Decision of the Complaints Committee 13323-16 Cree v Belfast Telegraph
Summary of Complaint
1. Nicola Cree complained that the Belfast Telegraph breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Funeral ban for husband killer”, published on 26 July 2016.
2. The article reported that Jacqueline Crymble, who is serving a 20-year sentence for killing her husband Paul Crymble, had been warned to stay away from the funeral of her brother, Stephen Cree. It said that she had hoped to apply for compassionate bail to attend the funeral, but that her family had told prison officials that she would not be welcome. It said that her late brother, who was friends with her husband, never forgave her for the crime. It quoted a ‘friend’ of the family who said: “The last thing they want is Jacqueline to turn up and add to their agony. They think the only reason she would want to come would be for a trip out of jail and to cause drama. The family have contacted the prison and made it clear they don’t want her there”.
3. The complainant, the sister of Stephen Cree and Jacqueline Crymble, said that a reporter from the newspaper contacted her through Facebook immediately after her brother’s death. She said that she was still in mourning and vulnerable at this point, and told the reporter that the family did not want Ms Crymble to attend the funeral. She said that she requested that the information remained private, and informed the reporter that she did not give consent for anything said during the conversation to be published. She provided copies of the Facebook messages exchanged between the parties, including a message in which she said that she would appreciate it if the newspaper did not publish the story, or at least delay its publication until after her brother had been laid to rest.
4. The complainant also said that Clause 4 had been breached by the lack of sensitivity and respect for her and her families’ grief by being contacted so soon after Stephen’s death, as well as subsequent publication of the article. She said that the Facebook messages seemed to be sent in an attempt to prey on the grief stricken and vulnerable state of her and her family. She said that publication of the article had added to the family’s pain and distress at an already difficult time. She also said that Facebook was an inappropriate medium to contact her through at a time of grief. The complainant also said that the article breached Clause 1 because it implied a causal link between her brother’s death and the murder of Paul Crymble.
5. The newspaper said that the first message sent by its reporter was sent in order to let the complainant know that the newspaper planned to publish a story about Ms Crymble’s attempts to get compassionate bail for her brother’s funeral, rather than an attempt to gain comments from her. It said that the complainant initially thanked her for the contact, and said it was unfortunate that this well-intentioned gesture has been interpreted in the way that it had. It said that after the murder of Paul Crymble, the newspaper had helped the Cree family publicise their disgust at Ms Crymble’s actions, and that the reporter had previously been in close contact with the family on this issue.
6. The newspaper said that the reporter’s contact with the complainant was not on the basis for reporting that the family did not want Ms Crymble to attend the funeral; it said that before contacting the complainant, the reporter had spoken to a friend of the family who confirmed their position. In any event, it said that given the reporter’s previous contact with the family, she was well aware of the relationship they had with Ms Crymble, and knew that they would not wish her to attend the funeral. It also said that in the circumstances, it was more appropriate and respectful to report the complainant’s opposition to the proposed attendance at the funeral rather than say nothing of her feelings. The newspaper also said that the article did not suggest or imply any causal link between the death of Stephen Cree and Paul Crymble. It added that given the cold-hearted murder committed by Ms Crymble, it was clearly in the public interest to report that she intended to request compassionate leave to attend her brother’s funeral.
7. The complainant disputed the newspaper’s assertion that the reporter had contacted the complainant simply to alert the family that an article would appear about Ms Crymble. She said that the reporter was clearly seeking confirmation of the family’s view on Ms Crymble’s application for compassionate leave. Up until the Facebook exchange, it would have been purely speculative to publish an article outlining the family’s opinion on the matter.
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.
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. Account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information.
iii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals, without their consent, in public or private places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.
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 newspaper contacted the complainant through Facebook to inform her that the newspaper would be publishing a story about her sister's request for compassionate bail to attend her brother's funeral. The complainant did ask the journalist not to publish the story, or to at least wait until after her brother's funeral. However, the Committee did not consider that any clear request was made not to include her comments in the article. In any event, it noted the newspaper's position that the complainant was not quoted in the article, and the family's position was instead put across by a friend who the reporter had spoken to prior to contacting the complainant. In the circumstances, there was no intrusion into the complainant's private life in breach of Clause 2.
10. The Committee acknowledged the complainant's upset at being approached by a journalist so soon after her brother's death. However, it considered that the approach was made in a non-intrusive manner, and the tone and content of the reporter's messages displayed sensitivity to the complainant’s loss. Further, while it understood the complainant's desire not to have any article published on Ms Crymble's application for compassionate bail, the newspaper was free to publish the story, and did so in a sensitive manner, particularly the elements relating to her brother's death. There was no breach of Clause 4.
11. The Committee did not consider that the article made, or implied, any causal link between the murder of Paul Cree and Stephen's death. There was no breach of Clause 1.
12. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action required
Date complaint received: 15/11/2016
Date complaint concluded: 05/06/2017
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