Ruling

16764-23 Loftus, Brame, Shearly-Sanders & McLeod v hadleigh.nub.news

  • Complaint Summary

    Brian Loftus, acting on his own behalf and on behalf of Wendy Brame, Rickaby Shearly-Sanders and Gordon McLeod, complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that hadleigh.nub.news breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 3 (Harassment) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in the following articles: an article headlined “Anger as Hadleigh's town clerk is given whopping pay rise of nearly £300 a week” published on 1 April 2022; An article headlined “Rowland Taylor's Ghost: Hadleigh's royal pretenders could learn from regal example” published on 5 April 2022; an article headlined “Hadleigh mayor refuses to answer accusation regarding town clerk” published on 29 April 2022; an article headlined “Hadleigh town clerk's behaviour questioned after posting derogatory social media message about work colleague” published on 18 May 2022; an article headlined “Rowland Taylor's Ghost: Marks out of 10 for your Hadleigh councillors” published on 2 July 2022; an article headlined “Leading Hadleigh councillors fail to defend town clerk over allegations of exceeding authority” published on 18 July 2022; an article headlined “Hadleigh committees suspended as town clerk admits she is fed up working evenings” published on 22 July 2022; an article headlined “Hadleigh council chiefs branded 'a joke' over staff issues” published on 25 July 2022; an article headlined “Hadleigh mayor’s new clothes at extra cost to tax-payers” published on 24 October 2022.

    • Date complaint received

      4th January 2024

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of correction

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 2 Privacy, 3 Harassment

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 16764-23 Loftus, Brame, Shearly-Sanders & McLeod v hadleigh.nub.news


Summary of Complaint

1. Brian Loftus, acting on his own behalf and on behalf of Wendy Brame, Rickaby Shearly-Sanders and Gordon McLeod, complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that hadleigh.nub.news breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 3 (Harassment) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in the following articles:

· An article headlined “Anger as Hadleigh's town clerk is given whopping pay rise of nearly £300 a week” published on 1 April 2022.

· An article headlined “Rowland Taylor's Ghost: Hadleigh's royal pretenders could learn from regal example” published on 5 April 2022.

· An article headlined “Hadleigh mayor refuses to answer accusation regarding town clerk” published on 29 April 2022.

· An article headlined “Hadleigh town clerk's behaviour questioned after posting derogatory social media message about work colleague” published on 18 May 2022.

· An article headlined “Rowland Taylor's Ghost: Marks out of 10 for your Hadleigh councillors” published on 2 July 2022.

· An article headlined “Leading Hadleigh councillors fail to defend town clerk over allegations of exceeding authority” published on 18 July 2022.

· An article headlined “Hadleigh committees suspended as town clerk admits she is fed up working evenings” published on 22 July 2022.

· An article headlined “Hadleigh council chiefs branded 'a joke' over staff issues” published on 25 July 2022.

· An article headlined “Hadleigh mayor’s new clothes at extra cost to tax-payers” published on 24 October 2022.

2. The first article reported that Hadleigh Council’s town clerk, Wendy Brame, had received a pay rise, reporting that: “Hadleigh tax-payers will be stumping up an extra £6.95 an hour, almost £300 a week, for their town clerk's wages, backdated to January 4”. It also reported that the town clerk “post is currently held by Wendy Brame and the massive pay increase is a combination of an annual rise and for doing some of the work which used to be done by the town council manager.”

3. The second article also referenced Mrs Brame. It stated: “Another Hadleigh queen, or rather one who now commands queenly riches, is Wendy Brame. […] Mrs Brame has just been given a ginormous, whacking great wage increase. In fact, she has been bunged nearly £300 a week extra! Unlike her fellow workers who will receive, er, absolutely nothing extra.”

4. The third article also reported on Mrs Brame’s qualifications and salary, and said that “Wendy Brame is not qualified to fulfil the town manager role, which she has now absorbed”. It went on to report that: “Mrs Brame, who was appointed as the town clerk last year, does not yet hold the CiLCA qualification, as required when she was appointed.” It then reported:

[…T]he council claimed no officer was paid more than £50,000 per annum. However, it appears the council are quoting only the base pay of the clerk, £40,00 [sic] and have not included overtime payments, employer pension contributions and employer National Insurance contributions, which would take the town clerk's package to above £50,000. That is the threshold which the council must, by law, make the payments transparent to the public, as it is tax-payers that foot the bill.”

