Decision of the Complaints Committee 12103-20 Smith v Mail Online
Summary of Complaint
1. Cath Smith complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Mail Online breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Horrified Tesco customer eats nearly ALL her £3.75 chicken tray bake only find dead MOUSE buried in the sauce - leaving her 'vomiting for 12 hours'” published on 23 July 2020.
2. The article reported on a post on the Facebook page of a supermarket, in which a woman alleged that she had found a dead mouse in her ready meal. The article contained quotes from the Facebook post in which the woman stated that she had been “vomiting for 12 hours”. The article included a photograph of the ready meal which showed a mostly empty foil tray and the dead mouse. The article also contained a photograph of the woman who made the post. The article was originally headlined “Horrified Tesco customer tucks into a £3.75 chicken tray bake only find dead MOUSE buried in the sauce leaving her 'vomiting for 12 hours'”. The headline was then amended to the version under complaint.
3. The complainant, the woman who made the Facebook post, said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 as she had not eaten “nearly all” of the ready meal, but had only had one bite, and then scraped the majority of the meal into the bin.
4. The complainant also said that the article breached her privacy under Clause 2 as it had used a photograph of her from her personal Facebook page which she said had privacy settings in place.
5. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. The publication provided screenshots of Facebook messages to demonstrate that it had reached out to the complainant for comment prior to publishing the story, and had asked whether she had eaten any of the meal before she found the mouse. The complainant replied “yes”, but did not specify how much of the meal she had eaten. The publication stated that as the woman had confirmed she had eaten some of the meal; that the photograph showed that the tray was mostly empty; and that she had said that she had been “vomiting” and “unwell” it was therefore reasonable to conclude that she had eaten “nearly all” of the meal. It noted that when the woman reached out to them directly it changed the headline of the article back to the original version, removing the words “nearly all”.
6. The publication provided a screenshot of the photograph it had used of the complainant from her Facebook page which showed that the setting of the photograph was public. It also provided a link to the photograph, which was still public during the investigation. It also noted that the post was made on a large Facebook group and that all the information included was in the public domain, and that the complainant had consented to the publication of the story. However, the publication deleted the article as a gesture of goodwill.
Relevant Clause 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 his or her private and family life, home, 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.
Findings of the Committee
7. The complainant had posted pictures of a mostly empty ready meal tray, and had stated that since the alleged discovery of the mouse that she had been “vomiting for 12 hours” and “unwell”. The publication had reached out to the complainant directly and asked if she had eaten any of the meal, and the complainant said she had. As the publication had been told by the complainant that she had eaten some of the meal; had seen the mostly finished tray; had not been told that she had scraped some of it into the bin; and knew that she had faced severe adverse reactions, it was not unreasonable to presume that the complainant had eaten “nearly all” of the meal on the basis of the information the publication had at the time of publication. On this basis, the publication had taken care not to publish inaccurate or misleading information under Clause 1(i). The Committee considered that where the complainant had accepted that she had eaten some of the meal, it was not significantly inaccurate, in the overall context of the story which reported on the complainant’s reaction to having discovered the mouse in ready meal she had been eating, including the fact that she had been unwell because of it, to report that she had eaten “nearly all” of it. While the Committee therefore did not find a breach of Clause 1(ii) it welcomed the publication’s actions in changing the headline under complaint, and ultimately deleting the article as a gesture of goodwill.
8. The publication had provided evidence to demonstrate that the photograph published in the article was publicly available on the complainant’s social media. On this basis, the complainant did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in respect of the photograph and publishing it did not constitute an intrusion into her private life. There was no breach of Clause 2.
9. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial action required
Date complaint received: 24/07/2020
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 12/11/2020Back to ruling listing