Ruling

08807-16 Bird v Hull Daily Mail

    • Date complaint received

      6th April 2017

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 14 Confidential sources, 2 Privacy, 9 Reporting of crime

Decision of the Complaints Committee 08807-16 Bird v Hull Daily Mail

Summary of complaint

1. David Bird complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Hull Daily Mail breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 9 (Reporting of crime) and Clause 14 (Confidential sources) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “’Why was my husband only fined £100 for beating me black and blue,’ asks Hull woman Nichola Bird”, published on 20 September 2016, and in an article headlined “Abusive husband David Bird suspended from Hull council domestic violence helpline job”, published on 29 September 2016.

2. The first article reported that the complainant had assaulted his then wife, and that she had said she had been left “black and blue”. It said that the complainant had gone on a “drunken rampage” and had “head-butted, slapped, punched and dragged” her. It quoted his ex-wife saying that she had “scratches and bruises” as a result of his attempts to strangle her, and that her knees had been left “bruised and swollen”. The article said that the complainant had pleaded guilty to assault and had been given a two-year community order. It said that his ex-wife was “devastated” that he had “only” been fined £100, and quoted her saying that it was unfair that she had been left living in temporary accommodation.  

3. The second article stated that the complainant had assaulted his then wife, leaving her “’black and blue’”, and he had consequently been suspended from his job answering telephone calls to victims of domestic abuse. The piece stated that the complainant had “head-butted, slapped, punched and dragged” his wife, and she had “feared for her life” during the assault. It reported that the complainant had been convicted and fined £100.

4. The complainant said that the newspaper had given a significantly misleading impression of the crime for which he had been convicted. He said that the court heard evidence that his ex-wife had suffered no injuries to her face or body as a result of the assault; he disputed that he had beaten her “black and blue”. To support his position, he provided a witness statement which recorded that his ex-wife had told a police officer at the time she made her complaint that she had “no visible injuries upon her face and body”. The complainant said that if he had admitted to slapping or head-butting his ex-wife, as reported in the articles, he would have been charged with actual bodily harm, and not common assault; he also said that it had been accepted in court that he had not head-butted his ex-wife. He expressed concern that the newspaper had not sought his comment before publishing his ex-wife’s account. He also disputed that his wife had been living in temporary accommodation and that she had “feared for her life”.

5. The complainant expressed concern that the newspaper had published his photograph without permission, and had published inaccurate information which had distressed his friends and family.

6. The newspaper said that a reporter had not been present in court; however, the complainant’s ex-wife had confirmed that the information she had given to the reporter about the consequences of the assault had been accurate. Before publishing the article, the reporter had also contacted the court to confirm the outcome of the case. As the complainant had pleaded guilty to assault by beating, the newspaper had not considered that there was any reason to question the veracity of the victim’s account and so the complainant was not contacted for his comment. Furthermore, it considered that it would have been disproportionate to risk lessening the gravity of the complainant’s conviction for violence against a woman by allowing him the opportunity to deny certain aspects of the victim’s account.

7. The newspaper noted that the witness statement provided by the complainant also recorded that his ex-wife had made a report to the police that he “had slapped [her] on her left cheek a few times and had head butted her against the wall...pushing her to the floor and hitting her whilst she was on the floor" and that the complainant "had tried to strangle [his ex-wife], grabbing her around the neck with both hands, breaking her necklace in the process." While it did not consider that the article was inaccurate, in an effort to resolve the complaint the newspaper offered to publish the following statement:

We have since been contacted by David Bird, who denies that he left Nicola "black and blue" following the assault to which he pleaded guilty in August.

Relevant Code provisions

8.    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 2 (Privacy)

i) Everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence, including digital communications.

ii) Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual's private life without consent. Account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information.

iii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals, without their consent, in public or private places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Clause 9 (Reporting of crime)

i) Relatives or friends of persons convicted or accused of crime should not generally be identified without their consent, unless they are genuinely relevant to the story.

ii) Particular regard should be paid to the potentially vulnerable position of children who witness, or are victims of, crime. This should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings.

Clause 14 (Confidential sources)

Journalists have a moral obligation to protect confidential sources of information.

Findings of the Complaints Committee

9. The Committee was concerned that in circumstances in which a reporter had not been present during the court proceedings, the newspaper had reported the victim’s account given outside court, which had included the allegation that she had been strangled, head-butted, and left “black and blue”, without giving the complainant an opportunity to respond. It also noted that the witness statement, provided by the complainant, had recorded that, at the time of reporting the matter, his ex-wife had told the police that she had no visible injuries to her face or body following the assault.

10. However, the articles had made it sufficiently clear that the account given outside court were claims made by his ex-wife. The first article had expressly attributed the claim that the complainant had beaten her “black and blue” and the description of the injuries to his ex-wife; while the second article had presented the phrase “black and blue” in inverted commas indicating that it was not a statement of fact. While the Committee noted the complainant’s position that the court had accepted that he had not head-butted his ex-wife, in the full context, the Committee did not consider that the reference to “head-butting” was significantly misleading.

11. Furthermore, the newspaper had contacted the court to verify the outcome of the court case before publishing the articles, and it had accurately reported the information it had received. The first article had accurately stated that the complainant had pleaded guilty to assault, and had been given a two-year community order and a £100 fine; and the second article had stated that he had been fined £100.

12. In circumstances in which the offence and sentence received by the complainant had been accurately reported, and the allegations had been sufficiently set out as claims, the Committee did not consider that the omission of the complainant’s denial in relation to the victim’s specific claims made outside court was significantly misleading. The Committee was satisfied that both pieces had not given a significantly misleading impression of the nature of the assault, as recorded in the witness statement, which had been given to the police at the time.

13. In the full context, not seeking the complainant’s comment before publication did not represent a failure to take care over the accuracy of the articles in breach of Clause 1 (i). There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

14. The Committee noted that the complainant also disputed that his ex-wife had been living in temporary accommodation following the assault, and that she had “feared for her life”. However, the reference to the victim’s living arrangements was not a significant point in the context of the coverage. Furthermore, the complainant was not in a position to dispute his ex-wife’s assertion that she had been in fear of her life when he assaulted her. There was no breach of Clause 1.

15. The complainant had expressed concern that the newspaper had published his photograph in breach of Clause 2. However, the image showed the complainant’s face; it had not disclosed anything private about him in breach of Clause 2.

16.  As the complainant had pleaded guilty to assaulting his ex-wife, he was clearly relevant to the story. There was no breach of Clause 9.

17. There was no suggestion that the newspaper had identified a confidential source. Clause 14 was not engaged.

Conclusion

18. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

N/A

Date complaint received: 30/09/16
Date decision issued: 22/03/17