Ruling

09740-21 Woodcock v thesun.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      28th July 2022

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of correction

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 09740-21 Woodcock v thesun.co.uk

Summary of Complaint

1. Simon Woodcock complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation, through a representative, that thesun.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “BOOZE BINGE Girl, 16, ‘passes out’ after nightclub sells her 10 Jagerbombs for £7.50 which she downed in one hour”, published on 31 July 2021.

2. The online article reported that a “16-year-old girl was found passed out after a nightclub sold her 10 Jagerbombs for just £7.50 in a single hour”, with the teen “later found by her mother in the doorway of a bingo hall.” The article included the comments made by the mother to a separate publication, who called on the nightclub to review its entry and drinks policy as well as the local authority to take preventative action. The article also included the response from the complainant, the club’s manager, who made clear that the venue was “deeply concerned about this story and [was] investigating matters fully”, adding that they would “cooperate fully” with the police and offer a review of the CCTV to establish what occurred. It also said that the club did “not encourage excessive drinking”, staff were “trained to serve responsibly” and it had “stringent ID policies in place” with only official documentation accepted.

3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate, in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy). He said that the reported incident had never occurred; there was no evidence that the underage girl had entered the venue or been sold alcohol. He also denied that the family member quoted existed. He said that the article’s publication had been seriously damaging to the reputation and finances of the business.

4. The publication did not accept a breach of the Editors’ Code. The newspaper explained its position regarding syndication: the disputed claims originated from an article published by a local newspaper and then shared by its publishing group with other publications, and reported in good faith. Upon receipt of the complaint, the publication had contacted the local newspaper to ascertain its position in relation to the concerns raised by the complainant. In response, the newspaper had confirmed that it had been unable to contact the family member or verify the claims made and therefore was taking corrective action. Once the publication was notified of this, it removed the online article and confirmed to the complainant that it would not republish the allegations made. It also proposed to publish the following statement in its online Corrections and Clarifications column:

“Following publication of a July 31 article, now taken down ("Girl, 16, ‘passes out’ after nightclub sells her 10 Jagerbombs for £7.50 which she downed in one hour"), the owner of The Acapulco Club in Halifax says there is no record of the individual entering the club either on its ticketing system or on CCTV. Nor has West Yorkshire Police found any evidence to support the allegations made.”

5. The complainant, however, did not consider that the steps taken by the newspaper were sufficient; the wording did not state unequivocally that the events described did not happen, nor did it adequately address the financial consequences of the article’s publication or include an apology.

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

Findings of the Committee

6. The publication had relied upon information which had been syndicated by a trusted newspaper group. While there was no reason to doubt that the newspaper had acted in good faith, it was ultimately responsible for the accuracy of the content published including the presentation of the claims made.

7. In this case, the allegations made by the mother against the complainant’s establishment were serious, claiming that it had sold alcohol to a person under the age of 18, potentially in breach of the law and licensing regulations. While the Committee recognised the complainant’s concerns, it was not in a position to reconcile the conflicting accounts, or to rule on the accuracy of the claims made by the mother. Its role was to consider the presentation of the claims made.

8. The Committee noted that the headline and first few paragraphs of the article stated, as fact, that the child was sold a specific amount of alcohol by the complainant’s establishment without qualification or attribution. Although the headline included quotation marks within the headline these appeared only around the words “passes out” and not in relation to the venue’s sale of alcohol. The headline contained the sole reference to the specific allegation that the nightclub had sold her alcohol and nowhere in the body of the article was it indicated that it was an allegation made by the person’s mother. By presenting serious allegations about the conduct of a licensed establishment, the publication had not taken sufficient care over the accuracy of the article in breach of Clause 1 (i) and Clause 1 (iv). The presentation of these claims as fact was significant, where they related to serious allegations that alcohol had been  sold to someone under the age of 18. For this reason, the newspaper was required to publish a clarification under the terms of Clause 1 (ii).

9. The Committee welcomed the steps taken by the publication in response to the complaint: promptly removing the online article and offering to publish an item which updated readers on the situation. However, the offered wording did not address how the article had misleadingly presented the claims made. For this reason, there was a breach of Clause 1 (ii).

Conclusion(s)

10. The complaint was upheld. 

Remedial Action Required

11. Having upheld a breach of Clause 1, 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 adjudication, the terms and placement of which is determined by IPSO.

12. In coming to a view on the appropriate remedy in this case, the Committee considered the seriousness and extent of the breach of the Code. It also noted the steps taken by the newspaper following publication, including the removal of the online article and the offer to publish a standalone item in its online Corrections and Clarification Column. However, the proposed item had not addressed that the article had misleadingly presented the allegations as fact. As such, the appropriate remedy was the publication of a clarification.

13. The Committee then considered the placement of this clarification. This clarification should appear as a standalone clarification in the online Corrections and Clarification’s column. The wording of this clarification should be agreed with IPSO in advance and should make clear that it had been published following an upheld ruling by the Independent Press Standards Organisation.


Date complaint received: 07/09/2021

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 12/07/2022