5. The fourth article focused on Mrs Brame’s social media activity. The article stated that Mrs Brame had “posted a derogatory message on social media about a work colleague”. It included an image of the post in question, which read: “Sometimes I look across at my coworker and think: ‘It must be wonderful coming to work and being completely useless’”. It went on to report that a “post on Mrs Brame's Pinterest account that criticised a work colleague was spotted by a Hadleigh resident who spoke with Nub News on the understanding they would not be identified, as they were close to council officers”.

6. The fourth article further reported that “Mrs Brame’s ability to fulfil her role as the town’s clerk, which not includes much of the former town council manager’s duties, has also been questioned after it emerged she also works as a clerk for another council” and that “concerns have also been raised regarding her qualifications for the combined role, which appear to fly in the face of the requirements published when the posts were advertised”. It further quoted a resident who reportedly said: "Unless she is some sort of wonder woman I can't see how she can do the combined role of a full time town clerk, which she was doing before, and a full time town council manager's role, as well as working for another council, are we being short changed here?".

7. The fifth article rated Hadleigh town councillors out of ten, and said: “Angela Wiltshire (7/10) – La Pasionaria. Another Labour Party member masquerading as an Independent. Since her elevation back onto the Council has proven to be an effective pain in the buttocks to Jilted John and the town clerk.”

8. The sixth article reported that Councillor Shearly-Sanders and Mayor McLeod “declined to defend their town clerk who has been accused of exceeding her authority” after having organised a party. It then said: “Cllr Shearly-Sanders was also asked at the meeting what authority had been used to allow the party but he only said 'you have had your answer' when clearly neither councillor had been given a satisfactory response”. It further stated, “the responsible financial officer (RFO), Mrs Brame is authorised spend up to £500 in an emergency, for example if there is an immediate health and safety issue, but that is not the same as authority to approve an event to go ahead”.

9. The seventh article reported “Hadleigh councillors have agreed to suspend three committees until November and instead hold two full council meetings per month after the town clerk complained she was working too many evenings”. It reported comments made by Mrs Brame, who had reportedly “admit[ed] she is fed up working evenings”. The article quoted various councillors discussing the requirement to work evenings. It said “Mrs Bray [sic] joined in the debate and said: ‘People don't see all the working groups and committees I have to do. I have three or four evening meetings a week, which I appreciate I signed up to do, but the longer I have been here the more committee we have got. We are one full time member of staff short and something has to give. I can't keep giving up every single evening every single week for these committee when not much is being achieved.’”

10. The eighth article reported on council leaders’ “apparent failure to manage staff” which had “caused unnecessary disruptions to council services to the public, according to disgruntled residents”. The article said that a named individual “contacted Nub News to complain about not being able to speak to an appropriate officer on Friday” and “Wendy Brame and projects officer […] both spent the day at the informal, single agenda meeting in Kesgrave, leaving the office manned by a part-time booking clerk, who is not qualified to carry out council business, and the office was closed from 12.30pm.” It quoted another resident, who reportedly said it was “unbelievable that the council, that we pay for, or providing such a poor service. I read about the clerk's complaints at having to work her hours and how much she earns and thought - 'poor love'”. The article closed with the following: “"According to their Google information, Hadleigh town council offices based at the Guildhall is no longer open afternoons and closed daily at 12:30pm".

11. The ninth article reported on the Hadleigh mayor’s “new clothes at an extra cost to tax-payers”. The article stated: “Hadleigh accounts show that in this current municipal year the mayoral and civic costs are £712 at the moment with six months to run, whereas in 2021/22 it was £858 for the whole year.”

12. The complainant said that the first and second articles breached Clause 1 as they stated that Wendy Brame had received a pay rise of “almost £300 a week” extra and “nearly £300 a week extra” respectively. The complainant said Mrs Brame worked 37 hours a week, therefore, her pay-rise worked out at £257.15 per week – closer to £250 than £300. The complainant then said that the second article inaccurately reported that “the massive pay increase is a combination of an annual rise and for doing some of the work which used to be done by the Town Council Manager.” He said the increase was a temporary acting-up payment while the Town Council Manager was on leave.

