Ruling

02814-21 Kent v staffordshire-live.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      16th December 2021

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 2 Privacy, 6 Children

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 02814-21 Kent v staffordshire-live.co.uk

Summary of Complaint

1. Kathryn Kent complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that staffordshire-live.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 6 (Children) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Banned drink-driver couldn't wait to get behind wheel of new Audi”, published on 16 March 2021.

2. The online article reported on the sentencing of the complainant on the previous day for a series of driving offences: “driving whilst disqualified, driving without insurance and driving while under the influence of alcohol following the incident”. The article reported that the complainant was already disqualified from driving when she pulled over by police officers in August 2020, to whom she had “initially [given a] false name”. The article detailed her previous convictions, including that she had been convicted in 2019 of “drink-driving, driving whilst disqualified, driving without insurance and breaching her suspended sentence.” It reported that the complainant had received a suspended sentence “despite having been caught-drinking for the second time in a year”. The article stated that the “well-being of her 15-year-old daughter” was the “main reason” she had received this sentence and detailed the comments made by the Recorder: her daughter deserved “all the sympathy” and it was for “her sake” that the complainant was given “another chance”.

3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate, in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy), because it misreported her recent charges; she was convicted of driving whilst disqualified and without insurance but not for drink driving. The complainant also said that contrary to the article’s claim, she had not provided police officers in August 2020 with a false name.

4. The complainant also said that the publication of her partial address intruded into her privacy, in breach of Clause 2 (Privacy), as she was fleeing domestic violence. In addition, she said that the publication of information relating to her daughter constituted a breach of Clause 6 (Children) in circumstances where there had been an “understanding in court” that anything related to her daughter would not be published. She also expressed concern that its publication had negatively affected her daughter’s time at school. 

5. The publication did not accept a breach of the Editors’ Code. It said that it was satisfied that all information contained in the article was an accurate report of the court proceedings at which the complainant had been sentenced. It provided a copy of correspondence the reporter had received from a court clerk following the hearing which confirmed that the charges against the complainant were “driving while disqualified, driving without insurance and driving while under the influence of alcohol.”  The publication also provided a copy of the reporter’s contemporaneous notes in order to demonstrate that the court had heard that the complainant had initially told police officers that her name was “Robin Kent”.

6. Furthermore, the publication did not accept that publishing the complainant’s partial address represented a breach of Clause 2. Whilst it accepted that this information was not heard in court, it maintained this information was not inherently private, noting that the address had been provided by the court clerk to the reporter. In any event, the publication noted that it was common practice to include a defendant’s address which served an important purpose in distinguishing defendants from others with the same name.

7. The publication also made clear that newspapers are entitled to report on court proceedings and did not accept that there had been any reporting restrictions in place, nor did the complainant provide any evidence to substantiate these claims. In such circumstances, the publication did not accept a breach of Clause 6 maintaining that the reference to the complainant’s child was included in the comments made by the Recorder and their sentencing decision.

8. During the course of IPSO’s investigation, the complainant provided a copy of the charges she had faced as set out by her solicitors; she was convicted of driving whilst disqualified and without insurance but not for driving under the influence of alcohol. Upon receipt of this, and following further correspondence with the court, the newspaper had amended the online article to remove this information and published the following correction as a footnote:

“A previous version of this article reported that Kathryn Kent had been caught drink-driving for a second time in a year, and that she was convicted of drink-driving after offences committed in August 2020. However, Derby Crown Court has now clarified that Ms Kent has only one drink driving offence from September 2019, and that, after her offences in August 2020, she was convicted of driving whilst disqualified, driving without insurance and breaching her suspended sentence as a result of her previous drink-driving offence."

9. Further to this, during IPSO’s investigation, the publication clarified that the court had not made a specific finding on whether the complainant had given a false name to the police. Instead, the prosecution had made this claim which it said had then not been denied or disputed by the complainant or their legal representative during proceedings. In such circumstances, and taken into account within the context of the whole article, the newspaper did not consider that the article was significantly misleading on this point. However, upon acknowledgement of this, the newspaper amended the online article and published an addition footnote correction to record this.

