Ruling

09940-21 Louise Hough v dailypost.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      10th March 2022

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

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

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 09940-21 Louise Hough v dailypost.co.uk

Summary of Complaint

1. Louise Hough complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that dailypost.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock) and Clause 5 (Reporting suicide) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Devastated wife tells how husband took his own life with a shotgun after being overwhelmed with patients ill or dying of Covid at their care home”, published on 11 September 2021.

2. The article reported that the complainant’s late husband had died by suicide “after the care home they were running became overwhelmed by Covid”. It included an interview with the complainant, and explained that she had “demanded a Welsh specific inquiry into coronavirus”. The article explained she had joined “a group of families in Wales calling for a Welsh inquiry into the pandemic called the Covid Bereaved Families for Justice Cymru group” as she was “furious” with the Welsh government and believed “a series of failings by the Welsh Government and local health boards led to virus running riot in care homes”. The article stated that complainant’s care home had been subject to cases of Covid amongst the staff and residents; of the latter, many had died. It stated that the problems of running a care home during the pandemic “took a terrible toll on [the complainant’s husband]”. It quoted comments by the complainant in which she described the pressures of running a care home at the time. The complainant was also quoted as saying that: “My husband committed suicide” and that he “got his shotgun and shot himself”.

3. The complainant said that the article intruded into her privacy in breach of Clause 2. She said that she had agreed to give her story to a journalist for another newspaper in the same publishing group. The article she had agreed to involved her telling her story along with multiple other people in order to raise awareness around the campaign of the Covid Bereaved Families for Justice Cymru group, who were seeking to establish a Wales-only inquiry into the handling of the pandemic. She noted that the group article had been published by the other newspaper two days before the article under complaint, and that this same newspaper had then published – without her consent – an article that focused on her story several hours before the article under complaint.

4. She said that she had only consented for the information regarding the death of her husband and her personal circumstances to be published within the context of the group article. The complainant said that the article under complaint, which focused on her story alone rather than the collective experiences of her fellow campaigners, was substantially different from the context in which she had consented for her story to be published. She said, therefore, that the newspaper had published information over which she had a reasonable expectation of privacy without her consent in breach of Clause 2.

5. The complainant also considered that the article breached Clause 4 for the same reasons. Furthermore, she said that the article had been syndicated to several other newspapers, which she had not consented to.

6. The complainant also said that the article breached Clause 5, as she considered that it focused on her husband’s suicide and the method of his suicide in a sensationalist manner.

7. Finally, the complainant also said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 because it gave the impression her husband was a patient at a care home, rather than an owner.

8. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code; however, it apologised for the distress caused and removed the article during direct correspondence with the complainant’s representative. It said that the topic of both the group article and the article under complaint – the promotion of an inquiry into the handling of the coronavirus pandemic in Wales – was an extremely important issue that demanded the necessary coverage and consideration by those in positions of power. It said that it was motivated to publish the article under complaint by journalistic and public interest considerations only.

9. The publication also said that the complainant did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy over the information included in the article. It said that the original article had included a report which looked at the members of the group, one of whom was the complainant. The initial article, which was not the subject of complaint, had contained all the quotes that had been published in the article under complaint. The publication said that as this information was in the public domain, as well as being covered by other news sources previously, it did not consider that it was intrusive to tell the complainant’s story again. The publication provided examples of other articles which had reported on the complainant’s husband’s death and contained the same images. It also noted that the complainant had given further solo interviews since the article under complaint had been published. The publication said, therefore, that the information under complaint was already within the public domain prior to the publication of the article under complaint, and had been willingly disclosed by the complainant, and therefore it was entitled to republish it.

10. The publication reiterated its regret for any distress caused, and said that this was not the intention in publishing the article. In addition, the publication said that it was common for articles and information to be shared within the publishing group the newspaper belonged to, and that it had no control over public editorial content being published by other newspapers. It said that, in any case, syndication was not a matter that fell under the Editors’ Code.

11. The publication did not consider that the article engaged Clause 5.

12. The publication said that the article made clear that the complainant’s husband was not a patient as it stated in the first sentence that she and her husband “were running” the care home.

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.

Clause 2 (Privacy)*

i) Everyone is entitled to respect for their private and family life, home, physical and mental 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.

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

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.

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.

Findings of the Committee

13. The Committee first recognised the distressing circumstances that the complainant and the group she belonged to had been through, and offered its condolences. The Committee noted that the complainant was concerned about the syndication of the original article both outside the newspaper’s publishing group and within the publishing group. Whilst the Committee acknowledged her concerns, this was not an issue which in itself fell within the Code and therefore not something on which the Committee could make a ruling. The role of the Committee was to find whether the actions of the newspaper had breached the terms of the Clauses of the Code cited by the complainant.

14. In order to consider whether there had been an intrusion into the complainant’s private life, the Committee had to consider whether the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy over the information in the article; the complainant’s own public disclosures of information; and the extent to which the material complained about was already in the public domain or would become so. The article quoted comments by the complainant in which she spoke about the personal circumstances and her feelings surrounding her husband’s death – which could be information over which she had a reasonable expectation of privacy. However, this material had previously been published in the original group article and linked report several days earlier, with the complainant’s consent. Where this information was already in the public domain with the consent of the complainant, its republication in the article under complaint did not constitute an intrusion into the complainant’s privacy. The publication of the information in a further article that focused exclusively on the complainant’s story did not raise a breach of Clause 2.

15. The Committee acknowledged that the complainant had been surprised and upset by the republication of her comments about her husband’s death, which was a matter of regret, and it welcomed the publication’s removal of the article as a positive response to the complaint. However, it considered that the information had been presented in a sympathetic, factual light within the article, and placed in the context of the complainant’s campaigning work. It did not consider that there was a failure to handle publication sensitively, and there was no breach of Clause 4.

16. Clause 5 states that excessive detail must not be used when reporting on cases of suicide, in order to prevent simulation. The article had identified the method of suicide. It did not, however, include further details about the manner of death. Whilst the Committee acknowledged that the headline reference to the method of her husband’s death had caused her upset, this did not amount to excessive detail. Therefore, there was no breach of Clause 5.

17. Finally, the Committee noted that the complainant’s husband was described as running the care home multiple times within the article. It did not consider that the article gave the misleading impression that he was a patient within the care home and there was no breach of Clause 1.

Conclusion(s)

18. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

19. N/A


Date complaint received: 15/09/2021

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 22/02/2022