Resolution Statement 02416-17 O’Neill v The Belfast Telegraph

    • Date complaint received

      12th October 2017

    • Outcome

      Resolved - IPSO mediation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 10 Clandestine devices and subterfuge, 2 Privacy, 4 Intrusion into grief or shock, 6 Children

Resolution Statement 02416-17 O’Neill v The Belfast Telegraph

1. Shauna O’Neill complained on behalf of Bridgina Kinney that the Belfast Telegraph breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock), Clause 6 (Children) and Clause 10 (Clandestine devices and subterfuge) of the Editors’ Code of Practice by its journalists conduct, and in an article headlined “Hundreds pack church as meningitis victim Bronagh is laid to rest”, published on 23 February 2017. The article was also published online with the headline “Heartbreaking final farewell at funeral of little Bronagh Kinney (7) who was struck down with meningitis”.

2. The complainant was the godmother of Brónagh Kinney, complaining on behalf of Bridgina Kinney, Brónagh’s mother. Brónagh Kinney had died, aged seven, from meningitis. The article under complaint reported on her funeral, including details of the service. It was accompanied by a picture of Brónagh, and a picture of her coffin being carried into the church, accompanied by her family.

3. The complainant raised a number of concerns about the conduct of the journalist who had attended the funeral, and the information published in the article. She said that the newspaper had failed to act with sympathy and discretion at a time of personal grief, and had intruded on the family’s private mourning. The complainant said that the journalist had hidden in the graveyard, from where he took the picture of the coffin entering the church. She said that the journalist proceeded uninvited into the church, where he was asked to leave by those attending. She said that the journalist’s response was that he had been given permission to attend by the family, which she said was not the case. The complainant was concerned that the journalist had taken a copy of the mass booklet, from where the newspaper obtained the photograph of Brónagh. She was concerned that the newspaper had published the photograph taken of the coffin entering the church, which she said included a ten-year-old boy. The complainant said that the article contained number of inaccuracies about the funeral service.

4. The newspaper extended its condolences to Brónagh’s family, and said that it was never its intention to add to their distress at such a sad time. It said that there had been considerable coverage of Brónagh’s death, that the funeral was an event that it could reasonably be expected to cover, and that it did not believe the photographer’s presence constituted an intrusion into the family’s grief. The newspaper said that the freelance photographer who had attended the funeral was not on church property when he took the picture of the coffin entering the church, and said that he had not hidden in the graveyard. The newspaper said that the photographer was approached by an individual outside the church, and was asked if the family were aware that he was present. He responded by saying he was not sure, but told the person she could contact the newspaper’s picture desk if she was concerned. The newspaper said that the photographer entered the foyer, asked for an order of service, in accordance with normal practice, and left. It said that at no point was the photographer asked to leave, nor did he pretend to be a member of the congregation. It said that when it became aware the family objected to the use of Brónagh’s image, it removed it from online editions. It said that the image of the coffin entering the church was a normal feature of coverage of funerals.

Relevant Code provisions

5. 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 his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence, including digital communications.

ii) Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual's private life without consent. Account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information.

iii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals, without their consent, in public or private places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.

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 10 (Clandestine devices and subterfuge)

i) The press must not seek to obtain or publish material acquired by using hidden cameras or clandestine listening devices; or by intercepting private or mobile telephone calls, messages or emails; or by the unauthorised removal of documents or photographs; or by accessing digitally-held information without consent.

ii) Engaging in misrepresentation or subterfuge, including by agents or intermediaries, can generally be justified only in the public interest and then only when the material cannot be obtained by other means

Mediated outcome

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

7. Following IPSO’s intervention, the newspaper said the media in general are entitled to attend and report on funerals, save where specific requests have been made by a family. However, it said that given the particular circumstances of this complaint, it would offer to publish the following apology:


In our edition of February 23, we carried a report on the funeral of Brónagh Kinney in Cushendall, which included a picture of Brónagh, which had appeared on the order of service. We were unaware that the family did not want this image to be published more widely. Our article also included a picture of the cortege entering the church. It has come to our attention that a child who was part of funeral procession was photographed without the necessary consent being given. We apologise to Mrs Gina Kinney and the family for any further distress that was caused by our use of these pictures.

As a gesture of goodwill, the newspaper also offered to make a donation to a charity nominated by the Kinney family.

8. The complainant said that this resolved the matter to the family’s satisfaction.

9. 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: 27/03/2017
Date complaint concluded: 11/07/2017