13241-21 Wood v Helensburgh Advertiser

    • Date complaint received

      13th October 2022

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 13241-21 Wood v Helensburgh Advertiser

Summary of Complaint

1. David and Roanna Wood complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Helensburgh Advertiser breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Two more 'missing children' at nursery/ Care watchdog confirms two more ‘missing children’ nursery incidents”, published on 11th November 2021.

2. The article appeared on the front page and appeared again in a longer form on page 7 under the headline “Care watchdog confirms two more ‘missing children’ nursery incidents”. It reported that “FURTHER safety concerns have been raised at a Helensburgh nursery [owned by the complainants] after it was revealed that THREE missing child incidents have been recorded in the last 12 months”. It stated that two members of staff had been suspended and an investigation had been instigated “after a child was ‘found on the street’ having gone missing from the from the Churchill facility’s ‘forest school’ at the end of October”. The article also reported that “[t]he Care Inspectorate confirmed that they had been notified by management of two incidents at the nursery, and a further incident - reported in last week’s [newspaper]- at the nursery’s recently-opened forest school”, and that this was “in addition” to an incident covered by the publication a week earlier.

3. It continued by stating that after this incident was covered and shared by the publication, it “attracted a string of comments from readers when shared on social media”. The article included examples of these comments made by named individuals, such as one that said, “’This isn’t the first time a child hasn’t been safe at this nursery. A staff member’s child got out the back gate’” and another who said, “my nephew is in this nursery and was found out on the street by another parent who took him back into the nursery very recently”. The article further said it had been contacted by another individual who asked to remain anonymous who said “’A toddler went missing in August from the nursery building itself and was returned by a member of the public’.” It also referred to a “Care Inspectorate spokesperson [who] said they had been notified by the nursery of three incidents” and that the “Nursery did not respond to a request for comment”.

4. The complainants said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. They said that, although they did not dispute one incident relating to the school, which had been reported in an earlier edition of the newspaper, the two additional incidents raised in this article did not involve two children going “missing”. They said two incidents had been reported to the Care Inspectorate where children had gone off-site but that the location of the children involved was always known. It provided screenshots of the incident reports it had sent to the Care Inspectorate. The first incident involved a child exiting the nursery garden to see their parent during morning drop-off.  The second incident report said a child had left “unnoticed” whilst a parent was speaking with a staff member. Staff had been looking for the child for less than a minute when they were found in the foyer area. During IPSO’s investigation, the complainant clarified that a second staff member had seen the child leave but had assumed the other staff member was also aware. When the other staff member started doing a headcount and searching for the child in the room, the second staff member went after the child where they saw a parent bring the child to the front door. The whole incident lasted approximately one minute.

5. The complainants also said the article was inaccurate because it implied the Nursery and the forest school were the same entity, even though they were separate. They said the article was further inaccurate because it included a picture of the Community Centre, which is run by the Royal Navy. The complainants said that while the buildings were physically joined, the Nursery was a distinct entity from the Community Centre.

6. The publication said it did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that the article it had published about the first incident had prompted various other sources to come forward with information. One source, who had not confirmed their connection to the nursery had said a child “went missing in August after they somehow got out of the nursery building, and they had to be brought back by a member of the public who was walking by and found them on the street.” A further, anonymous, source had told them about a child that had “got out.” These claims were supported by a number of comments made on Facebook: one comment referred to a staff member’s child having “got out the back gate” and a second post said a child that was known to them had been “found out on the street by another parent… [having] got out unnoticed”.

7. The publication provided a translation of some of the shorthand notes it had taken during follow-up phone calls as well as the text of the abovementioned Facebook comments. The publication also stated that some information it disclosed to IPSO came from the reporter’s recollections. After receiving these allegations, the publication contacted the Care Inspectorate to confirm whether it had been notified of these incidents. The Care Inspectorate provided a statement that said, “The Care Inspectorate has been notified appropriately by the care provider of two incidents at Drumfork Nursery and Family Centre”. After receiving this, the publication contacted the nursery on the day before it went to print for comment. This email included allegations made by members of the public as well as confirmation that the Care Inspectorate had “been notified of two incidents and the nursery and family centre, as well as the most recent incident at the forest school”.

