Ruling

03329-18 Ni Liam v The Mail (Cumbria)

    • Date complaint received

      13th September 2018

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 03329-18 Ni Liam v The Mail (Cumbria)

Summary of complaint

1. Anne Ni Liam complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Mail (Cumbria) breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Firefighters rescue stranded woman from Barrow slag bank cliff”, published on 27 April 2018, and an article headlined “Police warn woman rescued from slag bank over social media comments”, published on 1 May 2018.

2.The first article reported that police, paramedics and fire crews had been called to carry out a rescue on a slag bank “after a young woman got stranded”. It did not name the woman.

3. The second article reported that “police investigating a woman’s claim she was assaulted before becoming stranded on Barrow’s slag bank have warned her to stop posting allegations on social media”. It said that “she told police she had been assaulted by a gang of balaclava-clad people…but firefighters said she had no visible signs of recent injury and she was not treated by paramedics at the scene”. It went on to report that the police had recently “been made aware of posts made by the woman on Facebook in which she falsely named two people she believed to be responsible”, but stated that the publication “understands police have confirmed to those women they are not suspects”. It concluded that “police have since warned the woman who was rescued to ‘refrain from posting anything further on social media in relation to this incident’”.

4. The complainant believed that the first article had been amended, and that it had originally named her, based on the fact that, in the Facebook comments under the article, a commenter had speculated that she was the subject of the article. In addition, the complainant said that this article had originally stated that she “fell” down the slag bank, when she says that she was pushed.

5. The complainant said that the second article breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) because it stated that she had “falsely named two people she believed to be responsible”, when she had in fact written “it seems that the…hate groups run by [the two named women] have now taken recourse to actual violence”. She had been suggesting that the groups, not the individuals, were responsible. She also said that the article was inaccurate in reporting that she was uninjured – in fact, she had had to attend a fracture clinic with an arm injury. She said that the publication had failed to contact her to verify this. The complainant also said that it was wrong to state that she had been “warned” by the police; in fact, she had been asked not to post on social media until investigations were complete, and the same request had been made to the two named women. She said that the headline and the article text did not make clear that in fact all three women had received this “warning”.

6. The publication denied that the first article was amended after it was published; it had not named the complainant in the article, and the publication had not been aware of her name until after it was published.

7. The publication denied any breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) with respect to the second article. It considered that the complainant had, in her Facebook post, been stating either that the named women had ordered the violence against her, or that they had carried it out themselves. The publication said that the police had made clear that there were no suspects, and that the two women were not suspects in any attack. In these circumstances, it said that it was not misleading to say that the complainant had “falsely named two people she believed to be responsible”. The publication said that the article had been amended shortly after publication to make clear that all parties had been asked to refrain from posting on social media. However, it said that the article’s initial focus on the complainant being ‘warned’ was not misleading: the complainant had been asked to stop posting comments online and it was her actions which were the focus of the story, not those of the other women. With respect to the article’s claim that “firefighters said she had no visible signs of recent injury and she was not treated by paramedics at the scene”, the publication said that this had been based on information which came directly from the fire service.

8. Although it denied any breach of the Code, the publication offered to publish the following clarification as a gesture of goodwill:

Since this article was published, we have been contacted by the woman who is the subject of the article. She says that, in fact, she was injured during the incident, and her injuries required treatment at a fracture clinic. Our report was based on information received from the fire service. However, we are happy to make her position clear. In addition, this article originally stated that the woman “falsely named two people she believed to be responsible” for the alleged attack on her. The woman has since informed us that, in fact, she had not stated that any individuals were responsible, but that groups run by two named individuals were behind the attack. Again, we are happy to make her position clear.

Relevant Code provisions

9. 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.

Findings of the Committee

10. The Committee did not find that the complainant had any basis for the assertion that the first article had originally named her. In any event, this was not a concern that engaged with Clause 1 (Accuracy). Similarly, there was no evidence to indicate that the article had stated that she ‘fell’. There was no breach of Clause 1 on either of these points.

11. The complainant had stated on Facebook that “hate groups run by [the two named women] have now taken recourse to actual violence”. The police had subsequently confirmed to these women that they were not suspects in relation to the alleged attack, and that they had no suspects. In these circumstances, it was not significantly misleading to state that she had “falsely named two people she believed to be responsible”; the use of the word “responsible” did not indicate that the complainant had stated that the women had themselves committed the alleged violence. The publication was able to provide the communications from the police in which they made clear that the named women were not suspects, and in these circumstances there was no failure to take care over this claim, in breach of Clause 1(i). The article did not give rise to a significantly misleading impression, such as would give rise to a breach of Clause 1(ii). However, the Committee welcomed the publication’s offer to put the complainant’s position on record.

12. Stating that the complainant had been “warned” for social media comments was not misleading; she had been asked to refrain from posting, and the publication was entitled to characterise this as a warning. Focusing on the warning made to the complainant, rather than the other women, did not give rise to a misleading impression in breach of Clause 1(ii): the police ‘warning’ had been made in response to allegations she had made, and the article was published in response to those allegations. The publication was able to provide the text of the ‘warning’ and the complainant’s original post, so there was no failure to take care over the accuracy of these claims in breach of Clause 1(i).

12. The claim that the complainant had been uninjured had been based on information provided by the fire service, and was presented as such: the article made clear that “firefighters said she had no visible signs of recent injury and she was not treated by paramedics at the scene”. There was no failure to take care over this claim, in breach of Clause 1(i), when the information had been provided by the emergency services, and the article had not adopted this as fact – it had stated accurately that the fire service had made this claim. There was therefore no misleading impression that required correction under Clause 1(ii). In addition, as the complainant was not named in the article, and it appeared to be accurate to report that her fracture had not been treated by paramedics at the scene, adopting the firefighters’ account did not give rise to a misleading impression of the incident.

Conclusion

13. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

14. N/A

Date complaint received: 02/05/2018

Date decision issued: 06/08/2018