13. The complainant said the third article inaccurately stated that “Mrs Brame […] does not yet hold the CiLCA qualification [Certificate in Local Council Administration], as required when she was appointed.” The complainant said this was inaccurate as the council knew at the time that Mrs Brame did not hold a CiLCA qualification, but she had a number of years’ experience as a Clerk and a Clerk was not required to hold a CiLCA qualification upon appointment.

14. Regarding the third article’s claim about Mrs Brame’s pay and the council’s obligation to publicly disclose it, the complainant said the Localism Act requires that salaries are published when the annual base salary is over £50,000, and that Mrs Brame’s base salary was below this figure. He said that the article had implied it was not following rules which was not the case. He said, in line with most local government organisations, the council followed local government pay scales and practices, and the Town Clerk did not receive any overtime payments.

15. The complainant next turned to the fourth article under complaint, which focused on the complainant’s social media activity. He said the post referred to in the article was ‘pinned’ to a Pinterest board titled “Funny”, and this was done before Mrs Brame had started working at the council. He said the article had inaccurately implied that Mrs Brame had made a post aimed at a council colleague, whereas she had simply pinned something she found funny prior to working there. In addition, the complainant said omitting the title of the board rendered the article distorted. The complainant also said the fourth article had inaccurately implied the council were unaware Mrs Brame worked for another council. However, the complainant said this had been disclosed at interview and her additional role was for just four hours a week. He also said it was inaccurate to refer to a “combined role”, as the Clerk’s job description has been updated to reflect changes to the staffing structure.

16. The complainant also believed the fourth article breached Clause 2, as the Pinterest board was hosted on a private social media account and related to Mrs Brame’s private life – as it pre-dated her time working for the council. He also said references to Mrs Brame’s other job breached Clause 2, as this was not relevant to her role in the town council.

17. The complainant said the fifth article condoned “poor behaviour” towards Mrs Brame as it had scored a councillor highly for allegedly harassing her; he said that this was a breach of Clause 1.

18. The complainant then said the sixth article breached Clause 1, as it reported that Councillor Shearly-Sanders and Mayor McLeod “have declined to defend their town clerk who has been accused of exceeding her authority”. He said the councillors had not responded to the publication’s email but this did not mean they did not defend her; it could simply mean they hadn’t seen the email due to their schedules. In regard to the claim that “Mrs Brame is authorised spend [sic] up to £500 in an emergency” the complainant said this was inaccurate; Mrs Brame, as Clerk, had the power to authorise any spend up to £500 and with regard to emergencies she had the authority to spend up to £5,000.

19. Turning to the seventh article, the complainant said that this was inaccurate as the council had not “agreed to suspend three committees until November and instead hold two full council meetings per month” because the “town clerk complained she was working too many evenings”. Rather, this change was made due to a large increase in the number of evening meetings.

20. The complainant then said that the eighth article inaccurately reported that an individual had spoken to a council booking clerk on a specific Friday afternoon. He said the booking clerk did not work on Fridays, and was also on annual leave on the day in question – therefore, they could not have spoken to the individual. The complainant also said the article suggested, in a misleading manner, that the council had changed their opening times to remove afternoon opening hours. He said that Friday opening hours had always been 9:30am-12:30pm.

21. The complainant also said the ninth article was inaccurate, as it said that the council’s 2022 expenditure was higher than previous years. The complainant said the half-year accounts for 2022/23, available on the council’s website showed that the mayoral and civic costs for this period were not £712 – as reported in the article – but were in fact £244, less than half of the 2021/22 equivalent figures.

22. The complainant also said that the collective publication of all articles under complaint were harassing toward Mrs Brame, in breach of Clause 3. He said the repetitive negative coverage of her character, skills and experience could be considered a “campaign of harassment”.

23. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. In regard to the first and second articles, it said it had calculated Mrs Brame’s weekly salary increase of “nearly £300” by multiplying her contracted hours – 38 – by the additional amount of money the complainant would receive per hour, £6.95. This figure had then been “rounded up” in the article and headline. The publication also said that Mrs Brame was given months of back pay for taking on extra responsibilities while a colleague was on leave, while other staff in related roles had not been awarded an increase.

24. Turning to the third article under complaint, the publication said the job advert for the Clerk role had stated applicants needed a CiLCA qualification. It provided the job advert to support its position on this point; this said: “We recognise the importance of a CiLCA qualification and sound experience in the areas identified for this role ideally you will already have this qualification or be prepared to undertake it in 12 months or have significant experience in Democratic Services at either District or County level.” The publication said it had been informed by whistleblowers Mrs Brame’s CV did not include the CiLCA qualification, and she had not gained this qualification within 12 months of assuming the post.

25. Regarding the alleged inaccuracies concerning Mrs Brame’s salary, the publication said the taxpayers of Hadleigh would not make much distinction between an annual base salary of £50,000 and an annual remuneration package worth a total of £50,000. It also said that the council's publicly available monthly accounts showed that Mrs Brame had also received regular overtime payments.

26. In response to the concerns raised about the fourth article, the publication said the post had been brought to its attention by an individual – who it did not identify – who had been offended by the post, which appeared to be derogatory about a work colleague. The publication further said that the image was later taken down or removed from public view, which it considered to be an implicit acceptance on the part of Mrs Brame that the image was inappropriate.

27. It said there was no implication in the article that the council had been unaware of the Clerk’s second job, and the article made clear it was in fact local residents who were unaware of Mrs Brame’s other role. It said that the article had made clear the council had a new staffing structure that included one additional role and a new job description for the Clerk. In referring to the role as “combined”, it said that a resident had described the role as “combined” – as set out in the article – which did not appear to be an unreasonable characterisation.

28. The publication said the fifth article was not harassing, and was simply the columnist expressing his opinion - which he was entitled to do under Clause 1 (iv).

29. Turning to the sixth article under complaint, the publication said that at a council meeting held a month before the article’s publication, Mrs Brame was asked under what authority she arranged a party and its associated expenditure, and replied that she had the authority as RFO [Responsible Financial Officer/Clerk].

30. To support its position, the publication provided a recording of the meeting in question. It also said it had approached the relevant Committee chair and Mayor for comment about Mrs Brame’s position as RFO, and her use of funds, and provided emails showing this. It said the councillors had been given the opportunity to defend Mrs Brame at the meeting, as well as via email, and had not. It therefore did not accept that the article had inaccurately reported that “[t]wo leading Hadleigh town councillors have declined to defend their town clerk who has been accused of exceeding her authority”.

31. It also supplied a copy of the council’s financial regulations, which included the following:

control and authority to spend

Expenditure on revenue items may be authorised up to the amounts included for that class of expenditure in the approved budget. This authority is to be determined by:

the Council for all items over £5,000;

a duly delegated committee of the Council for items over £500; or

the Town Council Manager, in conjunction with Chairman of Council or Chairman of the appropriate committee, for any items below £500.”

said that this indicated Mrs Brame would only have the authority to spend £500 or less; anything above would have to be approved by either a delegated Council Committee or the Council itself.

32. In response to the seventh article, the publication said the Clerk was aware of the requirement to work evenings and it provided a list of the dates of the meetings. It therefore did not accept that the article was inaccurate.

33. With regard to the eighth article, the publication said it did not report that the booking office hours had changed, nor did it state a member of the public had spoken to the booking clerk on a Friday afternoon. It said the office was closed to the public after 12:30pm on Friday afternoons, however councillors and staff were generally able to access staff in the office on a Friday afternoon by phone – therefore, it didn’t follow that, because the office was ‘closed’, a member of the public could not have spoken to a member of staff.

34. Turning to the ninth article, the publication said the actual Mayoral expenses for 2022/23 had not been the main point of the article and this did not change the fact that the mayor had asked for his budget to be doubled so he could obtain a new clothing items. On 8 September, the publication said it would have “corrected the wording as appropriate”, but the council had not made a complaint or comment at the time.

