Ruling

01512-15 Jon v Western Gazette

    • Date complaint received

      30th April 2015

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      5 Reporting suicide, 9 Reporting of crime

·   Decision of the Complaints Committee 01512-15 Jon v Western Gazette

Summary of complaint 

1. Mary Jon complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Western Gazette had breached Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock) and Clause 9 (Reporting of Crime) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “'I've just killed someone': Yeovil driver panicked and ran over dogwalker after hitting another car”, published on its website on 5 March 2015. 

2. The article was accompanied with a picture gallery containing a number of photographs of a car, which had been severely damaged following a crash, in which a very close friend of the complainant had died on 6 April 2014, and the scene of the accident including the damage which had been done to a nearby wall, bouquets of flowers that had been left at the scene and a photograph of the crash scene being attended by police officers, who had cornered off the road with incidenttape. The driver of the car had pleaded guilty to causing death by dangerous driving. The gallery also included a photograph of the woman who had died. The driver of the car had pleaded guilty to causing death by dangerous driving. 

3. The complainant said that she was one of the people who had been closest to the deceased. She said that the photographs were upsetting, and served no purpose, given that it was obvious that the car would have been damaged in the crash. She was concerned that the article had given the deceased the title “Ms”, rather than “Miss”.  She expressed concern that the newspaper had reported details of the driver’s charity fundraising, which she considered inappropriate in the context of his crime, citing Clause 9 (Reporting of Crime) on this point. 

4. The newspaper said that the photographs were released by the CPS after the court proceedings, and were part of the evidence submitted to the court. It said that it uploaded the pictures because it clearly demonstrated that the car had been travelling at an excessive speed in a residential area. It said it had decided not to publish some of the photographs because of their more sensitive nature. It said that the use of the title “Ms” was not inaccurate, as it can be used before the name of a woman regardless of her marital status.  It said that the judge had taken character references into account during sentencing, and denied that the inclusion of background details of the defendant raised a breach of Clause 9. 

Relevant Code Provisions

5. Clause 5 (Intrusion into Grief or Shock) 

i) In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively. This should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings, such as inquests. 

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 who witness, or are victims of, crime. This should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings. 

Findings of the Committee

6. The Committee expressed its sympathy to the complainant for her loss. It noted that the images had formed part of court proceedings and had been released to the media by the CPS. Given the length of time since the car crash, and the nature of the photographs in question, the newspaper’s decision to publish them was not insensitive under the terms of Clause 5. The use of the title “Ms” rather than “Miss”, as the complainant would have preferred, was not insensitive, and there was no breach of Clause 5 on this point. 

7. The concern the complainant raised under Clause 9 did not engage the terms of this Clause, and the Committee did not consider it further. 

Conclusions

8. The complaint was not upheld 

Remedial Action Required

N/A  

Date complaint received: 11/03/2015

Date decision issued: 30/04/2014