Resolution Statement – 21113-23 Walker & Walker v Mail Online

Decision: Resolved - IPSO mediation

Resolution Statement 21113-23 Walker & Walker v Mail Online

Summary of Complaint

1. Craig Walker and Holly Walker complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Mail Online breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 3 (Harassment), Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock), Clause 6 (Reporting of crime), Clause 9 (Reporting of Crime) and Clause 12 (Discrimination), of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Chaos at the school gates: Video captures moment FIGHT breaks out in ugly scenes as furious locals block their driveways with chairs to stop parents parking outside their homes”, published on 4 October 2023.

2. The article reported on a “fight” near a school. It reported that “[a] row between locals and parents who block their driveways at school pick-up time turned ugly as two women started a street brawl”, and that “[t]he pair had to be prised apart by three men as tempers flared in the quiet cul-de-sac”. The article went on to report on the ongoing issue of school parking in the area – for example, it reported that “[l]ast year the livid homeowners blockaded the entrance to the estate by sitting in deck chairs on the road in protest at the daily influx of school-run parents”.

3. The article included pictures of the “fight” in question. The images showed two women being separated by two men – one of the women, and one of the men, were the complainants. The images were captioned: “A number of men had to step in to split the group up amid a dispute, thought to be about parking in the street on the school run”; “One woman can be seen yelling at another after residents formed a roadblock out of deck chairs to deter parents from parking in the street”; and “The fight was eventually broken up - believed to have involved a local resident and another woman who does not live in the street”.

4. The article also included a video of the “fight”. Though neither complainant was pixilated in the images or the video, the other male involved in the incident was.

5. The complainants stated that the article presented an inaccurate and misleading account of the incident, in breach of Clause 1. They denied that a "fight" had occurred or that it had been related to the issue of parking around a local school - they stated that they were in the area to visit a family member, had been approached and threatened by the other individuals involved, and that no acts of violence had taken place. The complainants also stated that the other individuals involved in the incident were not locals to the street.

6. The complainants also said the article inaccurately reported that three men were involved; they said there were only two. Further, the complainants said the article was misleading to refer to an incident where local residents purposely blocked the road over "a year ago" and omit that they had not done so since.

7. The complainants said that the article breached Clause 2 (Privacy) because they were identifiable from the video and still images, which had been published without their consent and without any pixelation. They were also concerned that the article represented a breach of Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock). Further, they said that the article breached Clause 6 (Children) as its publication had affected their child’s time at school.

8. The complainants also stated that the article breached Clause 3, Clause 9, and Clause 12; they were victims in the reported incident.

9. The publication did not accept a breach of the Editors' Code. The publication did not accept that the article misrepresented the incident. It considered that its characterisation of the incident as a "fight" was reasonable: there had been an altercation involving the complainants, which had been witnessed by multiple witnesses and recorded, and had resulted in individuals being separated.

10. The publication did not accept a breach of Clause 2. It said that the complainants were not named or identified in the article, and the altercation had occurred in a public place; it denied that the publication of the article had intruded into their private lives.

11. Further, the publication denied that the complainants’ concerns engaged the terms of Clause 3, Clause 4, Clause 6, Clause 9, or Clause 12.

12. Notwithstanding this, as a gesture of goodwill and in order to resolve the complaint, the publication offered to remove the online article.

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 their private and family life, home, physical and mental 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.

Clause 3 (Harassment)*

i) Journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit.

ii) They must not persist in questioning, telephoning, pursuing or photographing individuals once asked to desist; nor remain on property when asked to leave and must not follow them. If requested, they must identify themselves and whom they represent.

iii) Editors must ensure these principles are observed by those working for them and take care not to use non-compliant material from other sources.

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.

Clause 6 (Children)*

i) All pupils should be free to complete their time at school without unnecessary intrusion.

ii) They must not be approached or photographed at school without permission of the school authorities.

iii) Children under 16 must not be interviewed or photographed on issues involving their own or another child’s welfare unless a custodial parent or similarly responsible adult consents.

iv) Children under 16 must not be paid for material involving their welfare, nor parents or guardians for material about their children or wards, unless it is clearly in the child's interest.

v) Editors must not use the fame, notoriety or position of a parent or guardian as sole justification for publishing details of a child's private life.

Clause 9 (Reporting of Crime)*

i) Relatives or friends of persons convicted or accused of crime should not generally be identified without their consent, unless they are genuinely relevant to the story.

ii) Particular regard should be paid to the potentially vulnerable position of children under the age of 18 who witness, or are victims of, crime. This should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings.

iii) Editors should generally avoid naming children under the age of 18 after arrest for a criminal offence but before they appear in a youth court unless they can show that the individual’s name is already in the public domain, or that the individual (or, if they are under 16, a custodial parent or similarly responsible adult) has given their consent. This does not restrict the right to name juveniles who appear in a crown court, or whose anonymity is lifted.

Clause 12 (Discrimination)

i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's, race, colour, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.

ii) Details of an individual's race, colour, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.

Mediated Outcome

13. The complaint was not resolved through direct correspondence between the parties. IPSO therefore began an investigation into the matter.

14. Upon receipt that IPSO had opened an investigation, the publication reiterated its offer to remove the article in order to resolve the complaint.

15. The complainants requested, in addition to this, that the publication also delete any images and/or videos that it held which featured them.

16. In response, the publication removed the online article, and internally marked the images/video as not for publication.

17. The complainants accepted this as a satisfactory resolution to their complaint.

18. As the complaint was successfully mediated, the Complaints Committee did not make a determination as to whether there had been any breach of the Code.

Date complaint received:  06/10/2023

Date complaint concluded by IPSO:  05/01/2024

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