Ruling

04219-15 Archbold v Edinburgh Evening News

    • Date complaint received

      15th October 2015

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 2 Privacy, 5 Reporting suicide

·   Decision of the Complaints Committee 04219-15 Archbold v Edinburgh Evening News

Summary of complaint 

1. Kathryn Archbold complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Edinburgh Evening News had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply) and Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Dead soldier faced court over assault”, published on 28 May 2015. 

2. The article reported that David Glover, a former soldier, had been found dead the week he was due to appear in court accused of assaulting his ex-girlfriend. The complainant was the ex-girlfriend referred to in the article. 

3. The complainant said that her former partner, who was the father of her son, had not been due to appear in court charged with her assault the week he died, as reported in the article and its headline. Mr Glover had been charged with assault in 2011, and the matter had been dealt with then; his apparent suicide was unrelated to those charges. At the time of his death, Mr Glover had access to their son and the complainant’s relationship with him was civilised. 

4. The complainant expressed particular concern that the newspaper had failed to report the facts accurately at a time when her son was dealing with the tragic news of his father’s death. She said an apology was insufficient for the damage the article had caused. 

5. The newspaper accepted that its report contained serious inaccuracies, and it immediately removed the article from its website. It apologised unreservedly for any upset the article had caused, offered to publish a correction and to meet with the complainant to discuss the matter further. It suggested the following wording for publication in its Corrections column on page two, and in the news section online: 

Our report of May 28, entitled “Dead soldier faced court accused of hitting ex”, wrongly stated that the late David Glover, 28, of Ormiston, East Lothian, had been due to appear in court accused of assaulting his former partner shortly before his death. Mr Glover had in fact been due to face charges of supplying cocaine and possession of cannabis, which he denied, and had been sentenced to community service for assaults last year. We apologise unreservedly for the error and the distress which it had caused. 

6. The newspaper explained that the report had been submitted by an experienced freelance court reporter, who had covered the court case involving Mr Glover and the complainant the previous year. Mr Glover had been charged with two counts of assault, which had taken place in February 2011 and March 2013, and a third charge of breaching bail conditions in June 2013. 

7. Earlier in 2015, the reporter learned that Mr Glover was due to appear in court charged with supplying cocaine and possession of cannabis, and he made a note of the trial date in his diary. When Mr Glover died, the reporter decided to report on the upcoming court case and he retrieved the notes relating to the charges, including those from the previous year. He noted the charges down on separate pieces of paper, but mixed the pages up, giving the impression that the more recent charges related to the assaults. He said he was deeply sorry for the upset his mistake had caused the complainant and her family. 

8. With regards to the complainant’s concerns under Clause 5, the newspaper said Mr Glover’s death had already been widely reported, and it had taken care not to include details relating to the apparent suicide. It considered that there was a clear public interest in reporting that an individual facing court proceedings appeared to have taken their own life. It contended that had the court proceedings been correctly identified, its report would not have breached the Code. 

9. The complainant said she did not want a correction or a further article published. 

Relevant Code Provisions

10. Clause 1 (Accuracy) 

i).The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures. 

ii). A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and - where appropriate - an apology published. In cases involving the Regulator, prominence should be agreed with the Regulator in advance. 

Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply) 

A fair opportunity for reply to inaccuracies must be given when reasonably called for. 

Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock) 

i). In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively. This should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings, such as inquests.

ii. When reporting suicide, care should be taken to avoid excessive detail about the method used. 

Findings of the Committee

11. The reporter had mixed up his notes relating to David Glover’s court appearances, as a consequence of which the newspaper had inaccurately reported that Mr Glover had been due to appear in court charged with assaulting the complainant the week he died. This represented a serious failure to take care over the accuracy of the article, which had caused significant distress to the complainant and her family in breach of Clause 1 (i). 

12. On receipt of the complaint, the newspaper had immediately apologised, removed the article from its website and offered to publish a correction. The wording the newspaper had suggested for the correction had addressed the inaccuracy and included an unreserved apology, which the Committee considered was appropriate in the circumstances. 

13. The complainant had also framed her concerns under Clause 5. The purpose of Clause 5 is to ensure that, in cases involving personal grief or shock, stories are presented appropriately and sensitively, and enquiries are made with sympathy and discretion. 

14. The inaccurate article had caused considerable distress to the complainant at a time of grief. The Committee had recognised that this represented a serious failure to take care in its findings under Clause 1. On balance, however, it did not consider that the inaccuracy had separately represented an intrusion into the complainant’s grief in breach of Clause 5. The article had not included gratuitous information, nor had it included excessive detail about the manner of Mr Glover’s death. The complaint under Clause 5 was not upheld. 

15. The complainant had not requested an opportunity to reply. The terms of Clause 2 were not engaged. 

Conclusions

The complaint was upheld under Clause 1 (Accuracy). 

Remedial Action Required

16. Having upheld the complaint, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required. 

17. Due to the significance of the inaccuracy, the Committee considered whether to require the publication of an adjudication. 

18. However, the newspaper had reacted appropriately to the complaint when first alerted to the matter. It had recognised the inaccuracy, accepted responsibility for it, removed the online article, and offered to publish a correction that clearly addressed the inaccuracy, and included an unreserved apology. 

19. The Committee had regard for the complainant’s position that she did not want the newspaper to publish a further article on the matter. However, the Committee recognised that other individuals might have a legitimate interest in the correction of this significant inaccuracy, such as family members and friends of the deceased. A correction was therefore required to set the public record straight. 

20. In light of these considerations, the Committee decided that the publication of the proposed correction on page two in print and online, as suggested by the newspaper, was sufficient to meet the requirement of the Editors’ Code. The correction should clearly note, however, that it is being published following a complaint upheld by IPSO. It should be published without delay. 

Date complaint received: 24/06/2015

Date decision issued: 15/10/2015