Ruling

02532-16 Cort v Bury Free Press

    • Date complaint received

      15th September 2016

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 4 Intrusion into grief or shock

Decision of the Complaints Committee 02532-16 Cort v Bury Free Press

Summary of Complaint

1.    Jane Cort, acting behalf of the Quinn family, complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Bury Free Press breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Road smashes cost lives of tragic teens”, published on 22 March 2016. The article was also published online with the headline “Teens died in tragic road accidents, inquests hears”. 

2.    The article reported on two inquests into the deaths of two teenagers in separate road traffic incidents. It reported that the inquests had heard that inexperience was a key factor in the deaths. It reported that the inquest into the death of Robert Quinn had heard that he had died on 10 July 2015 after he braked hard going round a corner on his motorcycle, that the brakes had locked, and that he had collided with another vehicle. The article reported that a police officer from the investigation team told the inquest that “witnesses said they saw the bike tip and wobbling”, and that Mr Quinn “may have braked as he felt he was travelling too fast for the bend, but if he had stayed on his line he may have negotiated it”. It also reported that the police officer told the inquest that Mr Quinn “sustained major trauma to the left hand side and forehead and his helmet had come off in the crash”. It reported that Mr Quinn’s family had said that they could not explain why he had braked on a bend at speed, as this was “contrary to everything he had been taught”, and that they felt more safety measures were needed before the bend where the collision occurred. 

3.    The complainant said that the article contained gratuitous and gory details in relation to the injuries suffered by Mr Quinn. In addition, she said that it was inaccurate to report that the inquest had heard that inexperience was a key factor in Mr Quinn’s death. The complainant said that the police officer giving evidence at the inquest had merely confirmed that Mr Quinn was a relatively inexperienced rider in comparison to his friend, who he had been riding with at the time of the accident and who was a fully qualified motorcycle instructor. In addition, the complainant said that youth should not be equated with inexperience, and said that the inquest had heard evidence that before passing his full motorcycle test in May 2015, Mr Quinn had several years’ previous experience driving a number of different motorcycles. The complainant said that the reference to there being “witnesses” seeing the motorcycle accident was inaccurate as there was only one witness to the accident itself. 

4.    The newspaper said that it had reported the inquest proceedings without hyperbole or sensationalism, and denied that the article lingered gratuitously on gory details. The newspaper said that while the police officer may have used the word “witnesses”, when there was in fact only one witness, the reporter used the word “witnesses” in the article  on the basis of his recollection, and because he believed his shorthand notes recorded this word.  However, in response to this complaint, the newspaper accepted that the marks in the shorthand notes were ambiguous between the words “witness” and “witnesses”.  The newspaper said that the police officer had confirmed that Mr Quinn was relatively inexperienced in comparison to the friend he was riding with at the time of the accident. It also said that the police officer’s comments about Mr Quinn braking on the bend indicated a level of experience, and noted that Mr Quinn had passed his motorcycle test two months before the accident. The newspaper said that the article reported that the Quinn family felt more safety measures were required on the section of road in question, which it said indicated that there could have been other factors that caused the accident. 

5.    As a gesture of goodwill, the newspaper offered to amend the online article to take out the parts about which the complainant had expressed concern. 

Relevant Code Provisions 

6.    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 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. 

Findings of the Committee 

7.    The Committee wished to extend its condolences to the Quinn family for their loss. 

8.    The Committee recognised that the family had been distressed by the inclusion of details about Mr Quinn’s injuries. However, the Committee considered that it was not gratuitous for the newspaper to include a short, factual description of Mr Quinn’s injuries, given their centrality to the proceedings reported. The inclusion of these details did not demonstrate a failure to handle publication sensitively in a case of personal grief, and there was no breach of Clause 4. 

9.    The article claimed that two inquests had heard that inexperience was a key factor in two separate road accidents. In the case of the inquest in to the death of Mr Quinn, this claim represented the newspaper’s own summary of what was heard at the inquest, which was attended by a reporter for the newspaper, rather than a direct quotation from the proceedings. However, the article did not suggest that inexperience was the sole cause of Mr Quinn’s death, and the inquest had heard from a police officer in the investigation team that Mr Quinn was relatively inexperienced in comparison to the motorcyclist he had been riding with at the time of the accident.  In these circumstances, the reference was not significantly misleading. This aspect of the complaint did not raise a breach of Clause 1. 

10. The newspaper demonstrated that it had taken steps to ensure the accuracy of the article; its reporter had attended the proceedings, and taken shorthand notes. Although the shorthand notes did not contain a clear record of the word “witnesses”, no particular significance attached to whether the police officer had referred to there being one witness, or more than one witness to the accident. The ambiguity in the shorthand notes did not therefore demonstrate a failure to take care not to publish inaccurate information. The article was not significantly inaccurate on this point, and there was no breach of Clause 1. 

Conclusions 

11. The complaint was not upheld. 

Remedial action required

N/A


Date complaint received: 24/04/2016 

Date decision issued: 25/08/2016