Ruling

09645-19 Evans v Cornwalllive.com

    • Date complaint received

      17th September 2020

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 2 Privacy, 4 Intrusion into grief or shock, 5 Reporting suicide, 6 Children

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 09645-19 Evans v Cornwalllive.com

Summary of Complaint

1. Lucie Evans complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Cornwalllive.com breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or Shock), Clause 5 (Reporting of suicide) and Clause 6 (Children) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Perfect dad and husband with 'wall of gambling debts' killed himself”, published on 21 December 2019.

2. The article reported on an inquest which heard that a man, Jowan Evans, had taken his own life after he could “no longer cope with an ‘accumulating wall of debts’”. The article reported that the man, a father of three, had accumulated debts from gambling and had ‘"significant financial problems’". The sub headline stated “Jowan Evans bet £111,000 online in 11 years”, and the article went on to report that Mr Evans had spent more than £111,000 in online bookmakers and betting shops. It said that he was understood to have “hanged himself” in a wooded area 800 metres from his car which he had left in a car park. It reported that police investigators had discovered a note in his van in which he had referred to his secret gambling addiction. The article featured a quote from a Detective Sergeant, who said Mr Evans “had gambled more than £110,000 and made a net loss of £53,000 through the various online sites”, and a quote from the Assistant Coroner who had said “these gambling sites operated on a pay-as-you-bet basis with money coming directly out of people's bank accounts without any deposits required onto the sites themselves, making it quite easy to gamble”. The article featured several photographs of the man; the first pictured him holding his child with the caption “Jowan Evans with his son [name]”. The article also featured a photograph of him holding another child with the caption “Jowan Evans was a loving dad and husband who could not cope with a mounting gambling addiction”.

3. The complainant, the wife of the deceased, said that the article was inaccurate. She said that her husband did not enter or use betting shops; he had only used online bookmakers. She also said that the note was not found by the police in his van, as reported. Rather, the police had searched the van on the evening of his disappearance, but they had missed the note and she had found it two days later. The complainant also said that her name had inaccurately been reported as “Lucy”.

4. The complainant said that the newspaper had published private information regarding the amounts of money her husband had gambled and borrowed from his father. She said that the family had a reasonable expectation of privacy in respect of this information, that it was of no benefit for the public to know this, and publication of this information represented a breach of Clause 2. She also considered that the publication of these figures represented an intrusion into the family’s grief and shock in breach of Clause 4, and gave an unnecessarily negative portrayal of her husband’s character.

5. The complainant was also concerned that publication of the information regarding her husband’s suicide, namely where he had parked his car, where his body was located and how he had ended his life was insensitive in breach of Clause 4. She considered that the publication of these details and specifying the method her husband had used represented unnecessary detail when reporting suicide in breach of Clause 5.

6. The complainant said that publication of the images of her husband with his children, aged two and five, represented a breach of Clause 6. The complainant said that she had given permission for the photographs to be used for an earlier article in March which appealed for information on her husband’s disappearance. The complainant also confirmed that she had contacted the publication on Facebook in July about publishing an article on her husband’s death and his struggles with addiction and gave consent for the photographs to be used for the purposes of that article. However, she said that this did not constitute consent for their inclusion in the article under complaint which centred on his inquest and the details of his suicide. While she accepted that she had shared a post of her family photographs on her personal Facebook page, no one from the publication had approached her to ask for permission to use the photographs for the purposes of this article.

7. The publication denied any breach of the Code. It said that the article did not state that Mr Evans had used walk-in betting shops. It said the article featured several references to online bookmakers, which clearly demonstrated that the bets were made online and not in person. It said its reporter had advised that the reference to the note was read out during the inquest hearing, and it provided the reporter’s notes taken at the time which said that “a note was found in his car”. The publication agreed to amend this section of the article as well as the incorrect spelling of the complainant’s name, but it did not consider that these represented significant inaccuracies requiring correction under the terms of Clause 1(ii).

