Ruling

10578-22 Gomersall v leeds-live.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      10th November 2022

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of correction

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 10578-22 Gomersall v leeds-live.co.uk

Summary of Complaint

1. Nicola Gomersall complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation on behalf of herself and her husband, Kevin Gomersall, that leeds-live.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Struggling Leeds couple forced to feed kids nothing but ready meals and sell off possessions”, published on 1 July 2022.

2. The article was based on an interview with the complainant and her husband in which they discussed the rising cost of living. It reported that the couple said rising costs have “caused their lives to become a misery”, with them “having to feed their kids cheap ready-meals, stay in all the time as they can’t afford to out go [and] spending £50 a week just to take one child to school”. It reported that “energy costs have been through the roof for the large family [with five children] on their various computer or games consoles throughout the day as they’re off school”. It quoted the complainant saying, “With all the prices going up, its going to become a choice of eating or taking your kids to school”, with her husband adding “[f]ood, gas, electric everything has gone up […] [o]ur kids don’t eat as healthy anymore because it costs too much for food. We’re giving them ready meals, something quick and simple”. It quoted the complainant’s husband saying: “It’s a bit of a nightmare. We don’t even get to go out anymore. We basically have to sit in because we have no money to pay.” It also reported that the complainant said the rising fuel costs meant it “cost £50 a week just to take their 15-year-old child” to school. It stated that this child attended “Tadcaster Grammar” and was “on the waiting list for the school bus”.

3. The article was accompanied by three photographs of the couple at the a car boot sale, captioned, respectively: “Parents Kevin and Nicola Gomersall have been struggling with the cost of living crisis”; “Kevin and Nicola were selling their possessions at Wetherby Car Boot Sale”; and “Kevin and Nicola have been paying £50 a week just to take one child to school in Tadcaster”

4. The article was also promoted on the publication’s Facebook page under the headline “Leeds couple’s ‘nightmare’ as they are forced to feed children ‘nothing but ready meals’”. It was shared with an image of the complainant and her husband and was shared with a status which read: “They face a mountain of bills and can’t afford to go out [sad emoji]."

5. The complainant said the article misrepresented the comments she and her husband had made to the journalist. The complainant said that they did not tell the reporter that their family were “struggling” and “miserable”; could “only afford to feed their kids cheap ready meals”; and needed to sell off their possessions.  She said that the article inaccurately and misleadingly reported that her children played their various “computer and games consoles” throughout the day “as they’re off school”. While she accepted that her children played with these devices in their spare time, they each attended school; they were not out of school and playing on these consoles as the article suggested. She also said the article was inaccurate to report that her 15-year-old son attended “Tadcaster Grammar” and was on the “waiting list for the school bus”. While the complainant accepted that another one of her children attended this school and was waiting for a place on the school bus, her 15-year-old son attended a separate school, Wetherby School, and already had a place on the school bus.

6. The publication did not accept a breach of the Editors’ Code. The publication said that the article was an accurate report of the interview with the complainant and her husband, and provided an audio recording of the interview to IPSO to demonstrate this as well as the reporter’s notes. It added that the complainant and her husband had consented to an interview with the journalist, with the reporter identifying which publication they represented and the purpose of the interview: to discuss the cost-of-living crisis its impact on families with sellers at the car boot sale.

7. The publication said both the audio recording and reporter’s notes showed that the complainant had discussed the increasing costs and difficulties faced by their family, with the complainant’s husband saying that the extra money made from the car boot sales did “help”. In the recording, the complainant’s husband said it was “tough” with “everything going up” including “food”, “petrol, gas [and] electric”. The reporter asked whether the complainant and her husband were “feeling the strain” of feeding a family with five children to which the complainant’s husband agreed. The reporter then asked what “sort of changes” the pair had had to make as a consequence of rising cost, with the complainant’s husband saying that the “kids [do] not eat as healthy anymore as it costs too much [..] so we are giving them ready meals”. In the recording, the complainant’s husband also said “[i]t’s a nightmare […] we don’t even get to go out anymore […] we are basically sat in because we have no money at all and made reference to “arguments”: “When you’re living with each other, it causes a lot of arguments. You get angry. You need your space.”

8. Notwithstanding this, upon receipt of a direct complaint from the complainant, the publication, in a gesture of goodwill, amended the headline of the online article to from "Struggling Leeds couple forced to feed kids nothing but ready meals and sell off possessions” to "Struggling Leeds couple forced to feed kids ready meals and sell off possessions”.

9. The publication did not accept that the article was inaccurate or misleading to report that the complainant‘s children were “on their various computers or games consoles throughout the day as they’re off school”. In the recording, the complainant and her husband also made reference to “game consoles” and the cost of electricity: “In our house, we have all the computers going […] when the kids are off school […] our electric is through the roof”. Further, the publication said it was clear that the children were currently on their summer holidays.

10. In addition, the publication accepted that complainant had been referring to a different child in her interview; her “15-year-old” child did not attend “Tadcaster Grammar”. While the publication did not accept that this amounted to a significant inaccuracy, it offered to amend the online article and to publish the following footnote correction:

“A previous version of this article reported that the child that attended Tadcaster Grammar School was 15. In fact, this child is 13 years old. We are happy to clarify this”

11. The complainant did not consider that the amendments to the online article and footnote correction were adequate. The complainant expressed concern that the wording did not address her primary concerns that the article had misrepresented her and her husband’s comments and did not include an apology for the inaccuracies.

