Decision of the Complaints Committee – 29111-20 Robinson
v Harrow Times
Summary of Complaint
1. Mike Robinson complained to the Independent Press
Standards Organisation that Harrow Times breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the
Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Fire engine is blocked by
low-traffic planters”, published on 12 November 2020.
2. The article reported that planters had “blocked” a fire
engine’s access to attending an incident in the London Borough of Harrow. It
reported that the vehicle was spotted in Harrow View – one of the areas being
trialled as a low-traffic neighbourhood by the local council – with
firefighters consequently “being forced to run down neighbouring streets to
attend [the] incident”. The article, which appeared on page 2 of the newspaper,
noted the comments previously made by a local resident in a letter to the
newspaper which questioned whether emergency services had been fully briefed on
the new measure. The article also included comments previously made by the
local councillor and stated that both Harrow Council and the London Fire
Brigade (LFB) had been contacted for comment about the incident in question.
The article was illustrated with a photograph of planters, with a separate
image of a fire engine included. The photograph was captioned: “Planters have
been installed as part of an initiative to reduce traffic”.
3. A substantially similar version of the article was
published online on 6 November, under the headline “Harrow LTNs criticised as
fire engine blocked by planters”.
4. The complainant said the article was inaccurate and misleading,
in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy). Firstly, he said, the article incorrectly
reported that that planters were in Harrow View. In fact, they were situated in
“Pinner View”. Whilst he accepted that the main photograph showed the planters
in Pinner View, he said that the article failed to make this clear or that the
photograph was historic: it had been taken when the planters were first
installed in October 2020. The complainant expressed concern that the cropped
image of the fire engine included within the article was also historic, having
been taken in 2010 and of a vehicle that was no longer commissioned by LFB. He
also said the article had reported uncollaborated claims as fact, without any
evidence to demonstrate that the alleged incident had occurred.
5. The newspaper accepted that it had, due to human error,
incorrectly reported where the incident in question had occurred. The newspaper
said that once it had been made aware of this error by another reader, it had
immediately taken steps to address it: amending the online version of the
article and adding the following footnote to record this: “An earlier version
of this article incorrectly stated the incident took place in Harrow View - it
has now been updated”.
6. In addition, the newspaper published the following
correction. This was published online on 13 November and in print on 26
“In a story in the Harrow Times on November 12 headlined
‘Fire engine is blocked by low-traffic planters’ our reporter mistakenly
reported that planters were in Harrow View. They were in fact in Pinner View.
We apologise for the error. That headline also reflected a claim made by one
person in the story that was not verified and should have been marked with
single quotes to indicate this. The same was true of the headline ‘Planters
block fire engine’s way’ on the wrap of the paper, which also lacked quote marks.
We apologise for any misunderstanding this caused”.
7. Whilst the publication accepted that the complainant’s
first point of complaint represented an inaccuracy, it did not accept that his
further concerns raised a breach of the Code. The publication said the article
had clearly reported the recollection of an eyewitness to the incident. It
added that its reporter had been provided with a video and photograph of the
incident, and whilst it had been unable to publish these due to concerns relating
to copyright and quality, this had assured the newspaper that the event had
taken place in the manner described. The newspaper added that it had contacted
both Harrow Council and the LFB for comment prior to publication. With this,
the newspaper maintained that it had taken reasonable steps prior to
publication to take care not to publish inaccurate information. It denied
breaching Clause 1 (i) on this point.
8. In regard to the complainant’s concerns about the images
used in the article, the newspaper did not accept a breach of Clause 1. The
newspaper said, in the absence of an acceptable photograph of the incident as
it occurred, it had elected to combine a Google Streetview image of the
location (and specifically the planters in question) with a stock image of a
fire engine in order to help to convey the essence of the story. The newspaper
added that the extracts from a readers letter included in the article referred
to other similar incidents in the local area, noting that its sister publication
previously reported on a similar incident involving an emergency vehicle in
9. During the course of IPSO’s investigation, the newspaper
provided the email correspondence it had received from the LFB on 28 January
2021, nearly three months after the incident.
