Resolution Statement – 13207-21 Studholme v Mail Online
Summary of Complaint
1. Janice Studholme complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Mail Online breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Parents of a two-year-old boy killed in a gas explosion at the family home are charged with his manslaughter”, published on 17 December 2021.
2. The online article reported that a named couple had been charged over the death of a two-year-old child. A bullet-point beneath the headline identified the two individuals by name, and the charges which they faced. The article then went on to separately identity the parents of the child, stating that they were both “injured [in the gas explosion] and later discharged from hospital”. The text of the article included a tribute issued by the parents after their child’s death.
3. The article was also promoted on the publication’s Facebook page, under the headline “Parents of boy killed in gas explosion are charged with manslaughter”.
4. The complainant, the grandmother of the child who had passed away, said that the article’s headline and Facebook post were inaccurate, in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy), because they wrongly stated that the “parents” of the child had been charged with manslaughter when, in fact, a separate couple had been charged. The complainant said that the publication of this inaccurate information, together with the reader comments under both the article and Facebook post, caused the family considerable distress and intruded into their grief, in breach of Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock).
5. The publication accepted that the article’s headline and Facebook post were inaccurate to report that the child’s parents had been charged with manslaughter. It said this was a case of human error, which they were sincerely regretful for. Once it had become aware of the mistake, within 30 minutes of the article’s publication, the article and Facebook post were amended, and the following correction appended to the foot of the article:
“An earlier version of this article erroneously stated that the parents of George Arthur Hinds had been charged with manslaughter. This was amended shortly after publication in order to make clear that the couple charged were not the boy's parents, who had also been injured in the blast. We apologise for the error.”
6. The publication also removed the Facebook post in its entirely, the following day, after it was informed that the complainant remained concerned about the reader’s comments. The publication also offered to publish an apology for the error, and to write the complainant a personal letter of 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.
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.
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.
7. The complaint was not resolved through direct correspondence between the parties. IPSO therefore began an investigation into the matter.
8. During IPSO’s investigation, the publication offered to publish a further correction, including a public apology for the distress caused, to write the complainant a private letter of apology, and to make a charitable donation towards the creation of a memorial garden for the child.
9. The complainant said that this would resolve the matter to her satisfaction.
10. As the complaint was successfully mediated,
the Complaints Committee did not make a determination as to whether there had
been any breach of the Editors’ Code.
Date complaint received: 19/12/2021
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 12/04/2022.Back to ruling listing