Ruling

01794-22 Smith v thisislocallondon.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      28th July 2022

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 01794-22 Smith v thisislocallondon.co.uk

Summary of Complaint

1. Charlotte Smith complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that thisislocallondon.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Woman allegedly followed onto Lewisham bus and chased in Beckenham”, published on 22 February 2022.

2. The article reported on an account given by a woman in a social media post, which was summarised by the newspaper.  It said that she had been followed onto a bus “in Lewisham before being chased through Beckenham in south east London”. The article stated that the victim had posted on social media that the man was “approximately 6’7” and later included a further quote from the post in which she described the man as being “in his early 60s, 5ft7”, and that he had followed her on the “178 bus from Lewisham to Kidbrooke Park road. Then followed me off the bus opposite Cator Park and chased me”. The article also stated that a “spokesperson for the Met Police said that no arrests had been made and that the incident was suspected to be mental health related” and that a woman had reported that she had been “followed by a man off a Route 178 bus in Kidbrooke Park Road SE3”.

3. The complainant, who had no connection to the events described in the article, said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. She noted that the headline of the article reported that the woman had been chased “in Beckenham” whilst the quote from the woman’s social media had referred to “Cator Park”, and both the post and police statement had referred to Kidbrooke Park Road. The complainant noted that there were two Cator Parks in London: one in Beckenham, and another on Kidbrooke Park Road in Kidbrooke, Greenwich which were approximately 5.5 miles away from each other. She said that the newspaper had confused the two places. She said that this was of particular significance as Cator Park on Kidbrooke Park Road was close to where a murder had recently been committed, and that omitting this reference amounted to a further inaccuracy.

4. The complainant also said that the height of the alleged attacker was given as both 5 foot 7 and 6 foot 7. She said that the police quote included in the article could be ambiguous, and could imply that the woman, rather than the perpetrator, had mental health issues. Furthermore, she said that the inclusions of these inaccuracies in a story about a woman was disrespectful to victims of sexual assault.

5. The complainant also raised concerns that she could not find an email address to which complaints can be made directly to the newspaper, and that the newspaper had not corrected the article despite comments posted under the article noting the inaccuracy, or after she had attempted to contact it by sending her complaint to an alternative email address. On 28 February, the complainant had emailed the newspaper’s editor directly to raise concerns about the story.

6. The publication did not accept that the Code had been breached. On the same day the complainant contacted the editor, it apologised for the complainant’s difficulty in contacting it, and amended the headline to state “Woman allegedly followed onto Lewisham bus and chased”. It changed the headline again to “Woman allegedly followed onto Kidbrooke bus and chased” after the complainant said the headline focused more on Lewisham. However, it did not consider that confusing the two Cator Parks to be significantly misleading due to their proximity within south-east London, and said that the article served as a warning to people in that area. It noted that it had amended the article the day the complainant reached out to the editor, which it believed to be sufficient, and offered to publish a correction after being notified of the complaint to IPSO. It then clarified the proposed wording and offered to publish it at the top of the article:

NOTE: When we published the original story below we stated the wrong Cator Park, which is also in South East London. We also stated the wrong height for the man described. Both these details were updated and we apologise for the error.

7. The publication did not consider that omitting to refer to a recent murder in a nearby location amounted to an inaccuracy. It said that the article was about the pursuit of the woman as she had described on social media and did not suggest that the alleged perpetrator was a murderer.

8. The publication had not kept the social media post which was the source for the story, but said it believed the woman had described the man in the post as being 6 foot 7 and it had copied that. It said, in any case, this did not amount to a significant inaccuracy. The publication said it had reported the police spokesperson’s quote accurately, and therefore the article was not inaccurate. It also said that it was not inaccurate to describe the bus as a “Lewisham bus” as it thought that Kidbrooke Park Road was in Lewisham. The complainant did not consider that the offered correction was sufficient as: it did not report where the woman got on the bus and started being followed; the term “Kidbrooke bus” was not specific enough as to the exact location of the entire incident; it did not reference that the article had initially referred to Beckenham; it was archaic and belittling to write “South East London” rather than “south-east London”; and did not include an apology. She also noted, with regard to the publication’s response, that Kidbrooke Park Road was not in Lewisham, but in the neighbouring borough of Greenwich.

