Ruling

11954-22 Lord v Rochdale Observer

    • Date complaint received

      9th March 2023

    • 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 – 11954-22 Lord v Rochdale Observer

Summary of Complaint


1. Craig Lord complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Rochdale Observer 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 “Ex-cop died of injuries from suicide bid 23 years before / Former police officer died from injuries he sustained in suicide bid 23 years before”, published on 15 October 2022.

2. The article, which appeared on the front-page of the newspaper and continued on to page 4, reported on the death of the complainant’s brother and the subsequent inquest. It reported that the complainant’s brother “died from the injuries he sustained from a suicide attempt more than 20 years ago, an inquest heard”. The article reported that the complainant’s brother “had been cared for by his parents, [parents’ names], following the attempted suicide”. It stated that: “In February 1999, [the complainant] was called to [his brother’s] house in Todmorden to help [his brother] reinforce his front door. In a witness statement read at the inquest […the complainant] said that he arrived to find his brother in an ambulance which had been called by neighbours after he had tried to end his life by hanging”. The article also said the complainant’s brother had been “taken by ambulance to A&E at Birch Hill hospital”. The article continued by stating that the complainant, in his inquest witness statement, had said: “’He loved his job as a police officer and was studying for a law degree’”.

3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 as he had not “arrived to find his brother in an ambulance”. He said he had not attended his brother’s house on the day of his accident, but instead had seen him in the hospital. He also said the article was inaccurate because Birch Hill hospital did not have an A&E department, so his brother could not have been taken there in an ambulance as reported by the article. The complainant said the article was further inaccurate because his brother had already passed his law degree, and so was no longer “studying” for it. The complainant said he had spoken to the coroner who had told him that the statements were not the actual statements and that newspapers do not always print verbatim wording.

4. The complainant said the article also breached Clause 2 because it intruded into the family’s privacy by naming him and his mother. The complainant said the article also breached Clause 4 because the needs of the family had not been considered before the article was published on the front page of the newspaper. He asserted that publication of the article had not been handled sensitively and that his mother had not been approached prior to publication. The complainant said the article also breached Clause 5 because he was concerned of the impact it could have on a family member.

5. The publication did not accept a breach of Clause 1. It provided the notes taken by the court reporter, and said these clearly included a reference to the ambulance and an A&E department at Birch Hill Hospital. The notes also said that the complainant’s brother was “studying for a law degree”. Regarding the complainant’s disagreement that this had been at his brother’s house, as reported by the article – the publication said it had contacted the Coroner’s Office after publication. The coroner provided a letter which stated that the inquest had not included any oral evidence given by witnesses – instead written statements were read out by the court. The letter said that a statement from the complainant and his mother included information that the complainant had attended his brother’s home and seen him being attended to in the back of the ambulance. In addition, it said another statement from the Registered Manager at the complainant’s brother’s home had stated he was “[s]urrounded by family” at the time of his death. Therefore, it said its reporting on this point was accurate. The publication also said that it did not consider that these alleged inaccuracies were significant so as to require correction under the terms of Clause 1(ii).

6. The publication also did not accept a breach of Clause 2. It said that journalists are entitled to report on inquests and what is heard during court proceedings. It also said that Clause 4 and Clause 5 were not engaged.


Relevant Clause 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

7. The Committee first expressed its sympathy towards the complainant and his family for their loss.

8. The complainant disputed what had taken place in February 1999; namely that he had attended his brother’s address and had seen him in the ambulance. The publication provided the court reporter’s notes which accurately reflected what had been reported in the article on these points. In addition, a letter from the coroner confirmed that statements had been read out in court during the inquest which referred to the complainant having attended his brother home and seen him in the ambulance. Whilst the complainant disputed that the article accurately described the events of that day, newspapers are responsible for accurately reporting what is heard in court; not the accuracy of what is heard by the court. Where both the reporter’s notes and coroner had confirmed that this had been heard in court there was no breach of Clause 1 on these points.

9. The complainant also said it was inaccurate to report that Birch Hill hospital had an A&E department and that his brother had been “studying for a law degree”. The reporter’s notes stated he had been “studying for a law degree” and had been “taken to A&E”. In addition, the Committee considered that, where it was not in dispute that the complainant had attended a department of Birch Hill hospital and that he had been studying for a law degree, even if he had then passed it, these would not be significant inaccuracies requiring correction. There was no breach of Clause 1 on these points.

10. Regarding the complaint under Clause 2. Newspapers are entitled to report on court and inquest proceedings in line with the principle of open justice. Whilst the Committee acknowledged that the publication of his name had caused him concern, this information had already been made public as part of the inquest proceedings. Furthermore, there is not usually a reasonable expectation of privacy over this information. There was no breach of Clause 2.

11. Similarly, Clause 4 makes clear that its provisions do not impact the right of newspapers to report on inquest proceedings; it just requires that the reporting of such matters are handled sensitively. The Committee considered that there were no excessive or gratuitous details, and that the article was simply a report of what had been heard at the inquest. Therefore, there was no breach of Clause 4.

12. The Committee then considered the complaint under Clause 5. Clause 5 states that excessive detail should not be used in the reporting of suicide in order to prevent simulative acts of suicide. The complainant’s concern under this Clause was his fear of the potential emotional impact on a family member and, as such, did not engage the terms of the Clause.

 

Conclusions

13. The complaint was not upheld.

 

Remedial action required

14. N/A

 

Date complaint received:  16/10/2023

Date complaint concluded by IPSO:  20/02/2023