Decision of the Complaints Committee 19319-17 Warren v The Chronicle (Newcastle)
Summary of complaint
1. Clare Warren complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Chronicle breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined "The making of a murderess", published on 21 October 2017.
2. The article reported that the complainant’s daughter had been convicted of murder and witness intimidation. It reported information about her background, character, and details about the crimes that she had committed. The article also included various comments made by a source who was allegedly a former friend of the complainant’s daughter, namely that “when [the complainant’s daughter] got into drugs [her parents] didn’t want her under their roof, so she went to live with her Nana, but then her Nana kicked her out”.
3. The article was published online in substantively the same format, headlined “Who is Zoe Warren? How a party girl became a brutal killer”.
4. The complainant said that her daughter was not “kicked out” of the family home, or her grandmother’s home. She said that her daughter had spent some time away from the family home in 2013 and that she would occasionally visit her grandmother overnight. The complainant also said that the article was biased as it only published comments which had been made by the source, and she expressed concern that the source did not provide these comments in good faith.
5. The newspaper did not accept that there had been a breach of the Code. It said that it had interviewed a reliable source who purported to be close to the complainant’s daughter; he had claimed to know the complainant’s daughter well and was able to speak in detail about her personality and background, based on his knowledge of her and her family. The newspaper said that it was reassured that the source had provided the interview in good faith, because he demonstrated balance and stated that the complainant’s daughter’s actions seemed out of character, as reported in the article. It said that in the circumstances, it did not have any reason to doubt the veracity or accuracy of the information provided by him. The newspaper provided a copy of the notes taken by its reporter during the interview, which recorded the source’s comment that “[the complainant’s daughter] went to live with her Nana then her Nana kicked her out”.
6. Nevertheless, the newspaper offered to remove the wording from the online article and to add a footnote to the article to highlight the amendment made, as a gesture of goodwill. It also offered to publish a clarification in print, to make clear that the complainant’s daughter was not “kicked out” of her grandmother’s house.
Relevant Code Provisions
7. 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.
Findings of the Committee
8. The newspaper had interviewed a source who it said was able to provide detailed information about the complainant’s daughter, including that she had left her family home to live with her grandmother, and was later “kicked out” of her grandmother’s house. As the source was confidential, the Committee was not in a position to comment on its reliability however, the newspaper was entitled to report the source’s comments. Furthermore, this information was clearly attributed to the source in the article, and there was no suggestion that he had been misquoted. This demonstrated that the newspaper had taken care not to publish inaccurate information. There was no breach of Clause 1 (i).
9. There may be circumstances where it is necessary for a newspaper to seek comment from the subject of the article, where it intends to publish a source’s comments, to ensure the accuracy of the article. While the Committee acknowledged the complainant’s position that her daughter was not “kicked out” of the family home or her grandmother’s home, it did not consider that the inclusion of this information, in circumstances where the complainant’s daughter’s comment was not included, was in breach of the Code: The article was a report of the complainant’s daughter’s convictions of murder and witness intimidation, and it included various information about the complainant’s daughter, her background and her character. The claim that she had been “kicked out” of the homes was a brief reference, clearly attributed to the source, and the comment was included in the context of an article which focused on the contrast between the complainant’s daughter’s family life and criminal convictions. Furthermore, in circumstances where the complainant accepts that her daughter spent some time away from the family home and would occasionally visit her grandmother overnight, the Committee did not consider that the article was significantly inaccurate on this point, such as to require correction under the Code. There was no breach of Clause 1.
10. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial action required
Date complaint received: 25/10/2017
Date decision issued: 18/01/2018