Ruling

03961-16 Hutchison v Falkirk Herald

    • Date complaint received

      24th November 2016

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 12 Discrimination, 2 Privacy, 3 Harassment, 4 Intrusion into grief or shock

Decision of the Complaints Committee 03961-16 Hutchison v Falkirk Herald

Summary of Complaint

1.Daniel Hutchison complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Falkirk Herald breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 3 (Harassment), Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in the following articles: “Ex-soldier facing charges”, published on 12 May 2016; “’Walter Mitty’ soldier denies assaulting partner,” published on 23 May 2016; “Walter Mitty soldier facing trial for girlfriend assault charge”, published on 30 May 2016; and “’Walter Mitty’ admits guilty”, published on 23 June 2016.

2. The articles reported on a series of court appearances involving the complainant. The first article reported that he was facing a charge of assault on his partner, and a further charge of sending a menacing letter to another woman. The second article reported that the complainant had appeared in court and pleaded not guilty to the charge of assault on his partner, in which he was said to have “kicked her on the body and seized her by the neck with his hands”. The third article said that a judge had refused his request to lift bail conditions preventing him seeing his partner. The final article reported that the complainant had pleaded guilty to assaulting his partner, and had “burned a box of her underwear before hitting her head off a wall”.

3. The first article was published online on 9 May 2016 with the headline “Ex soldier facing charges against two women”; the fourth article was published online on 21 June 2016 with the headline “Walter Mitty ex-soldier burned girlfriend’s underwear before attack”. Both articles were substantively similar to the versions that appeared in print.

4. The complainant said that following his court appearance on 21 June, both he and his partner were followed by the journalist who reported on his court case for the publication. He said that the journalist “chased him around the whole block” outside of court in attempt to take photographs of him and his partner. He said that he quoted from the harassment clause of the Editors’ Code when he was followed by the journalist, but the journalist continued to take photographs. He provided photographs of the journalist walking away from him and his partner. He also alleged that since his appearance in court, the newspaper had been “snooping around his house”.

5. The complainant also highlighted inaccuracies in the article. He said that it had not been mentioned in court that he had been charged with sending a menacing letter to another woman, and in any event that charge had been dropped. He also denied that it had been heard in court that he had kicked and punched his partner. He said it was inaccurate to report that there was underwear in the box that was set alight, although he did concede that he had set a box on fire, and it might have contained a skirt.

6. The newspaper said that the freelance journalist who attended the complainant’s hearing on 21 June took photographs of him after he left court, and provided the roll of these photographs. It said that the journalist had wanted to get a photograph of the complainant’s partner, who it said was an integral part of the story, because he felt that the one he had taken of her on the steps of the court was not sharp. It said that the journalist had followed the complainant and his partner for 80 metres in order to get a more usable photograph, and had taken three further photographs over the course of four minutes. It said that the journalist did not hear either the complainant or his partner quote from the Editors’ Code. However, it said that as the journalist was taking his fourth photograph, the complainant’s partner said something that he did not pick up, but it might have been along the lines of “leave us be”. The journalist said that he stopped taking photographs there and then. The newspaper emphasised that it had not published any of the photographs taken by the journalist, and denied that the journalist had ever visited the complainant’s home.

7. The newspaper said that it had been mentioned in court that the complainant had set fire to a box that was thought to contain underwear, and provided the reporter’s shorthand notes of the hearing. It said that the complainant’s original charge included detail that he kicked his partner and seized her by the neck, which it had reported; however, when this allegation was dropped, this had been reported in the fourth article. It said that the charge of sending a menacing letter to another woman was confirmed in court, but conceded that it may have been dropped. It said that it was happy to carry a piece confirming this.    

Relevant Code Provisions

8. 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.

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 3 (Harassment)

i) Journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit.

ii) They must not persist in questioning, telephoning, pursuing or photographing individuals once asked to desist; nor remain on property when asked to leave and must not follow them. If requested, they must identify themselves and whom they represent.

iii) Editors must ensure these principles are observed by those working for them and take care not to use non-compliant material from other sources.

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 12 (Discrimination)

i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's, race, colour, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.

ii) Details of an individual's race, colour, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.

Findings of the Committee

9. While the journalist denied that the complainant had quoted the terms of the Editors’ Code in requesting that he desist from taking photographs, he said that he did stop taking photographs once the complainant’s partner asked him to. The final two photographs taken did suggest that the complainant’s partner had made a request to the journalist, while the roll provided by the newspaper indicated that no further images were taken; the complainant also provided a photograph of the journalist walking away from him and his partner. In such circumstances, the Committee was satisfied that the newspaper had not failed to respect the complainant’s partner’s request to desist. In addition, there was no evidence to suggest that the journalist had visited the complainant’s property. There was no breach of Clause 3 on either point.

10. The newspaper had provided shorthand notes from the complainant’s court appearance on 21 June, which demonstrated that it had been said in court that the box contained underwear. The first article had reported, as per the charge, that it had been alleged that the complainant had kicked his partner and seized her by the neck; however, when these charges were dropped, this was reported by the newspaper. There was no breach of Clause 1 on either point.

11. The fourth article reported that the complainant pleaded guilty to assault, but was silent on the menacing letter charge that had previously been reported. In such circumstances, the Committee did not consider that the failure to confirm the charges had been dropped gave a significantly misleading impression. There was no breach of Clause 1.

12. As the complainant did not explain why the other clauses he complained under had been breached, the Committee did not consider his complaint under those clauses.

Conclusions

13. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

N/A

Date complaint received: 21/016/2016

Date decision issued: 8/11/2016