online article without amendment, the correction should be published immediately beneath the headline. If the article is amended, the correction should be published as a footnote which explains the amendments that have been made. The wording of the corrections should make clear that they have been published following an upheld correction from the Independent Press Standards Organisation.
Date complaint received: 23/09/2021
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 03/05/2022Back to ruling listing