Ruling

13131-16 The Headteacher of Hawthorn Tree School v The Boston Target

    • Date complaint received

      22nd June 2017

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 13131-16 The Headteacher of Hawthorn Tree School v The Boston Target

Summary of Complaint

1. The Headteacher of Hawthorn Tree School complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Boston Target breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Family calling for school to say sorry”, published on 9 November 2016.

2. The article reported that a four-year-old girl had been left in pain for three hours after teachers failed to notice she had dislocated her elbow. It said that the child injured herself on a climbing frame during a lunch break, but that the injury went unnoticed until her mother and step-father picked her up from school. It said that the child was prone to dislocating her elbow and shoulder, and said that videos of class activities sent to parents by teachers showed she had not used her arm at all.

3. The article quoted the child’s mother, who said that the teachers could not explain what had happened, and explained that the child had been told to take herself to the medical room if she was hurt. It reported the position of the school’s headteacher, who said that the incident had been fully explored, and that “staff had acted in good faith, in accordance with procedures and with the information available to them at the time. I am satisfied that in the circumstances we did all we could to support the child”. 

4. The complainant said the article reported the incident as a matter of fact, rather than as the claims of the child’s parents that she dislocated her elbow at school. He said that the school had received no medical evidence to support the claims that the child had been left in pain for three hours, or that she pulled her joint out after falling from a climbing frame.

5. The complainant said that while he was contacted by the publication prior to publication, he was not told the details of the parents’ claims. He said that he told the reporter that, without any medical evidence, he considered that “from a legal perspective, the injury did not happen”. He also said that as a headteacher, he could not and would not enter into discussion on an individual case. He said that he also told the reporter that this was a complex case involving school governors, the Local Authority Legal Services, and Lincolnshire Schools Liaison Officer.

6. The publication said that the parents of the child contacted the newspaper with the claims set out in the article: that she had dislocated her elbow while on a climbing frame at school, and was left untreated for three hours. It said that in the circumstances, it considered that it was reasonable to rely on the parents’ account of the incident, but nonetheless, it contacted the school to put the claims to them and included the complainant’s response in the article. It said that the complainant did not provide any statement disputing the parents’ account at the time.

7. The publication said that it was clear from the article’s headline, and content of the article, that it was the parents’ account of the incident being reported. It said that while the complainant now disputed that the child had dislocated her elbow during the incident, he was not in a position to provide any evidence to counter the account provided by the child’s parents. Nonetheless, it offered to update the online article to publish a statement from the school, and amended the article to make clearer that the information was based on the claims of the parents.

Relevant Code Provisions

8. 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.

v) A publication must report fairly and accurately the outcome of an action for defamation to which it has been a party, unless an agreed settlement states otherwise, or an agreed statement is published.

Findings of the Committee

9. The first line of the article reported that the claim that the girl was “left in pain for three hours after teachers failed to notice she had dislocated her elbow” had come from her mother and step-father. It went on to report that “her mother and step-father claim her injury went unnoticed by staff”, and quoted the child’s mother and step-father outlining the sequence of events as they understood it, as well as their upset at how the incident was handled by the school. Overall, the Committee considered that the article had made clear that the claims about the incident had come from the child’s mother and step-father. There was no breach of Clause 1.

10. The complainant had been contacted by the newspaper about the story prior to publication. While the Committee noted the complainant’s position that he told the reporter that he would not enter into discussion about a case which was ongoing and subject to investigation, he did not dispute giving the quotes attributed to him in the article in which he sympathised with the parents over the incident, but said that his staff acted in good faith and was satisfied that the school did all they could to support the child. In circumstances where the position of the complainant – namely that the school denied there had been any wrongdoing – was made clear in the article, the Committee did not consider that the publication had failed to take care over the accuracy of the article in breach of Clause 1(i).

11. Further, while the Committee was not in a position to determine whether or not the child had dislocated her elbow at the school, it did not consider that any inaccuracy on this point was significantly misleading in circumstances where the article reported the position of both parties. There was no breach of Clause 1(ii). 

12. While it did not find a breach of the Code, the Committee welcomed the amendments the newspaper had made to the article in response to the complaint.

Conclusions

The complaint was not upheld.    

Remedial Action Required

N/A

Date complaint received: 14/11/2016
Date complaint concluded: 24/05/2017