Ruling

02303-22 A woman v gloucestershirelive.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      8th December 2022

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 02303-22 A woman v gloucestershirelive.co.uk

Summary of Complaint

1. A woman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that gloucestershirelive.co.uk (Reach PLC) breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Cheltenham parents sentenced after baby suffers injuries requiring force 'similar to a car crash'”, published on 31 March 2022.

2. The online-only article reported on the sentencing of Cheltenham parents whose three-week-old baby had received a number of injuries, including a fractured collarbone, broken ankle, and broken ribs. The sub-headline of the article stated that the child’s“[m]um scour[ed] internet for excuses for brutal injuries to her three-week-old baby”. The article went on to state that “[t]he pair were even found to have searched online for excuses to explain their child's injuries to doctors”. The article reported that it was heard in court that the baby’s injuries had come to light “when the parents visited their GP” and that the child “showed signs of being in severe pain because their ankle was hurting”. It went on to state that “[t]he father and mother suggested to the doctor that their other child, a toddler 18 months old, had kicked out at the baby”. The article reported that “Sarah Jenkins, for the mother, said: ‘Her approach was cowardly. She searched the internet to find ways to cover up their offending.’ The judge interjected: ‘She knew her baby had been injured and was engineering excuses’”.

3. The complainant, the mother referred to in the article, said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 as it had not been heard in court that she had “scour[ed] [the] internet for excuses for brutal injuries to her three-week-old baby”. She said that her ex-partner had confirmed that he had searched the internet for what happens to child abusers, but that it had not been heard that she had searched the internet for excuses for the injuries. The complainant provided the court transcript, which she said supported her position that this had not been heard in court.

4. The complainant said that the article also inaccurately stated that her barrister had said “’Her approach was cowardly. She searched the internet to find ways to cover up their offending’”; she said that her barrister had not said this in court and said that her barrister was there to support her, rather than criticise her. 

5. The complainant also said that the article was inaccurate to state that “[t]he jury was told that the baby’s injuries came to light on July 11, 2019, when the parents visited their GP. The child showed signs of being in severe pain because their ankle was hurting. The father and mother suggested to the doctor that their other child, a toddler 18 months old, had kicked out at the baby”. She said that she had taken her child to the doctor on her own, not with her ex-partner, and that she had told the doctors what her ex-partner had said to her in regard to the claim that their other child had kicked the baby. She added that her child had not shown signs of being in severe pain, and that the doctors’ reports stated that her child would not have been showing signs of certain injuries.

6. The publication did not accept a breach of Clause 1. In relation to the claims that the complainant had searched the internet for excuses for the injuries sustained by the baby, it said that it could be seen in the Judge’s sentencing remarks, which said: “Searches were also found on both defendants’ mobile telephones regarding the sentences for child abuse. These searches show knowledge” and that “[w]hen examining the search history on ADL/1 [one of the defendant’s devices], a search is carried out dated 23rd July 2019 […] asks: ‘what's the maximum sentence for child abuse’”. In addition to providing the Judge’s sentencing remarks, the publication provided the reporter’s contemporaneous notes from court. It said that the reporter’s notes showed that the Judge had said “They made searches on the internet and that shows knowledge. This was ducking and diving as she knew her baby had been injured as [sic] were engineering to find excuses for their actions” and that it had been heard in court that the complainant “felt pressured by this and accepts there was neglect on her part. She and her partner engineered explanations to find excuses”.

7. Once the publication had seen the court transcript provided by the complainant, it said that this showed the Judge had said that the complainant, “along with [her ex-partner], engineered explanations like the [other child] treading on it on the sofa or something, ridiculous stuff like that”; that “the efforts to explain the injuries was beginning to fail and the suggestion of an accident on the sofa was perhaps not going to work”; “[a]nd those, those trips to the doctor, the lies, the research on the internet, that shows knowledge, not sort of ducking and diving. She showed knowledge.” The publication also added that the sentencing remarks showed the Judge stating that “...his mishandling was known to you and yet you participate in lying to medical professionals and making enquiries of the internet about abuse which reveals awareness and knowledge of the harm by you”. The publication said that it was satisfied that the article accurately represented the Judge’s comments. It also went on to state that when comparing the reporter’s transcript to the court transcript, the reporter’s notes appeared to have transcribed “engineering explanations” as “engineering to find excuses”, but it did not consider this was a significant difference. 

8. While the publication did not consider there had been a breach of Clause 1 regarding this point, towards the end of IPSO’s investigation, it offered to amend the sub-headline to remove the reference to “scours internet for excuses for brutal injuries” and amend the sentence to state, “scours the internet for the punishment for child abuse”. In addition to this, the publication offered to publish the following clarification as a footnote to the article:

A previous version of this article referred to the defendants as 'scouring the internet for excuses' to explain the injuries to the child. Although the judge made explicit reference to both defendants 'engineering excuses', one of the defendants has asked us to clarify that she searched the internet to check “what happens to child abusers” and “how long do you get for child abuse”. We are happy to clarify this.

