Ruling

08469-16 Shooting Star Chase v Your Local Guardian

    • Date complaint received

      2nd March 2017

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 08469-16 Shooting Star Chase v Your Local Guardian

Summary of complaint

1. Shooting Star Chase complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Your Local Guardian breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “New Addington mum, Karina Driscoll, ‘treated like a criminal’ after Shooting Star Chase hospice wrongly alleged she abused her daughter Melody”, published online on 13 September 2016.

2. The complainant operates a children’s hospice. The article reported that the child’s mother had been “wrongly accused of child abuse by [the complainant] after giving her seriously ill daughter prescribed medication”. The article explained that nurses at the hospice had claimed that the mother “had given her daughter a dose of medication she did not need”. It reported that the complainant then made a safeguarding report to the council’s social services department in relation to the incident, in which it also claimed that the child’s father had “violently shaken her awake”.

3. The article reported that the child’s mother had been investigated by the council following what it described as “unfounded allegations” having been made by the complainant, but that the council had “dropped its investigation… and said [the child’s parents] had done nothing wrong”.  The article reported comments from the child’s mother in which she was critical of the complainant because the nurse who had “accused [her]” had never met [her daughter] before and because she felt that as a consequence of giving her daughter “a push [of medication]” she would be “accused of child abuse…". The article also included statements from the complainant in which it highlighted its regulatory obligations and which made the complainant's position clear that “our qualified nurses…have an obligation to raise any issues in order to resolve them in the best interest of the child”.

4. The complainant said that following concerns which had been raised by a nurse about the administration of the child’s pain medication, the complainant had made a safeguarding report to the council, in accordance with its statutory obligations. The complainant said that, according to the dictionary definition, a concern was a “feeling of worry”, in contrast to an allegation which was “a claim or assertion that someone has done something illegal or wrong”. The complainant said that making the safeguarding report did not constitute an “allegation”; it was fulfilling its statutory obligations in the best interests of the child. In addition, the complainant said that the referral to the council’s social services department included an account of a nurse observing “rough play”, but denied that it contained any observation of the child being “violently shaken…awake”, as reported.

5. The publication said that the complainant was approached before publication of the article, and that the statement it provided explaining its legal obligations was included in the article. The publication said that an “allegation” is a statement of suspicions; the complainant’s referral to the council’s social services department contained claims about specific conduct, and that whether this referral was made voluntarily, or in fulfilment of a legal obligation, it was not misleading to describe this as an “allegation”. The publication said that the allegation concerned physical abuse of the child, which the article had described, and that it was therefore not misleading to report that the complainant had alleged “child abuse”.

6. The publication said that the mother of the child said that the allegation which had been put to her was that the child had been “violently shaken awake” by the child’s father and that it was reasonably entitled to rely on the mother’s account of that allegation. In response to the complaint, the publication also provided a letter from the council, to the child’s parents, which referred to the safeguarding report having contained a concern that the child had been shaken by her father as he tried to wake her up. It said that whilst the letter did not expressly refer to the child having been “violently” shaken awake, it was implicit that the concern related to the use of undue force, given that it had met the threshold for inclusion in a safeguarding report to the council. The letter stated that, following receipt of the referral from the complainant, an “inquiry was undertaken, and the outcome of that enquiry [sic] was that the concerns raised in the referral, were not substantiated”.

7. When the complainant first raised concerns about the article following its publication, the publication offered to add the following note to the article:

Since publication, Shooting Star Chase have contacted us to say that the safeguarding report was made in good faith based on observations by staff in accordance with its statutory obligations and the proper exercise of its duties as a care provider to children.

8. The complainant said that it did not understand why the letter from the council to the child’s parents, upon which the publication relied, had referred to the complainant raising a concern that the child had been “shaken”. However, it said that in view of its obligations in relation to confidentiality, it would not be appropriate for it to disclose the safeguarding report to IPSO. The complainant said that the offer of adding a note to the article did not adequately address its concerns.

Relevant Code Provisions

9. 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

10. It was accepted that the complainant had made a referral to the council and that, in its safeguarding report, it had raised a concern that the child’s mother was failing to properly administer her child’s medicine. The council then investigated the matter and found that the concern was “not substantiated”.  Regardless of whether the complainant was under a legal obligation to raise its concern with the council, it was not significantly misleading to refer to it as an “allegation” in relation to the mother’s conduct.

11. The publication said that the claim that the child’s father had “violently shaken the child awake” had formed part of the child’s mother’s account of the concerns which had been raised by the complainant. The complainant denied that the safeguarding report contained any such concern, although it accepted that it contained an observation of “rough play” with the child. In response to the complaint, the publication provided a letter from the council, detailing the concerns which had been raised in the safeguarding report, which included that the child’s father had shaken the child.  The Committee acknowledged that the complainant maintained that the safeguarding report did not contain this specific concern, but in light of the content of the letter from the council, the Committee did not establish that the article was significantly inaccurate on this point, given that it was the complainant's position that the report had included a concern that the child had been subjected to overly “rough" treatment.

12. The Committee noted that the article included a statement from the child's mother in which she had characterised the claim made against her as being "child abuse" and that the article had set out the nature of the concerns which had been raised by the complainant, together with the circumstances surrounding the referral to the council.   Accordingly, the Committee did not find that it was significantly misleading for the publication to have reported the concerns which had been raised as alleged child abuse, as readers would understand the context in which the terminology had been used.  The Committee did not establish that the publication had failed to take care over the accuracy of the article, in breach of Clause 1 (i), or that the article contained a significant inaccuracy such as to require correction under the terms of Clause 1 (ii). There was not breach of Clause 1.

Conclusions

13. 13. The complaint was not upheld.  

Remedial Action Required

N/A

Date complaint received: 15/09/2016
Date decision issued: 24/02/2017