Ruling

11818-21 Hoy v Wisbech Standard

    • Date complaint received

      7th July 2022

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 9 Reporting of crime

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 11818-21 Hoy v Wisbech Standard

Summary of Complaint

1. Samantha Hoy complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Wisbech Standard breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 9 (Reporting of crime) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Police reveal 3 councillors got written warning over Covid”, published on 15th November 2021.

2. The article reported that “[t]hree Wisbech town and Fenland district councillors received written warnings from Cambridgeshire Police for breaching Covid-19 regulations”. It identified by name three councillors as having been at the Angel Public House on Christmas Eve in 2021, one of them being Samantha Hoy. The article went on to state that the individuals were identified by Cambridgeshire Police after the seizure of CCTV footage, and that they had not received fines, but the matter was dealt with by a “written warning”. It stated that “Cambridgeshire Police released a statement which says three Wisbech councillors did receive a written warning from events at the Angel”, but that no further action was being taken against the councillors. The article included some of the text of the letter written to the three councillors. The letter stated that the police had received a complaint “to report that you have breached the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) Regulations 2020. It is alleged that you have other persons (not from your household or as part of a permitted bubble) on the 24th December 2020 at the Angel Public House” and that the police “have reviewed CCTV footage from the public house and this appears to support the allegation”. The letter also stated that “Police on this occasion will not be taking any formal action against you for this breach, but I would like to take this opportunity to remind you to keep up to date with current government regulation and guidance”. The article concluded by stating that “Cllr Hoy has been approached for a response”.

3. The complainant, one of the councillors named in the article, said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 as it had stated that she had received a “written warning” from the police. The complainant said that a written warning was a formal caution from the police, and that she had never received one of these; she added that on the Gov.uk website, a police caution was also referred to as a warning, where there is a legal record of an admission of an offence. The complainant said that the article was further inaccurate as it claimed that she had breached Covid rules; she said that these allegations were presented as fact. The complainant also said that the article was inaccurate to state that “Cambridgeshire Police released a statement which says three Wisbech councillors did receive a written warning from events at the Angel” as she did not consider any such statement was made; she said that while the police had stated that three councillors had received a letter, they did not confirm who these councillors were and did not describe the letter as a “warning”.

4. The complainant said that there had been a further breach of Clause 1 as she had responded to the journalist’s approach for comment, however the original article had stated that “Cllr Hoy has been approached for a response”, which she considered implied that she did not respond. She also added that she had not been given an adequate amount of time to respond to the journalist’s approach for comment.

5. The complainant said there had also been a breach of Clause 9 on the grounds that the claim that she had received a written warning from the police amounted to an accusation that she had admitted to committing a crime, which she said the newspaper had no evidence of.

6. The publication did not accept a breach of Clause 1. It said that the publication had made a freedom of information (FOI) request to Cambridgeshire Police, who confirmed that the letter quoted in part in the article had been sent to three councillors. The publication provided the correspondence containing the FOI request and the full letter from the police. It said that it was reasonable to describe this letter as a warning, and that a warning is not limited to a police caution. It added that a police caution was not mentioned in the article; it said that a police caution was a specific penalty, which the article did not claim or suggest the councillors had received. The publication went on to state that the identity of the three councillors was confirmed by a senior source who had seen the CCTV footage. It said that the source had confirmed the CCTV showed the time Councillor Hoy had entered the pub on Christmas Eve; showed her inside the pub seated at the same table as other individuals drinking, which was a breach of Covid-19 regulations; and showed the precise time she left. The publication said that it was confident that there were only three councillors present at the pub.

7. In regard to the publication’s approach to the complainant for comment, it said that Councillor Hoy had rejected opportunities to comment prior to publication and did not respond to phone calls. It said that the complainant responded after publication stating that she did not receive a warning from the police and that this denial was added into the article the day after publication: “Cllr Hoy, however, said: ‘I have not received a written warning from the police. Ever.’ She says that claims she has breached Covid rules ‘are false and defamatory’”.

8. The publication further said that the complainant’s concerns did not engage the terms of Clause 9. It said that the article reported on an important matter in the public interest and that the identity of the councillors was of clear relevance to the article.

