Ruling

03307-16 Murray v Bristol Post

    • Date complaint received

      8th September 2016

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      4 Intrusion into grief or shock, 6 Children

Decision of the Complaints Committee 03307-16 Murray v Bristol Post

Summary of complaint

1. Georgina Murray, acting on behalf of Samantha Hodgkins, complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Bristol Post breached Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock) and Clause 6 (Children) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an online article headlined “Meet the Bristol teenager who is cooking for the homeless every day for the rest of the year”, published on 27 May 2016.

2. The article reported that a 15-year-old catering student had promised to donate all the food he made during his course to a local homeless person. It said that the boy’s charity work had been inspired by his father with whom he lived until his father was made homeless. It said that the boy had gone to live with his mother, but his father had remained homeless and later died. The article said that the college would be hosting a meal called Food for Roofs in order to raise money for the Bristol Soup Run Trust.

3. The complainant said that the boy’s mother had consented to her son being interviewed by the newspaper about his college course; she had not been informed that the interview would also concern his personal life or his late father. She said that although a teacher and the college press officer had been present during the interview, they were not his custodial guardians or responsible adults with the authority to consent to an interview which concerned his welfare. She said that the newspaper should have considered the impact that the article would have on the boy’s family as soon as he made reference to his father’s recent death.

4. The newspaper said that it had not intended to cause the family any concern. It said that it had arranged the interview because of a press release issued by the college, which had included the following comments from the boy:

My dad died last year and he was homeless. I just want to help more homeless people; it’s hard living on the streets. I’m really enjoying my course and finding out about how to make different meals. I hope that Food for Roofs is popular so that we can raise lots of money for those that need it most.

5. Before conducting the interview, the reporter had been told by the college press officer that permission for the interview had been given by the boy’s mother via his support worker. In light of this and the information included in the press release, the newspaper had been satisfied that it had permission to ask the boy about the inspiration behind his actions. The college press officer and a teacher had been present during the interview, and at no point during or afterwards had they raised any concerns. It considered that the boy’s teacher had been acting in loco parentis and had consented in the capacity of a “suitable responsible authority”. Nevertheless, in light of the complaint, it removed the article from its website.

Relevant Code provisions

6. 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.

Findings of the Committee

7. The newspaper had interviewed a child under the age of 16 on issues that had involved his welfare. The boy’s mother had consented to her son being interviewed by the newspaper about his college course. She had not attended the meeting, but the boy’s teacher had been present and they had not raised any concerns about the issues being discussed, which had centred on information about the boy that had already been included on a college press release.

8. There was a clear connection between the boy’s course, his charity work and his father who had inspired it. Given this connection, which was the focus of the college press release, the consent provided by the boy’s mother to interview her son about his course was sufficient to allow the newspaper to cover the issues published in the article. The interview had also been conducted in the presence of a responsible adult acting in place of the boy’s parent. There was no breach of Clause 6.

9. While the Committee understood that the article had upset the boy’s family, the newspaper had interviewed the boy with his mother’s consent and in the presence of a teacher. There was no suggestion that enquiries had been made without appropriate sensitivity. In addition, the article had not included gratuitous information about the death of the boy’s father. There was no breach of Clause 4. The Committee wished to acknowledge that the newspaper had removed the article from its website in response to the complaint.

Conclusions

10. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

11. NA

Date complaint received: 03/06/2016
Date decision issued: 18/08/2016