8. The publication denied that the publication of the figures regarding Mr Evans’ expenditure or borrowing represented a breach of Clause 2 or Clause 4. It said that both figures were heard at the inquest, and therefore it was entitled to report them. The publication provided a copy of the reporter’s notes which it said demonstrated that this information was heard at the inquest.

9. The publication denied that the information published in the article breached the terms of Clause 5. It said that all the published details regarding Mr Evans’ suicide were heard at the inquest and did not amount to excessive detail of the method used under the Code. It also noted that Devon and Cornwall Police had published a status on 18 March which said:

'Body found in Lostwithiel’ Police have this afternoon found the deceased body of a man in the Greatwood Plantation in Lostwithiel. Enquiries continue but at this time this death is not being treated as suspicious. The family of missing man Jowan Evans have been made aware of this development.

10. The publication also denied that publishing the photographs of Mr Evans with his children represented a breach of Clause 6. It said that the complainant had given consent for it to use these photographs in a previous article, in which she had appealed for help to find her missing husband and although it could not produce this consent in writing, the publication noted that the complainant had accepted this was the case. The publication also said that it was later approached on 19 July by the complainant on Facebook about publishing an article on mental health awareness, her partner’s addiction, and a fundraising campaign that had been set up for his children. The publication highlighted that the journalist had asked whether photographs could be used, to which the complainant responded, “Of course you are welcome to use any photos”. This article was then published online under the headline “Wife tells how she lost husband to a 'monster' after discovering his hidden gambling addiction” on 20 July. The publication also said that the photographs of the children were featured in both the aforementioned online fundraising campaign and on social media and were therefore publicly accessible. It considered that given the clear connection between the content of the article under complaint and that of the previously published articles, as well as the fact that the photographs were publicly available, republishing these images did not represent a breach of Clause 6. However, the publication removed the photographs from the online articles as a gesture of goodwill in a bid to resolve the matter.

11. The complainant said that the publication’s offer to remove the photographs and to amend the reference to the note was not enough to resolve the matter. She reiterated her position that the permission she had previously given to the publication to publish the photographs of the children did not constitute consent for them to be published in an article about his inquest that featured insensitive and unnecessary detail.

Relevant Code Provisions

12. 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.

13. 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. In considering an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy, account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information and the extent to which the material complained about is already in the public domain or will become so.

14. 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.

15. Clause 5* (Reporting Suicide)

When reporting suicide, to prevent simulative acts care should be taken to avoid excessive detail of the method used, while taking into account the media's right to report legal proceedings.

16. Clause 6* (Children)

i) All pupils should be free to complete their time at school without unnecessary intrusion.

iii) Children under 16 must not be interviewed or photographed on issues involving their own or another child’s welfare unless a custodial parent or similarly responsible adult consents.

*The Public Interest

There may be exceptions to the clauses marked * where they can be demonstrated to be in the public interest.

3. The regulator will consider the extent to which material is already in the public domain or will become so.

Findings of the Committee

17. Firstly, the Committee wished to express its condolences to the complainant for her loss.

18. The Committee noted the complainant’s concern that the newspaper had inaccurately reported that the police had found the note left by her husband, when in fact she had found it. The reporter’s notes, which the newspaper had provided, recorded that “a note was found”, but did not record who had found it.  It appeared from the reporter’s notes that the reference to the note having been found in the car had immediately followed references to the police operation and that the publication had misunderstood from the context that the police had found the note. It was regrettable that the error had caused concern to the complainant, but in the context of the article, which centred on the findings made at the inquest proceedings, the Committee concluded that whether the note was found by the police or by the complainant was not a significant point.  Accordingly, the report did not constitute a failure to take care and a correction was not required under the terms of Clause 1. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point, but the Committee welcomed the offer from the publication to amend the online article.