35. The publication did not accept that it had intruded into Mrs Brame’s private life in breach of Clause 2, and also said that Mrs Brame’s other job was a matter of public record.

36. The publication said the articles and journalist behaviour did not constitute a breach of Clause 3. It said that holding the council to account, either by asking questions or reporting on those questions, was not harassment.

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 3 (Harassment)*

i) Journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit.

ii) They must not persist in questioning, telephoning, pursuing or photographing individuals once asked to desist; nor remain on property when asked to leave and must not follow them. If requested, they must identify themselves and whom they represent.

iii) Editors must ensure these principles are observed by those working for them and take care not to use non-compliant material from other sources.

Findings of the Committee

37. The Committee considered the first and second articles’ claims that Mrs Brame was earning “nearly” and “almost” “£300 per week extra” and that the actual figure was £257.15 for a 38 hour role.The publication, in rounding up the figure, gave a misleading impression of Mrs Brame’s actual pay increase – this was particularly the case where the article did not include the specific and accurate weekly pay increase figure of £257.15, and where the publication had used an inaccurate amount of hours to calculate their sum of £264.10, which acted as the basis for its rounding up. The Committee further noted that the correct number of hours for the role was listed on the job advert for the role which the publication had access to. Therefore, it had not taken sufficient care not to publish misleading information and there was a breach of Clause 1 (i).

38. The Committee considered that the misleading reporting of Mrs Brame’s pay increase represented a significant inaccuracy, where it related to the question of how taxpayers’ money is spent by local authorities and Mrs Brame’s salary and qualifications were the focus of both article. Under the terms of Clause 1 (ii), a correction was required and – as no correction was published or proposed – there was a further breach of Clause 1(ii).

39. The second article also reported on the reasons behind Mrs Brame’s pay increase, and had stated: “the massive pay increase is a combination of an annual rise and for doing some of the work which used to be done by the Town Council Manager”. The Committee understood the complainant’s position that the increase was temporary due to the manager being on leave. However, the Committee did not consider omitting the fact that this was a temporary increase from the article rendered it significantly inaccurate, distorted, or misleading, given that it was not in dispute that Mrs Brame was earning more as she was covering some of the responsibilities of another staff member. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

40. The Committee next turned to the third article, which stated that Mrs Brame “is not qualified to fulfil the town manager role” and “does not yet hold the CiLCA qualification, as required when she was appointed.” The Committee had regard for the job advert which the publication had provided and noted it said: “We recognise the importance of a CILCA qualification” and “you will already have this qualification or be prepared to undertake it in 12 months or have significant experience.” Where the job advert did not say explicitly that the applicant needed this qualification to gain the role, the Committee considered the publication had not taken sufficient care not to publish inaccurate information where it had claimed Mrs Brame was not “qualified to fulfil the manager role” and that this qualification was “required when she was appointed”. For this reason, there was a breach of Clause 1 (i).

41. This inaccuracy was significant, where the focus of the article was Mrs Brame’s qualifications and suitability to the role, and where it inaccurately implied she was not qualified for the job role as advertised. Therefore, correction was required by the terms of Clause 1 (ii) and, as no correction had been offered, there was a further breach of Clause 1(ii).

42. The third article reported that: “it appears the council are quoting only the base pay of the clerk, £40,00 [sic]” and it had “not included overtime payments, employer pension contributions and employer National Insurance contributions, which would take the town clerk's package to above £50,000”. It also said by law, the council must “make the payments transparent to the public”. The Committee noted the complainant’s concerns that the article had misleadingly implied the council had not followed the relevant rules for disclosing staff salaries.

43. In this instance, the Committee noted that the article had not claimed as fact that the council had broken any relevant laws or guidance – this was made clear by the use of the phrase “it appears”. The Committee therefore considered that the article distinguished between conjecture and fact. Further, the article had explained the threshold for councils declaring salaries to the public, and the declared salary of the clerk, setting out the factual basis for its conjecture. The Committee considered the article had sufficiently distinguished between fact and conjecture and therefore there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

44. In regard to the fourth article about Mrs Brame’s social media activity, the Committee understood that while members of the public may have seen the image referred to in the article and found it offensive, the complainant had not posted the image referred to in the article, but had “pinned” it before she had started her role as Clerk – therefore, it could not have been aimed at a “work colleague”. However, the article reported she had “posted a derogatory message on social media about a work colleague” which gave a misleading impression as to the nature of the circumstances in which the image was posted. Therefore, the publication had not taken due care to prevent the publication of inaccurate information in breach of Clause (i).