12. In response to the audio recording provided by the publication, the complainant said that it had been edited. For example, it omitted her response when her husband told the reporter that he gave their children ready meals: “I have never given them ready meals, you cheeky sod”.

13. The publication denied that the audio recording had been interfered with or altered in any way.

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

14. In considering the accuracy of the article, the Committee had regard for the reporter’s notes and the audio recording provided by the publication. The Committee noted the complainant’s position that the audio recording had been edited to remove something that she had said. However, in the absence of any specific evidence in support of this position, and there was not, to the regular listener, any suggestion in the recording that it had been edited, the Committee proceeded on the grounds that the audio file was an unedited recording of the complainant’s conversation with the reporter. The Committee then turned to consider whether the article had accurately reported the comments made by the complainant and her husband in that recording.

15. The headline of the article, and the accompanying Facebook post, reported that the couple had been “forced to feed [their] kids nothing but ready meals”. However, the audio recording of the interview did not support this assertion. While the complainant and her husband had indicated that due to higher food prices they had changed their family’s eating habits and were now feeding their children ready meals; they did not, in any way, suggest that they been forced to feed their kids “nothing but” ready meals. The headline claim did not reflect the complainant’s comments and consequently gave the clear and misleading impression that their children’s diet consisted solely of this particular category of food. On this basis, the publication had failed to take care not to publish inaccurate and misleading information in breach of Clause 1(i).

16. In the particular context of an interview with two parents where the claim related to the quality of food that they were giving their children this inaccuracy was considered significant by the Committee: it distorted the complainant’s comments during the interview and suggested that the couple had been forced to feed their children “nothing but” ready meals, which they had not. It therefore required correction under Clause 1 (ii). While the Committee noted that the headline of the online article had been amended to address this point, no clarification or correction had been offered by the publication. There was therefore a breach of Clause 1 (ii).

17. The Committee then consider whether the article was inaccurate to report that the complainant’s children were on “various computer or games consoles throughout the day as they’re off school”.  In the recording, the complainant’s husband told the reporter “when the kids are off school” they have “all the computers going” and as a consequence of this the “electric [was] through the roof”. However, the article had misreported the quotation; substituting “as” for “when” and in so doing wrongly suggested that the complainant’s children were not in school when they otherwise should be and playing on computer consoles during that time. This statement was not supported by the audio recording or the reporter’s notes. On this basis, the publication had not taken sufficient care over the accuracy of the complainant’s comments in breach of Clause 1 (i).

18. In the view of the Committee, the suggestion that the complainant’s children were not at school when they should be was significant and required correction under Clause 1 (ii). As no correction had been offered, this represented a further breach of Clause 1(ii).

19. The Committee next considered the complainant’s concerns that the article reported that her and her husband were “struggling”; had been forced to “sell off” their possessions; and that increased costs had made their lives a “misery”. The Committee noted that the interview had been conducted at a car boot sale where the complainant was selling items. In addition, the Committee noted that, during the interview, the complainant’s husband said that the extra money made from the sales did “help” with rising costs. Further, the Committee noted the complainant and her husband had stated during the interview that increasing costs were making life “tough” and “a nightmare”; actively agreed that their family were feeling the “strain”; and referred to “arguments”. In this context, the Committee was satisfied that the comments made by the couple, and relied upon by the publication, provided a sufficient basis for the manner in which the publication had summarised and characterised the complainant’s position; it was not a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article to report that the couple were “struggling”; had been “forced” to “sell” their possessions; and their lives were a “misery”. Further, the Committee did not consider that the publication’s summary of the comments made by the complainant and her husband were significantly inaccurate or misleading. There was no breach of Clause 1 on these points.

20. Finally, the Committee did not consider reporting that the complainant’s “15-year-old” child attended Tadcaster Grammar School rendered the article inaccurate or misleading. The section of the article where this statement appeared had focused on the practicalities and costs of transporting one of the complainant’s children to school. Taken in this context, and where it was not in dispute that another of the complainant’s children attended this particular school and was waiting for a place on the school bus, the misreporting of the age of the child did not constitute a failure to take care or represent a significant inaccuracy requiring correction under Clause 1. Notwithstanding this, the Committee welcomed the publication’s offer to publish a footnote correction addressing this point.  

Conclusion(s)

21. The complaint was upheld in part under Clause 1.

Remedial Action Required

22. Having upheld a breach of Clause 1 (i) and Clause 1 (ii), 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.

23. 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. The Committee found that the publication had not taken the necessary care when reporting the complainant’s comments to its reporter, and this had led to the publication of inaccurate and misleading information, including within the headline of the online article and the accompanying Facebook post. In these circumstances, the Committee considered that the appropriate remedy was the publication of a correction to put the correct position on the record.

24. The Committee then considered the placement of this correction. In relation to the online article, the headline of which had already been amended, this should appear as a footnote. This correction should make clear that rising costs had not forced the complainants to feed their children “nothing but” ready meals as suggested by the original article. It should also make clear that the substitution of “as” for “when” wrongly suggested that the complainant’s children were not in school when they otherwise should be and played computer and game consoles during that time.

25. A separate post should also be published making clear that the Committee had found the original Facebook post to be inaccurate, and setting out the correct position. This should be published on the same Facebook account as the original post, and remain on the publication’s Facebook feed indefinitely.


Date complaint received: 21/07/2022

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 18/10/2022