Ruling

09741-21 Woodcock v dailyrecord.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      28th July 2022

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of correction

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 09741-21 Woodcock v dailyrecord.co.uk

Summary of Complaint

1. Simon Woodcock complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation, through a representative, that dailyrecord.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Teen girl 'passes out' in doorway after nightclub sells her ten 75p Jagerbombs”, published on 30 July 2021.

2. The online article reported that “the distressed mum of the 16-year-old girl […] slammed a nightclub after it sold her underage daughter ten Jagerbombs, causing her to pass out.” It said that the mother “discovered her teenage daughter ‘passed out in the doorway’ of a nearby bingo hall after she spent a mere £7.50 on ten drinks in the space of an hour”. It stated that the child “entered [the] nightclub on Monday, July, 19, with a group of friends, but became unwell after drinking ten drinks”. The article included comments made by the mother to a sister publication. The mother 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 a response from the complainant, the club’s manager, who made clear that the venue was “deeply concerned about this story”, did “not encourage excessive drinking” and that its staff were “trained to serve responsibility”. It made clear that the club would “investigate matters fully” and “cooperate fully with police and offer a review of [its] CCTV to figure out what has happened.” The article also included comments made by a local councillor, responsible for public services and communities, who said that the council would “work closely with the police to ensure compliance with licensing legislation and will follow up on any reports of under-age drinking”, adding that “if concerns are raised”, the council would “respond and take enforcement action if necessary”.

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 newspaper said that the article had been based upon a press release. Upon receipt of this, its sister publication had contacted the following subjects for comment: the family member; the complainant (as the manager of the venue); the local council; and the police. It maintained that the article accurately reported the allegations made by the family member, adding that the article made clear the status of these allegations. It also noted that the article made clear the venue’s position, and published the complainant’s comments as well as the response provided by the local council.

5. Notwithstanding this, following the article’s publication and upon receipt of further concerns raised by the complainant after his review of the venue’s CCTV footage, its sister publication returned to the family member for further comments and in order to obtain a police reference number. When the family member did not respond to this request, the sister publication contacted the police for a public statement. Upon receipt of this, the publication then removed the online article and published the following correction online. This included the statement provided by the police to the sister publication and the complainant’s denial in full, and appeared as a standalone item on the newspaper’s website:

“In regards to our story 'Girl, 16, 'passes out' in random doorway after Halifax nightclub sells her ten 75p Jagerbombs,' 29 July, the owner of The Acapulco Club, Simon Woodcock, has since advised that he is satisfied that there was no record of the individual entering the club via their QR/ticketing system, and that there was no-one on the CCTV matching the individual's description. Furthermore, Mr Woodcock has advised that no footage of the individual was found on the CCTV of the location where she was suggested to have been found. YorkshireLive contacted the Police for comment, who stated that 'West Yorkshire Police has not found any evidence to support the allegations made.’ We are happy to make the above positions clear.

6. The complainant, however, did not consider the actions taken by the publication 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

7. The Committee was clear that a newspaper’s obligations under the Editors’ Code extends to all editorial content it publishes, including material obtained from sister publications, and that care should be taken to ensure that information is not inaccurate, misleading, or distorted.

8. In this instance, 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.

9. 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 in this way, 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).

10. While the Committee welcomed the steps taken by the publication when it was notified by its sister publication that it was unable to obtain further testimony from the mother following an additional enquiry with the police – promptly removing the online article and publishing a correction item which updated readers of the situation that included a statement provided by the police and the complainant’s denial in full – the published 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)

11. The complaint was upheld.

Remedial Action Required

12. 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.

13. 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 publication of standalone correction. However, this wording had not addressed that the article had misleadingly presented the allegations as fact. As such, the appropriate remedy was the publication of a clarification.

14. 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