Ruling

04367-21 Brundrett & Bailey v derbytelegraph.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      23rd December 2021

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 04367-21 Brundrett & Bailey v derbytelegraph.co.uk

Summary of Complaint

1. Angela Brundrett and Susan Bailey complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that derbytelegraph.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Woman stole £175k from work for holidays, a hot tub and a £33k pay rise”, published on 21st April 2021.

2. The article reported that “[a] Derbyshire woman stole £175,000 from her employer and spent it on exotic holidays, a new hot tub and expensive football hospitality”. It reported that the woman previously lived in Stoke-on-Trent and was “now living in Ashbourne”. The article went on to describe various ways the woman had spent the stolen money, including “£60,000 on her niece's wedding” and the installation of “a new drive, an extension and landscaped garden at her home”.

3. The complainants said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) as it incorrectly stated that the woman was “now living in Ashbourne” and described her as a “Derbyshire woman”. The complainants confirmed that the woman had never lived in Ashbourne, Derbyshire, and she had lived in Stoke-on-Trent for over twenty years. In support of their position, the complainants provided the charge sheet, which listed the woman’s address as being in Werrington, Stoke-on-Trent.

4. The complainants further said that the article was inaccurate as it stated that the woman had spent the fraudulently obtained money on “a new hot tub”; “an extension… at her home”; and that she had spent “£60,000 on her niece’s wedding”. The complainants said that the wedding cost approximately £25,000 and that the figure of £60,000 was therefore inaccurate. The complainants provided the opening note from sentencing which stated that the niece’s wedding had cost “over £25k”. The complainants also said that the woman had not bought a hot tub and they variously claimed that the woman’s sister owned a hot tub and that a previous partner of the woman purchased the hot tub in question, but that the woman had never purchased one. Furthermore, the complainants said that it was inaccurate to state that the woman had an extension at her home as she never had an extension built. They added that as the property was rented, the woman would not have been able to get an extension.

5. The publication did not accept that there were any breaches of the Code. The publication said that it had relied on a Staffordshire Police press release which it was entitled to do, and that the alleged inaccuracies were included in it. The publication said that the information had been published in good faith and that the police press release had said that the woman had purchased a hot tub; paid for an extension; paid for her niece’s £60,000 wedding; and that she now resided in Derbyshire. The publication also said that there was an original police press release which had stated that the woman was now living in Ashbourne, Derbyshire, which had been amended and the reference to ‘Ashbourne’ removed. The publication said that they would be willing to amend the article to remove the reference to Ashbourne.

6. The publication further said that they had contacted the police on numerous occasions to confirm if any of the details included in the press release were inaccurate, however, the police made no comment on the accuracy of the content of the press release. The publication made clear that were the police to confirm that any of the disputed information was inaccurate, they would amend the online article accordingly. The publication further said that even if incorrect, it did not accept that the specific itemised purchases such as the hot tub, extension, or amount spent on the wedding would amount to a significant inaccuracy, particularly where the total figure of fraudulent payments was reported correctly.

7. In addition, the police explained to the publication that they had received their own complaint from one of the complainants regarding the information included within the police press release and were taking reasonable steps to address it.

Relevant Code Provisions

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.

iii) A fair opportunity to reply to significant inaccuracies should be given, when reasonably called for.

iv) The Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.

Findings of the Committee

8. The Committee first considered the complainants’ concerns regarding the article’s claim that the woman was “now living in Ashbourne” and the description of her as a “Derbyshire woman”. The publication had provided two versions of the police press release; the original stated that the woman now lived in Ashbourne, Derbyshire, and the current version was substantially the same, but with the reference to Ashbourne removed. The Committee acknowledged that on some occasions reliance on a press release might not be sufficient to demonstrate that a publication had taken care over the accuracy of the information it published. It considers each complaint on a case-by-case basis, taking full consideration of the source of the release, its content, and any relevant external factors relating to the distribution of the release. The Committee noted that at the time of publication neither the rest of the information contained in the statement, nor any other information of which the publication could reasonably have been aware, indicated that the original press release issued by the police contained inaccuracies on this point. In this instance, the Committee was satisfied that the publication was entitled to rely on the information contained in the press release issued by the police. This demonstrated due care not to publish inaccurate or misleading information with regard to the location of where the woman now resided. There was no breach of Clause 1(i) on this point.

9. In circumstances where the police had not removed the reference to Derbyshire in the press release and the police force had made no comment on the factual dispute, the Committee was not in a position to determine whether this point was inaccurate. The Committee noted that the police confirmed they were dealing with their own complaint regarding the information in the press release, and given the evolving situation, the publication should be alert to any further changes to the press release. In any event, the Committee considered that where the woman was residing was not significant to the context of the whole article, and therefore, there was no beach of Clause 1(ii).

10. The complainants also said that it was inaccurate for the article to claim that the woman had purchased a hot tub, paid for an extension, and that the money spent on the nieces wedding totalled £25,000, rather than £60,000. The publication had provided the police press release which stated that the woman had bought a hot tub, paid for an extension and paid for her niece’s £60,000 wedding. The Committee noted that these points remained in the press release and had not been amended. The Committee considered that due care had been taken not to publish inaccurate or misleading information regarding these points. There was no breach of Clause 1(i).

11. Where the disputed information remained online and where the police had made no comment on whether the information included in the press release was inaccurate, the Committee was not in a position to determine whether it was inaccurate to state that the woman had purchased a hot tub, paid for an extension or had paid for her nieces £60,000 wedding. In any event, the Committee considered that these points were not significant to the context of the whole article, particularly where the article correctly reported the total figure of money the woman obtained fraudulently. There was, therefore, no breach of Clause 1(ii).

Conclusions

12. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

13. N/A


Date complaint received: 23/04/21

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 08/12/21