Ruling

07404-21 Foster v Hull Daily Mail

    • Date complaint received

      28th April 2022

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of correction

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 4 Intrusion into grief or shock

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 07404-21 Foster v Hull Daily Mail

Summary of Complaint

1. Vicky Foster complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Hull Daily Mail breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “‘Turning life around is amazing but bridge heroics is not proof’”, published on 9th July 2021.

2. The article reported that the complainant, who was described as the “widow of a Hull man who was murdered by terror attack ‘hero’ Steven Gallant […]  struggling to process the news of his release from prison after a royal pardon”. It stated that this woman’s partner “was savagely beaten to death by Steven Gallant in a Hull attack in 2005 and now his widow [the complainant] has warned whether his actions on London Bridge are enough proof that he has changed”. The article reported that the woman was “[s]peaking from her home in Hull” and had said that [the news of the royal pardon] is a very strange thing for me and the children to have to process”. The article also reported the woman had said that “’[d]espite letters from my MP Dame Diana Johnson, explaining [the impact of coverage on her family] to members of the Government - including Boris Johnson - we have had no contact or consideration in their processes whatsoever’”.

3. The article also said that the woman’s former partner was “beaten to the ground with a hammer by a gang of men… who wanted revenge after he was cleared of the attempted murder of a 64-year-old prostitute”. It also stated he had “been attacked and beaten so severely paramedics who tried to revive him could not find his mouth”. The article reported that the sex worker had been “left for dead in a nearby skip, until a scrap metal collector found her with a broken jaw, fractured nose and wounds to her forehead that were caused by being stamped on”. The article said the woman’s former partner “was acquitted of attempted murder” but “was found guilty of attacking” a different woman. The article explained that two men, “Steve Gallant and James Gilligan”, had been convicted of the murder of the woman’s former partner.

4. The article also appeared online under the headline “The Hull widow coming to terms with release of murderer Steve Gallant after London Bridge 'heroics'”. The sub-headline was a quote attributed to the woman whose former partner was killed in which she said “'I learned a long time ago that heroes aren't always what they're cracked up to be'”.

5. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 because it gave the inaccurate impression that the comments attributed to her about the events on London Bridge and the royal pardon were contemporaneous quotes she had made to the publication. She explained that these quotes had actually come from an article she had written more than seven months earlier in December 2020. She said that her position and the circumstances she had described in December had changed. For example, she highlighted that the article reported that she had received no contact from government, but since the article in December, she had received extensive correspondence, including an apology from a Minister. Furthermore, the presentation of the comments as being contemporaneous implied that they had been made in response to the release of Steven Gallant from prison; this was inaccurate, they had been made many months before he had been released in relation to his actions on London Bridge and the royal pardon he had received. She said that she did not necessarily feel the same way about the situation now as she did at the time she made the comments. In addition, the complainant said the article had conflated comments she had made at the time to a different publication that the release was a “strange thing for me and the children to have to process”, with those she made in December 2020.

6. She also said the article was inaccurate as it referred to her as the “widow” of Mr Barrie Jackson, the firefighter who had been killed, yet she had never been married to him. In addition, the complainant also said the article was inaccurate because it implied that her former partner was responsible for the attack on the sex worker by suggesting that was the motive for his murder; this had not been established as the motive for his murder and he had been acquitted of this charge in court. She also said it was inaccurate for the article to state that her former partner had been attacked by a “gang” as only two men were convicted and that the article had inaccurately reported the first name of the second individual convicted of the murder of her former partner. Finally, she said it was inaccurate to report that the sex worker had been “stamped on” as, although the injuries could have been caused by stamping, the exact cause was never established and, similarly that her former partner had been attacked with a “hammer” as, whilst it had been assumed he was attacked with an object, it was never proven what object this was.

7. The complainant said the online article included further inaccuracies because the inclusion of a quote from her in the sub-headline implied it was a contemporaneous quote made by her regarding the “release” of the man convicted of murdering her former partner. She also said the headline of the online article was inaccurate as it said she was “coming to terms” with this man’s release and, as the publication had not contacted her, it was in no position to know how she was feeling.

8. Furthermore, the complainant said the article breached Clause 4 as it included comments she had made to a separate publication in which she had explained that she found the issue difficult to discuss; the publication was therefore fully aware that she didn’t want to discuss the issue yet still included her comments. She also said reported on something that had been traumatic for her –namely the murder of her former partner – and it described the injuries he had received in great detail. She also said that the description of the injuries sustained by the sex worker were too detailed and that this was also a breach of Clause 4.