“A previous version of this article reported as fact that Kathryn Kent initially gave a false name to the Police. In fact, this was stated by the prosecutor during the trial, and although Ms Kent and her defence did not dispute this during the trial, Ms Kent now denies that she initially gave a false name. The article has been amended accordingly and we are happy to clarify this.

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.

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. In considering an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy, account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information and the extent to which the material complained about is already in the public domain or will become so.

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

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.

Findings of the Committee

10. The newspaper’s obligation was to report court proceedings accurately. In this instance, the newspaper had contacted the court following the hearing to verify the charges against the complainant with the court confirming that these included “driving while under the influence of alcohol”. However, the complainant was in fact charged with driving whilst disqualified, driving without insurance and breaching her suspended sentence as a result of a previous drink-driving offence – a point later clarified by both the complainant and the court. In circumstances where the publication had demonstrated that it had sought confirmation from the court prior to publication of the charges faced by the complainant and had been given inaccurate information, the Committee did not consider that there was any failure to take care over the accuracy of the article. There was no breach of Clause 1 (i) on this point.

11. Once the newspaper had been provided with a copy of a letter from the complainant’s solicitor setting out the charges and this had been confirmed by the court, it had amended the online article and published a footnote correction. These amendments and the publication of the footnote, which made the correct position clear, had been made as soon as the newspaper had been given a full account of the true position. This was sufficiently prompt and prominent to meet the requirements of Clause 1 (ii). There was no breach of Clause 1 in relation to the inaccuracy about the charges faced by the complainant.

12. The Committee next considered the complainant’s concern that the article had reported that she had “initially [given a] false name to” police officers in August 2020, noting that the publication had provided contemporaneous shorthand notes which indicated that this information was heard in court. However, the article gave the misimpression that this was a point of fact accepted by the court rather than a claim made by the prosecution. This represented a failure to take care under Clause 1 (i) and to clearly distinguish between comment, conjecture, and fact in a further breach of Clause 1 (iv). This was considered significant, where it related to the accuracy of what was heard in court, and as such, required correction under the terms of Clause 1 (ii).

13. The Committee turned to the question of whether the action undertaken by the publication was sufficient to avoid a further breach of Clause 1 (ii). The publication had amended the article to make clear that this was a claim by the prosecution and had added a footnote correction to record this. The newspaper had published this soon after it had been made fully aware of the misleading impression created by the article on this particular point. The correction identified the inaccuracy and put the correct position on record, and the location was deemed sufficiently prominent, where the inaccuracy formed a passing reference in the article and where it was not in dispute that the complainant and their legal representative had not denied or disputed this particular claim during proceedings. There was no further breach of Clause 1 (ii) on this point.

14. The Committee then turned to the concerns raised under Clause 2 and Clause 6. The Editors’ Code recognises that publications are generally entitled to report court proceedings in full, save for particular circumstances, such as when reporting restrictions have been put in place by the court. The Committee acknowledged that in this instance the complainant was distressed that the article included references to her child. However, in the absence of formal reporting restrictions, and where it was accepted that the Recorder had referred to the child in open court as the basis for his sentencing decision, the Committee did not consider the publication of these references represented an unnecessary intrusion into the child’s schooling in breach of Clause 6. Moreover, whilst it was accepted that the complainant’s partial address was not heard during court proceedings, the Committee did not consider this to be private information: such information is, in general, a matter of public record and had been provided by the court. The Committee did not, therefore, consider that the publication of this information represented an intrusion into the complainant’s private life. There was no breach of Clause 2 or Clause 6.

Conclusion

15. The complaint was upheld in part.

Remedial Action Required

16. 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: 18/03/2021

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 30/11/2021