Ruling

05084-16 Kerrell v Essex Chronicle

    • Date complaint received

      24th November 2016

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 12 Discrimination

Decision of the Complaints Committee 05084-16 Kerrell v Essex Chronicle

Summary of complaint 

1. Simon Kerrell complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Essex Chronicle breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Paramedics struggle to reach sick traveller baby”, published on 14 July 2016. The article was also published online on 13 July with the headline “Great Notley villagers delay paramedic seeing traveller baby as Essex Police blasted over handling”.

2. The article reported that a group of travellers had arrived in the village of Great Notley and occupied a park. It reported that when a second group of travellers arrived the following day, residents of the village “staged a protest against an illegal encampment”, blocking access to the park with their cars. It reported that the police had “threatened to tow villagers’ cars away if they did not allow paramedics to treat a sick traveller baby”. The article reported that the “stale-mate led to an ambulance struggling to reach the traveller site”, and that “it was said a six-week-old baby was struggling to breathe after a severe chest infection”. It reported that an Essex Police spokeswomen had said that “Police attended Highclere Road in Great Notley shortly before 8pm on Monday, July 11 following reports of a disturbance between a group of travellers and local residents. A vehicle had blocked the highway and we asked the residents to move it as a young baby on the site needed to be taken to hospital urgently”. The article reported that the father of the child concerned had said that “I heard someone call my daughter scum”.

3. The online article was substantively the same as the print article.

4. The complainant was a local resident who had used two of his cars to prevent travellers accessing the park. He did not dispute that the police had asked residents to move their cars as a child needed to be taken to hospital urgently, or that a tow truck attended the incident, and that the police had threatened to tow the cars away if residents did not allow paramedics to treat the child. However, he said that no evidence was ever given that the child existed, and that no emergency vehicle ever required access to the site. The complainant accepted that a paramedic attended, but said that the paramedic had not arrived under blue lights, or entered the road where the residents were parked. The complainant denied that local residents had delayed paramedics seeing the child.

5. In relation to the statement from Essex Police, the complainant said that the police had subsequently accepted that the residents’ cars were not illegally parked, and would only have caused an obstruction had they blocked the passage of an emergency vehicle. The complainant said the fact the emergency vehicle did not enter the road concerned, strongly suggested that the ambulance did not require access to the park. Nevertheless, the complainant did not dispute that the residents would have had to move their vehicles in order to allow an emergency vehicle to access the park. The complainant denied that there was a protest, or that anybody had called the child concerned “scum”. The complainant said that the article was not balanced in its reporting of the incident, that it was inflammatory and that it aimed to heighten tensions between local residents and the travellers.

6. The newspaper said that the article was a fair and accurate report of the incident based on the information it had received. In addition to the statement from Essex Police reported in the article, the newspaper said that East of England Ambulance Service provided it with a statement confirming that it received a call in relation to a young child with breathing difficulties, and that a rapid response vehicle and ambulance crew were dispatched to assist. The newspaper noted that the article reported the comments of a local councillor, which contained the complainant’s position that the residents’ cars were parked legitimately, and that it was “absurd” that the police had called a tow truck to the road. The newspaper said it was told that the word “scum” had been used by a direct witness.

Relevant Code Provisions

7. 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.

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

8. The police had threatened to tow the residents’ cars away if they did not allow paramedics to treat the child who was reported to be suffering from breathing difficulties. Whilst the residents told the police that they would move the cars if an emergency vehicle required access, the cars were not moved despite the fact that an emergency vehicle could not otherwise gain access. In circumstances where the rapid response vehicle which was despatched to treat the child was unable to gain access to the site due to the parked cars and the paramedic had attended to the child on foot, it was not significantly misleading to report that the villagers had delayed paramedics seeing the child concerned. This aspect of the complaint did not raise a breach of Clause 1.

9. The newspaper was entitled to refer to the residents’ decision to obstruct the entrance to the park as a “protest”, where it was motivated by an objection to further travellers accessing the site. In relation to the father’s claim that his daughter had been called “scum”, this was clearly presented as the father’s account of the incident, and the complainant’s position that this claim could not be corroborated did not provide grounds for finding that this aspect of the article was significantly misleading. These aspects of the complaint did not raise a breach of Clause 1.

10. Clause 12 (Discrimination) protects individuals from discrimination on the basis of certain characteristics. The complainant’s concern that the article was inflammatory did not engage the terms of Clause 12. 

Conclusions

11. The complaint was not upheld

Remedial action required

12. N/A

Complaint complaint received: 17/07/2016
Date decision issued: 31/10/2016