Decision of the Complaints Committee 13130-16 The Headteacher of Hawthorn Tree School v The Lincolnshire Echo
Summary of Complaint
1. The Headteacher of Hawthorn Tree School complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Lincolnshire Echo breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Schoolgirl, 4, ‘left in pain for 3 hours’ after dislocating elbow”, published on 5 November 2016.
2. The article reported that a four-year-old girl had been left in pain for three hours after teachers failed to notice she had dislocated her elbow. It said that the child injured herself on a climbing frame during a lunch break, but that the injury went unnoticed until her mother and step-father picked her up from school. It said that the child was prone to dislocating her elbow and shoulder, and said that videos of class activities sent to parents by teachers showed she had not used her arm at all.
3. The article quoted the child’s mother, who
said that the teachers could not explain what had happened, and explained that
the child had been told to take herself to the medical room if she was hurt. It
reported the position of the school’s headteacher, who said that the incident
had been fully explored, and that “staff had acted in good faith, in accordance
with procedures and with the information available to them at the time. I am
satisfied that in the circumstances we did all we could to support the
4. The complainant said the article reported
the incident as a matter of fact, rather than as the claims of the child’s
parents that she dislocated her elbow at school. He said that the school had
received no medical evidence to support the claims that the child had been left
in pain for three hours, or that she pulled her joint out after falling from a
5. The complainant said that while he was
contacted by the publication prior to publication, he was not told the details
of the parents’ claims. He said that he told the reporter that, without any
medical evidence, he considered that “from a legal perspective, the injury did
not happen”. He also said that as a headteacher, he could not and would not
enter into discussion on an individual case. He said that he also told the
reporter that this was a complex case involving school governors, the Local
Authority Legal Services, and Lincolnshire Schools Liaison Officer.
6. The publication said that the parents of the child contacted the newspaper with the claims set out in the article: that she had dislocated her elbow while on a climbing frame at school, and was left untreated for three hours. It said that in the circumstances, it considered that it was reasonable to rely on the parents’ account of the incident, but nonetheless, it contacted the school to put the claims to them and included the complainant’s response in the article. It said that the complainant did not provide any statement disputing the parents’ account at the time.
7. The publication said that it was clear from
the article’s headline, and content of the article, that it was the parents’
account of the incident being reported. It said that while the complainant now
disputed that the child had dislocated her elbow during the incident, he was
not in a position to provide any evidence to counter the account provided by
the child’s parents. Nonetheless, it offered to update the online article to
publish a statement from the school, and amended the article to make clearer
that the information was based on the claims of the parents.
Relevant Code Provisions
8. 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.
v) A publication must report fairly and accurately the outcome of an action for defamation to which it has been a party, unless an agreed settlement states otherwise, or an agreed statement is published.
Findings of the Committee
9. The first line of the article reported that
the claim that the girl was “left in pain for three hours after teachers failed
to notice she had dislocated her elbow” had come from her mother and
step-father. It went on to report that “her mother and step-father claim her
injury went unnoticed by staff”, and quoted the child’s mother and step-father
outlining the sequence of events as they understood it, as well as their upset
at how the incident was handled by the school. Overall, the Committee
considered that the article had made clear that the claims about the incident
had come from the child’s mother and step-father. There was no breach of Clause
10. The complainant had been contacted by the newspaper about the story prior to publication. While the Committee noted the complainant’s position that he told the reporter that he would not enter into discussion about a case which was ongoing and subject to investigation, he did not dispute giving the quotes attributed to him in the article in which he sympathised with the parents over the incident, but said that his staff acted in good faith and was satisfied that the school did all they could to support the child. In circumstances where the position of the complainant – namely that the school denied there had been any wrongdoing – was made clear in the article, the Committee did not consider that the publication had failed to take care over the accuracy of the article in breach of Clause 1(i).
11. Further, while the Committee was not in a position to determine whether or the child had dislocated her elbow at the school, it did not consider that any inaccuracy on this point was significantly misleading in circumstances where the article reported the position of both parties. There was no breach of Clause 1(ii).
12. While it did
not find a breach of the Code, the Committee welcomed the amendments to the
article the newspaper had made in response to the complaint.
13. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 14/11/2016
Date complaint concluded: 24/05/2017
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