45. This information was significantly inaccurate as it implied Mrs Brame had acted maliciously or unprofessionally towards her colleagues during her time as Clerk. It therefore required correction in line with Clause 1 (ii). As no correction had been offered, there was a further breach of Clause 1(ii).

46. The complainant also said the fourth article implied the council were unaware the Clerk worked for another council, which was not the case. The Committee noted the article stated “it [had] emerged she also works as a clerk for another council.” The article did not say that Hadleigh Council were unaware of this fact, or that this had not been disclosed publicly. Where the article did not claim that the council were unaware of Mrs Brame’s other role, the Committee did not consider the article to breach the terms of Clause 1.

47. Further to this, the Committee did not consider the description of Mrs Brame’s role as “combined” to be significantly inaccurate, where it was accepted she had taken on extra duties which had previously been the responsibility of another staff member in addition to the original job description of the Town Clerk and this was made clear in the article under complaint. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

48. The Committee noted the complainant considered that the fifth article constituted “poor behaviour” towards Mrs Brame. Clause 1 does not address issues such as “poor behaviour”, but rather ensures care is taken to prevent the publication of inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, and in the instance of a significant inaccuracy, the record be corrected with due prominence and promptness. For this reason, there was no breach of Clause 1.

49. Regarding the sixth article, which claimed Mrs Brame had been “accused of exceeding her authority”, the Committee noted that, at a council meeting, Mrs Brame’s authority to pay for a party had been questioned, due to the financial regulations which indicated expenditure on revenue items may be authorised by “a duly delegated committee of the Council for items over £500; or the Town Council Manager, in conjunction with Chairman of Council or Chairman of the appropriate committee, for any items below £500.” The Committee further considered the article’s claim that “the responsible financial officer (RFO), Mrs Brame is authorised spend up to £500 in an emergency”. The Committee noted that this was consistent with the financial regulations supplied by the publication, and which appeared on the council’s website. As such, the Committee did not consider the sixth article to be inaccurate, misleading or distorted.

50. The sixth article’s headline said: “Leading Hadleigh councillors fail to defend town clerk over allegations of exceeding authority”. The Committee noted that article had set out the basis for the headline’s claim, where the article had stated “Cllr Shearly-Sanders was also asked at the meeting what authority had been used to allow the party but he only said 'you have had your answer' when clearly neither councillor had been given a satisfactory response”. The publication had further sought comment from Councillor Shearly-Sanders and Councillor McLeod and they had not responded to the emails which was made clear in the article. In this instance, the article supported the headline and the newspaper’s characterisation of the claim that “[t]wo leading Hadleigh town councillors have declined to defend their town clerk who has been accused of exceeding her authority” was not inaccurate. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

51. Turning to the seventh article, the Committee noted the article reported that there had been an increase in evening meetings, and quoted Mrs Brame: “I have three or four evening meetings a week, which I appreciate I signed up to do, but the longer I have been here the more committee we have got. We are one full time member of staff short and something has to give. I can't keep giving up every single evening every single week for these committee when not much is being achieved.” Therefore, the article had set out the basis for the headline claim: ”Hadleigh committees suspended as town clerk admits she is fed up working evenings”. In this instance the headline was supported by the article, which also made clear that the decision to suspend evening Committee meetings was reached by the council, therefore clarifying the headline. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

52. The Committee considered the eighth article and its claims about an individual’s experiences of contacting the council’s office. The Committee noted the reference to the booking clerk was presented as the individual’s comment about their experience of not being able to speak to the relevant contact. It was also not in dispute that the individual was unable to speak to the relevant staff member when they rang. Therefore, the Committee did not consider this reference to be significantly inaccurate for the above reasons and there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