19. The article reported that the complainant’s husband had spent money in “online bookmakers and betting shops”. The Committee noted that this single reference was ambiguous with regard to whether the “betting shops” were also online. There were, however, multiple references throughout the article to the betting being online or on online websites. These references, coupled with the subheadline which reported that Mr Evans had “bet £111,000  online”, and the Assistant Coroner’s comments published in the article, which referred specifically to online gambling, were sufficient in the Committee’s view to make it clear that Mr Evans had gambled online as opposed to in physical betting shops. There was no failure to take care not to publish inaccurate information on this point under Clause 1(i), and no correction was required under Clause 1(ii).

20. The publication accepted that it had misspelt the complainant’s first name and it had amended the article accordingly. While unfortunate, the misspelling of the complainant’s first name did not represent a significant inaccuracy requiring correction under the terms of Clause 1(ii). There was no breach of Clause 1, but the Committee welcomed the publication’s prompt action in amending the article.

21. The Committee noted the complainant’s concern that reporting the amount Mr Evans had gambled had been intrusive in breach of Clause 2. However, this information was heard at the inquest. Inquests are held in public, and publications have a right to report information that is heard at the coroner’s court. In these circumstances, and where the information did not directly relate to the complainant, the complainant did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy regarding this information. There was no breach of Clause 2 on this point. Further, the complainant said the publication of this information and information relating to the circumstances of Mr Evans’ death was insensitive in breach of Clause 4. The terms of Clause 4 make clear that its provisions “should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings”. As previously noted, this information was heard at the public inquest. Publication of the information about the amount Mr Evans gambled and how he died was handled sensitively as a report of the evidence that had been heard during the course of the legal proceedings. As such, there was no breach of Clause 4.

22. The Committee then considered whether the publication of information about how Mr Evans had died breached the terms of Clause 5 (Reporting of suicide). The purpose of Clause 5 is to prevent the publication of specific details which may encourage simulative acts, while accounting for the right of publications to report legal proceedings. The complainant had expressed concern that the article had reported the method by which Mr Evans’ had taken his life, where he had left his car, and his proximity to his vehicle. The article reported the cause of death, which was the finding of the Coroner’s court. It did not include excessive details of the method; where he had left his car, his proximity to his vehicle, and the approximate location of the death were not elements of the method of suicide in this case, but related more generally to the circumstances of the death. There was no breach of Clause 5.

23. Photographs of the complainant’s children had been published to accompany the article which reported on the cause of Mr Evans’ death and his addiction, and which therefore concerned their welfare. The Committee has previously ruled that Clause 6 of the Code applies in circumstances where photographs of children are published to accompany articles which involve their welfare and the question for the Committee was whether there was consent from a custodial parent or similarly responsible adult for the photographs to be published. The complainant had approached the publication in July 2019 about the prospect of publishing an article about her fundraising activities following her husband’s death and his struggles with addiction. She had made the photographs available to the publication for the purpose of that article, which was subsequently published without complaint from the complainant. The Code provides that IPSO, when considering whether there has been a breach of Clause 6, will take into account the extent to which material is in the public domain at the date of publication. In this case, the photographs had previously been provided by the complainant for publication and were placed in the public domain, with the complainant’s consent, at the time of publication of the earlier article. The Committee carefully considered all the circumstances and, in particular, the consent for publication which had been given by the complainant in July 2019; that the photographs were re-published only 5 months later; and that the two articles were not materially different in nature as both reported on Mr Evans’ death and his addiction to gambling.  In light of all these considerations, the Committee concluded that the consent given by the complainant in July 2019 applied to the re-publication of the photographs in the article under complaint. There was therefore no breach of Clause 6. Nonetheless, the Committee welcomed the publication’s removal of the images during IPSO’s investigation, once it had been made aware of the complainant’s concerns.

Conclusion

24. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action required

25. N/A.

 

Date complaint received: 23/12/2019

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 14/08/2020