9. During the investigation, the complainant was asked to confirm whether or not she had received the letter from Cambridgeshire Police; she said that it was not her place to confirm or deny whether she had received the letter quoted in the article.

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 9 (Reporting of Crime)*

i) Relatives or friends of persons convicted or accused of crime should not generally be identified without their consent, unless they are genuinely relevant to the story.

ii) Particular regard should be paid to the potentially vulnerable position of children under the age of 18 who witness, or are victims of, crime. This should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings.

iii) Editors should generally avoid naming children under the age of 18 after arrest for a criminal offence but before they appear in a youth court unless they can show that the individual’s name is already in the public domain, or that the individual (or, if they are under 16, a custodial parent or similarly responsible adult) has given their consent. This does not restrict the right to name juveniles who appear in a crown court, or whose anonymity is lifted.

Findings of the Committee

10. One of the complainant’s primary concerns was that the newspaper had stated that she had received a “written warning… from Cambridgeshire Police for breaching Covid-19 regulations”. The article had included much of the text of the “warning” – a letter from the police – to which it referred. While the complainant denied having received a “written warning” from the police or having breached the Covid-19 regulations, she would not confirm or deny to IPSO whether she had received the letter quoted in the article. This had a significant impact upon the Committee’s ability to make a finding in regard to the accuracy of the assertion that the complainant was the recipient of the correspondence. Notwithstanding this point, the Committee considered that the publication had demonstrated that it had taken care over the accuracy of this claim and its presentation of it. The newspaper had a copy of the full letter and had made an FOI request to Cambridgeshire Police to establish how many individuals the letter was sent to. In addition, a confidential source had confirmed which three councillors could be seen in the CCTV footage and the publication had contacted the complainant prior to publication to allow them the opportunity to comment. In light of the material provided by the publication to substantiate its position and the complainant’s declining to provide further information, the Committee did not establish a significant inaccuracy requiring correction.

11. While the Committee did not establish a significant inaccuracy requiring correction, it noted the complainant’s position that, according to the government website, “warning” could be used interchangeably with “police caution”. However, it was the Committee’s view that the phrase “written warning” was a non-specific term and did not exclusively mean that an individual had received a police caution. The Committee considered that the article made clear the nature of the warning that was issued by the police.

12. The complainant had also said that it was inaccurate to state that she had breached Covid-19 regulations. The Committee considered that the article as a whole made the position clear. It had quoted the letter at length – including the statement that “Police on this occasion will not be taking any formal action against you for this breach” – the letter had also stated that the police had viewed evidence which “appear[ed] to support the allegation” and sought to remind the recipient of the importance of keeping updated on current regulations. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point. 

13. The complainant had also said that she thought it was inaccurate to state that “Cambridgeshire Police released a statement which says three Wisbech councillors did receive a written warning from events at the Angel” as she did not consider any such statement was made; she said that while the police had stated that three councillors had received a letter, they did not confirm who these councillors were and did not describe the letter as a “warning”. The publication had provided the correspondence containing the FOI request and the police’s response confirming that the letter was sent to three councillors. The Committee found that this correspondence supported the publication’s claim that Cambridgeshire Police had released a statement saying that three Wisbech councillors received the letter. For the reasons outlined previously, the publication was entitled to characterise the letter as a “written warning”, and there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

14. The complainant said that there had been a further breach of Clause 1 as she had responded to the journalist’s approach for comment, yet the original article had stated that “Cllr Hoy has been approached for a response”, which she considered implied that she had not responded. At the time of publication, the complainant had not yet responded to the approach for comment, and therefore it was not inaccurate to state that she had been approached. Once the complainant had responded to the approach, the publication updated the article to contain her denial of receiving a written warning within one day. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

15. Clause 9 prevents the identification of relatives or friends of persons convicted or accused of crime in circumstances where they are not genuinely relevant to the story. As the article made no reference to the complainant’s relatives or friends, the terms of Clause 9 were not engaged.

Conclusion(s)

16. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

17. N/A


Date complaint received: 16/11/2021

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 17/06/2022