9. The publication did not accept that it was significantly inaccurate or misleading to include past comments made by the complainant. It explained that the article focused on the release of the man who had murdered the complainant’s former partner and stated that it was reasonable to include the public comments made by the complainant previously as they were relevant to the current issue. However, it said it was unfortunate that some of her comments appeared to be out of date.

10. The publication said it accepted it was inaccurate to refer to the complainant as the “widow” of the man who was murdered and apologised for the error. However, it stated that this inaccuracy did not materially affect the story and so was not significant.

11. The publication did not accept that it was significantly inaccurate to report that the complainant’s ex-partner had been attacked by a “gang”, as news coverage of the incident at the time reported that four men were being questioned and provided a link to an example. However, it was regretful for any distress caused by this disputed statement and offered to amend the online article as a gesture of goodwill.

12. The publication also said it was not inaccurate to report that the sex worker had been “stamped on". It stated that it had covered the trial and had reported at the time that: “A pathologist told Hull Crown Court how the 64-year-old was most likely punched or kicked in the face until she fell to the floor. The attacker probably then stamped on her head or slammed her face into the concrete before dragging her - possibly while she was unconscious - across the ground and into the skip”. It also said that it had been widely reported at the time that the complainant’s former partner had been beaten with a hammer and that the judge at the time had said that: “Mr Justice Crane said ’A hammer probably played a part. The real damage was done by kicking this man in the head and stamping on him, when he was on the ground. The injuries to his face were horrific’”.

13. Regarding the complainant’s concern that it was inaccurate to report her former partner had been murdered in “revenge” for the attack on a sex worker, the publication stated that the motive of the attack was never clearly determined. It stated that two incidents had been discussed in the trial: an assault on the girlfriend of one of the attackers, and the suspicion that the complainant’s ex-partner had been involved in the attack on the sex worker. As such, the publication stated it was entitled to speculate as to motive behind the murder of the complainant’s former partner, however, it said it would have been more informative to report both incidents and so offered a correction on this point.

14. The publication did not accept a breach of Clause 1 regarding the name of the second individual convicted of Mr Jackson’s murder. It said that historical reports, which the publication had used when writing the article under complaint, referred to the other man convicted in this way. The publication provided a further article in which the name of the individual convicted featured both names – with the name the complainant gave as the middle name.

15. The publication also said it was not inaccurate for the online article to state that the complainant was “coming to terms” with the release of the individual who murdered her ex-partner because it was a fair summary of the recent comments the complainant had made to the reporter from the other publication: “it is a very strange thing for me to have to process” and “I find it difficult to understand...”.

16. The publication did not accept a breach of Clause 4. It said it understood the sensitivity of the story, however, it was based on comments the complainant had made in the past and that were already in the public domain. It also said that no approaches were made to the complainant and so this part of the Clause was not engaged. It further stated that the injuries that the sex worker and the complainant’s ex-partner had received had been widely reported at the time and provided links to examples of such coverage. Where these injuries were already in the public domain, it did not consider that reporting on them constituted a breach of Clause 4.

17. At the start of IPSO’s investigation, the publication offered to publish a standalone correction in print and online, working with the complainant to find an acceptable wording, while also making amendments to the article. It was proposed that, in print, the article would appear in the Corrections & Clarifications column on page 2 and, online, it would appear as a standalone correction.

Print:

Our article 'Turning life around is amazing but bridge heroics is not proof' - 9 July, reported that Barrie Jackson had been attacked by a gang of men who wanted revenge after he was cleared of the attempted murder of a 64-year-old Hull prostitute. In fact, we would like to clarify that although two incidents were mentioned during the trial, the motive of the attack was never clearly established, and that only two people were convicted for Mr Jackson's murder. Furthermore, the article described Vicky Foster as the 'widow' of Mr Jackson however Vicky was not married to Mr Jackson. We would like to apologise for these errors and for any distress caused to Vicky Foster by the article.