The publication’s initial request to LFB for comment on 5 November
enquired about “an incident at around 6:30pm on November 4 which saw a fire
engine get stuck in Pinner View, Harrow, as access was blocked by
traffic-easing measures.” The LFB did
not respond to this initial request until 28 January during IPSOs investigation
of the matter. The statement, provided
by the LFB, reported that whilst responding to an automatic fire alarm sounding
in a nearby street “one fire engine stopped by the planter and proceeded on
foot”. It added that a second fire engine took a different route to the
location and did not get stuck at the planter on Pinner View. The newspaper said that this correspondence from
the LFB supported and verified the version of events it had reported. It
accepted that in order to avoid any confusion, it would have been beneficial,
with hindsight, to include further details of the claims made by eyewitnesses,
such as that firefighters were seen running in Cunningham Park. Notwithstanding
this, the newspaper, in an effort to resolve the matter, offered to publish a
further correction to address any outstanding concerns.
10. The complainant did not accept the publication’s offer
of resolution, nor did he accept that the statement provided by the LFB
exonerated the newspaper of its responsibilities under the Code to accuracy.
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.
Findings of the Committee
11. The article had incorrectly reported that the incident
had occurred on “Harrow View”. Whilst
the Committee appreciated that this was clearly human error, as demonstrated by
the inclusion of the correct street name in the request for comment sent to the
LFB on 5 November, it took the view that this was a significant inaccuracy, and
therefore the newspaper was obliged, in accordance with the terms of Clause 1
(ii), to correct this promptly and with due prominence.
12. The newspaper had amended the online version of the
article, appending a footnote to the piece to record this alteration, and
published a correction online and in the next edition of the newspaper on page
2. This made readers aware of the
correct position and apologised for any confusion caused. This correction was
published promptly following notification by a separate reader and was sufficiently
prominent, appearing on the same page as the original article, and as a
correction online. As such, the Committee considered that this was sufficient
to meet the terms of Clause 1 (ii).
13. The article had been based on an eye-witness account of
the incident. In the view of the Committee, the newspaper had taken the
appropriate steps to verify the accuracy of this account. These steps included
contacting the LFB and Harrow council for comment and obtaining a video of the
incident which it elected not to publish.
Without receiving a substantive response from the LFB or the council
before publication, the newspaper had made clear that it was publishing
“reports” of the incident. Whilst the headline had presented it as fact that a
fire engine was blocked by low-traffic planter, the Committee noted that the
newspaper had viewed footage of the incident and the text of the article made
clear that the vehicle “appeared to be blocked”. As such, it did not consider that the
headline was significantly misleading.
14. Given the manner in which the article was presented, and
the steps taken by the newspaper prior to publication, the newspaper had, in
the view of the Committee, taken sufficient care not to publish inaccurate or
misleading information. As such, there was no breach of Clause 1 (i) on this
point. The Committee also noted that the
response provided by the LFB on 28 January demonstrated that the article did
not mischaracterise or misrepresent the nature of the incident: a fire engine
did stop at the planter on Pinner View, with firefighters subsequently
continuing on foot to Cunningham Park.
15. The Committee did not find that the other points
identified by the complainant raised a breach of Clause 1. It was not
significantly misleading for the newspaper to have used a stock image of a fire
engine for illustration, particularly when there was no clear indication that
it was the fire engine in question. Neither was it significantly misleading for
the article to have used an image captured from Google Streetview of the
planters, given there was no suggestion that the planters had significantly
altered in the intervening period between the image being captured and the
incident in question. In addition, in the view of the Committee, the comments
made by the unnamed woman in the article were clearly presented as an extract
from a previous letter to the newspaper and readers would understand it
reflected the claims made by the letter’s author rather than statements of
fact. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
16. The complaint was upheld in part.
Remedial Action Required
17. The published correction put the correct position on
record and was offered promptly and with due prominence. No further action was
Date complaint received: 16/11/2020
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 26/5/2021Back to ruling listing