8. The publication said that the sources had implied that the children’s whereabouts were unknown as they were not under the supervision of nursery staff when they were in the care of the nursery. It asserted that the Care Inspectorate had not disputed that the children were missing when asked directly and, as such, it had no reason to believe “missing children” was an inaccurate characterisation. In addition, the publication said it had seen the incident reports provided by the nursery to the Care Inspectorate, giving its account of the two events, for the first time during IPSO’s investigation. It stated that the account about one of the incidents said the child had left “unnoticed” and staff had been trying to find them for nearly a minute. Where this was the case, the publication argued it was not inaccurate or misleading to characterise the incidents as children going “missing”.

9. Regarding the image that was used in the article, the publication asserted it was not significantly inaccurate or misleading. It said that the nursery premises and the Drumfork Community Centre were part of the same complex and that the nursery’s address was given on its website as the “Drumfork Community Centre”. It also said it was not inaccurate to refer to incidents at the forest school and the nursery as the complainants managed both services.

10. Notwithstanding the above, prior to IPSO’s involvement, the publication had offered to work with the complainants to write a follow up article or to change the article before it was published online. During IPSO’s investigation, the publication also offered to work with the complainants to publish a statement on page four of the newspaper. This would be further forward in the newspaper than the bulk of the original article, which appeared on page seven:“On November 11, 2021 the Advertiser published a news article about the Drumfork Nursery and Family Centre in Helensburgh headlined ‘Care watchdog confirms two more ‘missing children’ nursery incidents’.

The nursery’s owners, David and Roanna Wood, state that in the first of those incidents a child was able to exit the nursery garden and reach their parent at the other side of the nursery gate/car park area.

Mr and Mrs Wood say that in the second incident a child left the nursery building for just under a minute after getting through an open door unnoticed while their parent was speaking to a member of staff.

They say that the door, a second internal door, had been left open to ensure ventilation while the parent was in, and that the child was met by the parent and a staff member in the outdoor foyer area, where the child was returned to the service.

The Care Inspectorate was notified on each occasion and each of the incidents investigated. The nursery’s procedures and risk assessments were amended where appropriate and staff reminded of the importance of the welfare and safety of children. The Advertiser is happy to make the nursery’s position clear.”

11. The complainants did not accept the publication’s offer as a resolution to their complaint.

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

12. The Committee first considered the point of complaint regarding whether there had been “Two more 'missing children' at nursery” and that “THREE missing child incidents have been recorded in the last 12 months” at the nursery. One incident, previously reported by the publication, was not in dispute regarding whether a child had gone “missing” and so the question for the Committee was whether it was accurate to say there had been “[t]wo more ‘missing children’”. The Committee noted that the publication had received information from two sources, which accorded with accounts on social media, that two further incidents had taken place. After receiving the allegations, the newspaper contacted the Care Inspectorate to confirm the details of the allegations. Whilst the Care Inspectorate did not explicitly confirm that there had been incidents involving “missing” children, it also did not dispute the allegations. The publication also approached the nursery for comment, with the allegations set out in relative detail, but the nursery had not responded. Given this, the Committee

considered that the publication had taken sufficient care not to publish inaccurate or misleading information and there was no breach of Clause 1(i).

13. The Committee then considered whether, despite the care taken, it was significantly inaccurate or misleading to report that there had been “[t]wo more ‘missing children’ at nursery” and that “THREE missing child incidents have been recorded in the last 12 months”. The Committee wished to make clear that it was not taking a view on the nature of the incidents themselves and it recognised that the use of the term “missing”, particularly in relation to children, could be suggestive of a range of scenarios of differing severity. However, it was not in dispute that in both incidents young children had, however briefly, been able to leave the nursery building when they should not have been able to do so. It was therefore not significantly inaccurate for the publication to characterise these as incidents of “missing children”. There was no breach of Clause 1(ii).

14. The Committee then considered whether the photograph of the Community Centre represented a breach of Clause 1. The Committee noted that the image did not show the nursery specifically. However, where the nursery was located at the centre, it was not significantly inaccurate or misleading to include an image of the Community Centre as a whole. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

15. The Committee then turned to whether the article had inaccurately conflated the forest school with the nursery and where the reported incidents took place. Where the complainants operated both services and where the article accurately reported which incidents had taken place at which service, the Committee considered that it was not inaccurate or misleading to also refer to an incident at the school. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point

Remedial Action Required

16. N/A

Date complaint received: 18/12/2021

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 23/09/2022