9. In relation to the claim that the complainant’s barrister had said “’[h]er approach was cowardly. She searched the internet to find ways to cover up their offending’”, the publication said that the reporter’s notes showed the barrister had said that “[the complainant] has not changed her account significantly, but has come to recognise some of her failings. She has not underplayed her responsibilities, but her approach was cowardly. She is however remorseful”, whereas the transcript appeared to show the barrister being cut off and did not include her full comment. The publication added that it was satisfied that the reporter’s notes showed that both the Judge and the complainant’s barrister had referred to the complainant as “cowardly”, and noted that in any event, the court transcript showed that the Judge had described the complainant as “cowardly” on two occasions. During the investigation, the publication removed the disputed quote from the article as a gesture of goodwill; it said that, while the reporter’s notes supported this comment, the comment did not appear in the court transcript.

10. In relation to whether both parents had been at the doctors or not, the publication said that the Judge’s sentencing remarks stated: “At that appointment you both repeated that clearly untrue explanation to the nurse that [the child] had kicked out at [the baby’s] leg accidentally” and that “[the baby had] not [been] kicked as the parents asserted to doctors”. The publication added that in relation to whether or not the child was in pain, the Judge’s sentencing remarks said that the child was taken to the doctors as the ankle was swollen and the child was “warm and unsettled”, and that they had been “unwell the night before”. It added that in the transcript provided by the complainant, the complainant’s solicitor had quoted the complainant as having said “I’ve let her down. The pain she must have gone through is horrific.”

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 Committee first considered the complainant’s concerns that the article had inaccurately stated that she had “scour[ed] [the] internet for excuses for brutal injuries to her three-week-old baby”; that “[t]he pair were even found to have searched online for excuses to explain their child's injuries to doctors”; and that the complainant’s barrister had said that “[s]he searched the internet to find ways to cover up their offending”. The transcribed notes of the reporter referenced searches on the internet that the court had heard had been made by the parents and that they “…were engineering to find excuses for their actions”. The Committee noted that the Judge, in his written sentencing remarks, said “…I have little doubt that there was an effort by both defendants to purposely hide the cause of the injuries” and that at an appointment with the paediatric team at the Gloucester Royal hospital “…you both repeated that untrue explanation to the nurse…”. In the transcript of the sentencing hearing, the Judge also remarked that “…she [the complainant], along with [the other parent] engineered explanations…” as to the cause of the injuries. The written sentencing remarks of the Judge also recorded that searches had been found on both parents’ mobile phones regarding the sentences imposed for child abuse. The Committee took into account the transcribed notes taken by the reporter, the transcript of the sentencing hearing and the Judge’s written sentencing remarks. The article reflected the reporter’s transcribed notes and there was no failure to take care over the report. The sentencing remarks of the Judge demonstrated that he had concluded that both parents had provided untrue and engineered explanations as to the cause of the injuries sustained by the child, and that internet searches had been made on both of their phones about child abuse. In those circumstances, it was the Committee’s view that it was not significantly inaccurate or misleading to report that the complainant had “scour[ed] [the] internet for excuses for brutal injuries to her three-week-old baby”, that “[t]he pair were even found to have searched online for excuses to explain their child's injuries to doctors” or that the complainant’s barrister was reported to have said that “[s]he searched the internet to find ways to cover up their offending”. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

12. In relation to the report that the complainant’s barrister had said at the hearing “’[h]er approach was cowardly’”, the publication said that the reporter’s notes recorded that this had been said by the complainant’s barrister. However, it accepted that this did not appear in the transcript of the sentencing hearing, and so the publication removed the disputed quote from the article as a gesture of goodwill. In light of the publication’s position that the article reflected the notes taken by the reporter at the hearing, the Committee found that it had taken care over the report on this point and there was no breach of Clause 1 (i). The Committee considered whether a correction was required given that the transcript of the sentencing hearing indicated that the complainant’s Counsel had not said this at the hearing, but that the complainant’s actions had been described as “cowardly” by the Judge. The Committee noted that article, which accurately reported the complainant’s conviction, focussed on the sentences imposed on the complainant and the other parent and the remarks which had been made by the Judge at the hearing. On balance, and taking into account the article as a whole, the Committee did not establish that this point constituted a significant inaccuracy requiring correction under Clause 1(ii). The Committee nevertheless welcomed the publication’s amendment of the article.

13. The Committee next considered the accuracy of the report that “the parents visited their GP” and that the child had “showed signs of being in severe pain because their ankle was hurting”. The sentencing remarks confirmed that both parents had attended an appointment at the Gloucester Royal Hospital. Whether the doctor was a GP or a clinician at a hospital was not significant. The Committee further noted that the Judge found that the child had sustained a set of significant injuries including broken ribs and a fractured collarbone. In light of these injuries, the Committee considered that any inaccuracy regarding the severity of injury to the ankle was not significant. There was no breach of Clause 1 on either of these points.

Conclusion(s)

14. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

15. N/A


Date complaint received: 04/04/2022

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 17/11/2022