Online:

Our article 'The Hull widow coming to terms with release of murderer Steve Gallant after London Bridge 'heroics'', 8 July, reported the story of Steven Gallant, who murdered firefighter Barrie Jackson in 2005, and the news of him being released from prison after a royal pardon following his efforts in fighting off a terrorist on London Bridge in 2019. The article reported that Barrie Jackson had been attacked by a gang of men who wanted revenge after he was cleared of the attempted murder of a 64-year-old Hull prostitute. In fact, we would like to clarify that although two incidents were mentioned during the trial, the motive of the attack was never clearly established, and that only two people were convicted for Mr Jackson's murder. Furthermore, the article described Vicky Foster as the 'widow' of Mr Jackson however Vicky was not married to Mr Jackson. We would like to apologise for these errors and for any distress caused to Vicky Foster by the article.

18. The complainant accepted, in relation to the name of the second individual convicted of murdering her ex-partner, that she was mistaken and that the article had reported the name of this man correctly.

19. The complainant did not accept the proposed correction as a way to resolve her complaint. She said the proposed wording did not address the issues that her comments were inaccurately presented as contemporaneous and how the sex-worker sustained the injuries.

20. Initially the publication offered to amend the article as some of the comments appeared “to be out of date” and that this would involve republishing the story. However, once the complainant raised the issue once more, towards the end of IPSO’s investigation, the publication offered to amend the proposed correction to include a sentence regarding the provenance of the quotes attributed to the complainant. The publication said it would not address the point about how the injuries suffered by the sex worker were sustained as evidence from the police and crown at the trial was that the woman had been stamped on.

21. The complainant did not accept this as a resolution to her complaint.

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.

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.

Findings of the Committee

22. Firstly, the Committee acknowledged and was sorry to hear that the article had caused the complainant distress. The Committee then considered the presentation of the complainant’s quotes as being contemporaneous and made direct to the publication’s journalist. These comments had, in fact, mostly been taken from an article written by the complainant for a different publication more than seven months prior, as well as brief comments made contemporaneously to a reporter from a different publication. The use of comments made previously in the context of a new article relating to subsequent events does not in and of itself raise concerns under Clause 1. However, the article had reported that the complaint was “[s]peaking from her home in Hull” and no distinction had been made between the comments made at the time the article was published, and those made seven months earlier. The presentation of the complainant’s comments in the article gave the misleading impression that her comments reflected her current position, following the release of the complainant’s former partner’s murderer; in fact, the only contemporaneous comment she had made was that the situation was hard to process, and she did not wish to speak about it. In addition, her position had changed, such as in relation to the absence of any contact from the government. The misrepresentation of the comments obtained from a previously published article meant the publication had not taken care and there was a breach of Clause 1 (i).

23. Where the comments were presented as the complainant’s reaction to the release of her former partner’s murderer from prison but had in fact been made seven months prior to his release, this inaccuracy was significant and required correction under the terms of Clause 1 (ii). The Committee welcomed the publication’s offer to correct the article and its offer of an apology to the complainant. However, the correction offered by the publication did not initially address this point despite it being raised as an important issue by the complainant in her original complaint and the publication initially acknowledging that “it was regretful that [some of the comments] appear now to be out of date”. It had offered initially to amend the online article, which would involve republishing the already deleted article and including a footnote, but had made no offer to publish a standalone correction either on its website or in the newspaper on this point. Once the complainant raised the issue again towards the end of IPSO’s investigation, the publication offered to address the inaccuracy in its proposed correction. It was proposed that the correction would be published on page 2 in the established clarifications and corrections column, and in the online corrections section. This was sufficiently prominent. The original correction had not addressed this point of the complaint, and, though the publication did offer to amend the correction to include reference to the fact the complainant’s comments had not been contemporaneous during IPSO’s investigation, this happened later on in IPSO’s investigation. As such, it was not sufficiently prompt and there was a further breach of Clause 1 (ii).

24. Regarding the complainant being referred to as the “widow” of Mr Jackson, the Committee noted the complainant’s marital status would have been easy to verify, especially as the article authored by the complainant in December 2020, and heavily drawn on by the publication, had referred to this individual as her “ex-partner”. The publication had not taken care and so there was a breach of Clause 1 (i). The Committee considered the publication’s position that this inaccuracy was not significant as it did not materially affect the story. However, the article reported on a sensitive situation: the complainant’s apparent reaction to the release of the man who murdered her ex-partner. The nature of the complainant’s relationship to the murder victim was significant and the misuse of the term “widow” was therefore significantly inaccurate and required correction. The correction proposed by the publication had addressed this inaccuracy and provided the correct position. It was offered with due promptness, as it was offered at the start of IPSO’s investigation, and prominence, as set out above, and so there was no additional breach of Clause 1 on this point.