9. After receiving the complainant’s objections, the newspaper amended the offered wording to state the following, still to be placed just underneath the headline:

Correction: when we published the original story below we stated a woman had been chased in Cator Park, Beckenham. The incident in fact occurred in Cator Park, Kidbrooke. We also reported the wrong height for the man described. Both these details were updated and we apologise for the error.

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

10. It was accepted by both parties that the original headline had inaccurately referred to the incident having taken place “in Beckenham”, due to two parks in south-east London sharing the same name. Both the social media post quoted in the article and the police statement were clear as to the location of the incident and to misreport this in the headline was a failure to take care not to publish inaccurate information. Whilst the police statement and social media post were included in the article itself, the body of an article cannot be used to correct an inaccuracy in the headline, and there was a breach of Clause 1(i). The article was reporting on a social media post which readers had been asked to share in order to raise awareness of an issue which concerned public safety. In these circumstances, the specific location in which the incident occurred was significant and reporting the wrong location required correction under Clause 1(ii).

11. The publication had amended the article the day the editor received the complaint, and prior to IPSO’s involvement. The complainant had concerns that the publication had not amended the article as soon as the concerns were raised – however, these concerns had not been raised with a journalist or editor through a channel for submitting complaints, but through comments underneath the story and via an email address designed for the purpose of submitting stories for publication.  The publication offered to publish a correction after the complaint had been made to IPSO and revised the proposed wording after the complainant had said that it was not adequate, which it then published under the headline. The published correction identified the inaccuracy and put the correct position on record. The article had been amended to address the inaccuracy on the day the editor received the complaint, and had offered to publish a correction at the start of IPSO’s investigation; the inaccuracy had, therefore, been corrected promptly. The correction had been added immediately below the headline, following the revision of the article to accurately report the location of the incident, which corrected the inaccuracy with due prominence.  There was no breach of Clause 1(ii).

12. Direct quotes from the woman’s social media post were said to be included in the article, and the quotes described the height of the man as both 5 foot 7 and 6 foot 7. However, the publication had not kept a copy of the social media post and was not in a position to demonstrate that the post had been reported accurately. The Committee took the opportunity to remind the newspaper that keeping records is a way to demonstrate that care has been taken under Clause 1. However, incorrectly reporting the estimated height of the man, where the correct position was elsewhere included in the article, did not amount to a significant inaccuracy. There was no breach of Clause 1 on these points. The Committee nevertheless welcomed the amendments which had been made to the article and that the correction also addressed this point.

13. The complainant had concerns that information had been omitted from the article: she believed the article should have included a reference to a murder which had been committed nearby, and that the location at which the woman had boarded the bus should have been included. The Committee made clear that newspapers have the right to choose which pieces of information they publish, as long as this does not lead to a breach of the Code. In this case, omitting the information highlighted by the complainant did not make the article inaccurate or misleading; the article was reporting on a specific incident that was not connected to the murder, and the full details of the woman’s journey were not required. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

14. It was not in dispute that the publication had accurately published the police statement. Whilst the complainant was concerned that the statement could be considered to be ambiguous, publishing the statement- which was attributed to the police in the article- did not give rise to a breach of Clause 1.

15. The complainant had also considered that the article was inaccurate to refer to “Lewisham”; to report that the woman had been followed “onto a bus in Kidbrooke”; and to refer to the bus which the complainant had boarded as a “Kidbrooke bus”. The Committee was satisfied that the article had not misrepresented the social media post, noting that it had been reproduced in the article to allow readers to see the woman’s own account. Furthermore, where the woman had got off the bus in Kidbrooke, it was not inaccurate to refer to the bus as a “Kidbrooke bus”. There was no breach of Clause 1 on these points.

Conclusion(s)

16. The complaint was partly upheld under Clause 1(i).

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 required.


Date complaint received: 24/02/2022

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 12/07/2022