Ruling

04242-15 Westbrook-Jones v Warrington Guardian

    • Date complaint received

      22nd December 2015

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 04242-15 Westbrook-Jones v Warrington Guardian

Summary of complaint

1. Caroline Westbrook-Jones complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Warrington Guardian had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Woman hit by car near primary school in Old Hall”, published on 26 May 2015.

2. The article reported that a woman had been struck by a car near to a primary school following a dispute with another woman over parking.

3. The complainant said that she was the driver of the car referred to in the article. She accepted that she had been involved in a dispute in the car park, but maintained that the other party had not been “hit” or “struck” by her car, as reported. Rather, the other party had fallen backwards and injured herself during the altercation. The article had been “one-sided” and failed to give her account of the incident. She said she had not been charged and the police investigation had been dropped. The police officer who had taken her statement on the day of the incident had confirmed to her that the police had not given permission for the newspaper to publish the story.

4. The complainant also said that a person claiming to be the other person involved in the altercation had left a comment beneath the online article, which she considered had given a significantly inaccurate, one-sided account of the incident, and exaggerated the extent of her injuries. The complainant noted that this comment had led to the publication of further abusive comments from other readers.

5. The newspaper said the article was a routine news report based on information supplied by Cheshire Police. The information was supplied over the telephone, immediately written up, and published online; no notes were taken. When it was alerted to the complainant’s concerns, the reporter contacted the police to verify the information. The newspaper provided an email in which the police confirmed that its 22 May 2015 records stated that an altercation had taken place between a driver and a pedestrian over parking, and that the vehicle had “collided with the pedestrian”.

6. The newspaper considered that it was unlikely that either party would be identified from the article because no one was named. It said if the police issued a fresh statement following the outcome of the investigation, it would be happy to publish it. Alternatively, it offered to publish the following statement in print and beneath the online article:

Caroline Westbrook-Jones

We published on 26 May a report under the heading “Woman hit by car near to primary school in Old Hall”. The police said a woman had been hit by a car during a dispute over parking. Ms Westbrook-Jones has contacted us to say she was the driver but denies that her car hit anyone. She says a woman fell on her car during the altercation.

7. With regards to the reader’s comment, the newspaper said it could not be expected to adopt a position as to whether the account was accurate; if the complainant disputed it, she was free to post her side of the story. It considered that it hosted the comments, but it was not the publisher; they were not part of the newspaper, but were similar in nature to social media. It said that it was widely understood that readers’ comments were the responsibility of the users.

Relevant Code Provisions

8. 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.

Findings of the Committee

9. The newspaper had based its article on information supplied by Cheshire Police over the telephone. The Committee noted, however, that the newspaper had failed to take any notes during the conversation. This was a matter of some concern, particularly as the article included a verbatim quote attributed to a police spokesperson. However, as the police had confirmed that the article accurately reflected its records of the incident, the Committee was satisfied that there was no failure to take care over the accuracy of the information in breach of Clause 1 (i).

10. The newspaper had reported information supplied to it by Cheshire Police. It was under no obligation to additionally report the complainant’s account of the incident. The article had not created a significantly misleading impression of the incident, or of the complainant’s involvement. Furthermore, no blame had been attributed to either party. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

11. The Committee noted the complainant’s concerns about the reader’s comment posted beneath the online article. User-generated material, such as readers’ comments, fall within IPSO’s remit when they have been subject to some form of editorial control. In this instance, the newspaper had been notified about the complainant’s concerns about the reader’s comment during IPSO’s investigation; it had reviewed the comment, and continued to publish it. As such, the newspaper had exercised editorial control, and the comment fell within IPSO’s remit.

12. It was clear that this was a reader’s comment, which represented one individual’s account of the incident; it was not a statement adopted as fact by the newspaper. The article had also made clear that the incident had caused the other party “minor injuries”, as opposed to those claimed by the reader in her comment. The complaint under Clause 1 was not upheld.

Conclusions

13. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

N/A

Date complaint received: 24/06/2015
Date complaint concluded: 22/12/2015