25. Regarding the assertion in the article that the complainant’s former partner had been murdered in “revenge” for the attack on a sex worker, the Committee noted the publication’s position that the motive of the attack had never been clearly determined. Whilst the Committee acknowledged the publication’s argument that it was entitled to speculate where this incident had been discussed at trial, the article had not clearly distinguished this as speculation. It had reported as fact that the man convicted of Mr Jackson’s murder had “wanted revenge after he was cleared of the attempted murder of a 64-year-old Hull prostitute”. This, therefore, represented a failure to take care and there was a breach of Clause 1 (i). The motivation for the murder of the complainant’s late partner was a significant point, and the misreporting of this information was therefore significantly inaccurate and required correction.  The publication accepted that it had not made clear that there was more than one possible motive discussed and, as set out above, offered a correction promptly and with due prominence. There was no further breach of Clause 1.

26. The Committee then considered the use of the term “gang”. Only two men had been convicted of the murder of Mr Jackson; however, the reference to a “gang” was brief and did not represent a significant detail in the article which was reporting on one of the men’s release and the complainant’s response. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

27. The Committee acknowledged that the complainant had accepted she was mistaken with regard to the name of the second man convicted of her ex-partner’s murder. In addition, it noted that the name of this individual was not a significant detail within the context of the article. The article reported on the actions of the other individual convicted of murder and so the reference to the second man involved was brief and did not materially affect the story. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

28. The Committee acknowledged the complainant’s position that it had never been formally confirmed that the sex worker had been “stamped on” or that her ex-partner had been beaten with a hammer. However, the Committee noted that it appeared as though these methods had been discussed as likely to have been used during court proceedings. As such, it was not inaccurate or misleading for the article to report this and there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

29. The Committee then considered the headline of the online article and the complainant’s concern that it was inaccurate to claim that she was “coming to terms with release of murderer Steve Gallant”, as the publication had not contacted her to find out how she was feeling. Whilst the majority of comments had been made in response to this man receiving a royal pardon, rather than his release, the complainant had said to a reporter for a different publication that it was a "very strange thing for me… to have to process” in response to the release. As such, while it acknowledged the complainant’s concern that the publication had made assumptions about her feelings, the Committee concluded that her comments provided sufficient justification for the publication’s claim that she was “coming to terms with release” of the man convicted of the murder of her former partner. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

30. The Committee then considered the complaint under Clause 4. Whilst the Committee acknowledged that reporting on the death of her former partner would be distressing for the complainant, newspapers are entitled to publish on such issues as long as reporting is handled sensitively. The article was based on comments the complainant had made in a separate article that were in the public domain, even if they had been attributed inaccurately. Her comments made to a separate publication contemporaneously were also in the public domain. In addition, the description of the injuries sustained by her ex-partner and the sex worker had been made public within court documents and contemporary coverage. In addition, it was not insensitive or gratuitous as the details of the injuries had been heard in court and were used in the article to demonstrate the severity of the injuries sustained by Mr Jackson at the hands of his attackers. There was no breach of Clause 4.

Conclusion(s)

31. The complaint was partially upheld under Clause 1.

Remedial Action Required

32. Having upheld a breach of Clause 1(i) and Clause 1(ii), the Committee considered what remedial action should be required. In circumstances where the Committee establishes a breach of the Editors’ Code, it can require the publication of a correction and/or an adjudication, the terms and placement of which is determined by IPSO.

33. The correction proposed by the publication was sufficient to correct the significant inaccuracies regarding the complainant’s marital status in relation to Mr Jackson and the question of what motivated his murder. However, the proposed correction had not addressed the provenance of the complainant’s quotes. The publication had offered to correct this point, but no wording had been drafted or agreed. This point should be added to the correction offered by the publication to make clear that the majority of the quotes attributed to the complainant had been made seven months earlier in response to the royal pardon, rather than Mr Gallant’s release. The Committee considered a correction to be the appropriate remedy to the breaches of Clause 1 (i), where the publication had been keen to correct the article, but no final wording could be agreed.

34. The Committee then considered the placement of the correction. The print article had appeared on page 4 and so the correction should be published on page 4 or further forward in order to meet the requirement for due prominence. As the online article had been taken down, a standalone correction should be published on the homepage for 24 hours before being archived in the usual way. It should state that it has been published following an upheld ruling by the Independent Press Standards Organisation. The full wording and position should be agreed with IPSO in advance.


Date complaint received: 08/07/2021

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 18/03/2022