53. The Committee then considered the eighth article’s claims about opening hours. While the article did report that "[a]ccording to their Google information, Hadleigh town council offices based at the Guildhall is no longer open afternoons and closed daily at 12:30pm", the Committee did not consider that this represented a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article; the complainant did not dispute that these were the opening hours given by Google, and the publication was entitled to rely on publicly available opening hours information in its reporting. The Committee also did not consider that the “no longer” reference was significantly inaccurate, where it formed a brief reference at the end of the article, and did not specifically state that the office used to be open on Friday afternoons. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

54. The ninth article reported that “Hadleigh accounts show that in this current municipal year the mayoral and civic costs are £712 at the moment with six months to run, whereas in 2021/22 it was £858 for the whole year.” The Committee noted that the half year accounts for 2022/23, provided by the complainant showed an expenditure of £244; the figure of £712 was the forecasted expenditure for the 2022/23 entire year. Where the newspaper had inaccurately reported on publicly available figures, the newspaper had failed to take care not to publish inaccurate information and there was a breach of Clause 1 (i).

55. This inaccuracy was significant where the figure was less than half what the article claimed and the inaccuracy related to the use of public funds, therefore it needed to be corrected in line with Clause 1 (ii). As no correction wording had been offered there was a further breach of Clause 1 (ii).

56. The complainant believed that publishing the fourth article had breached Mrs Brame’s privacy. The Committee noted that this board had been publicly available at the time of publication, and therefore this information was in the public domain. The Committee did not consider the post revealed anything private about Mrs Brame or intruded into her expectation of privacy where she had clearly pinned the post on a publicly available website. For this reason, there was no breach of Clause 2 on this point.

57. The Committee did not consider references to Mrs Brame’s other job intruded into her expectation of privacy or revealed anything private about her. The articles had simply made reference to an additional role she was employed in and as such there was no breach of Clause 2.

58. The Committee finally considered concerns raised under Clause 3 that the articles had harassed Mrs Brame. The Committee acknowledged that the publication of a number of articles would not ordinarily constitute harassment in breach of Clause 3 of the Code; however, the terms of the Clause refer only to harassment or intimidation, and there could be instances where a large volume of published material could be considered harassing or intimidating in breach of the Clause. The Committee therefore carefully considered the facts of the case, taking into account several factors: the number of published articles; the time period over which the articles were published; the extent to which the complainant might be considered a public figure; and the extent to which her activities might arguably have prompted the coverage.

59. The Committee recognised that some of the articles were derisive in tone, but did not consider that the articles to be harassing or intimidating, noting that they focused on Mrs Brame’s professional and work life, in which she held a prominent role in local government, and criticism of her and her actions were made only in this context. The Committee further noted that the complaint arose from nine articles which had been published over a seven month period, and it did not consider the publication of around one article a month written about an individual working in local politics to be harassing. In this instance, the reporting did not reach the bar of intimidation or harassment. There was no breach of Clause 3 on this point.

Conclusions

60. The complaint was partially upheld under Clause 1.

Remedial action required

61. Having upheld the complaint, 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 an adjudication; the nature, extent and placement of which is determined by IPSO.

62. The first and second articles stated that Mrs Brame was earning almost £300 extra a week, whereas it was actually £257.15. In the first article, this misleading information appeared in the headline; in the second article, it appeared within the text of the article. The Committee considered that while nearly £300 was significantly misleading, a correction was appropriate to remedy the breach, where the hourly salary increase given within the article was correct, and it was not in dispute that Mrs Brame had received an increase in her salary – albeit that the ‘rounding up’ employed in the article had exaggerated the magnitude of this increase. The correction should acknowledge the original misleading information, and put on record the correct position: that Mrs Brame’s salary increase was equivalent to £257.15 per week.

63. The third article inaccurately reported that Mrs Brame was “not qualified to fulfil the town manager role” and “does not yet hold the CiLCA qualification, as required when she was appointed”. While no correction had been offered to address this point, the Committee noted that this was a brief reference and it was not in dispute that Mrs Brame did not have the CiLCA qualification. Therefore, a correction was an appropriate remedy. The correction should acknowledge the original inaccuracy and put the correct position on record: that the job advert did not say that the applicant needed this qualification to gain the role, but that they should be “prepared to undertake it in 12 months or have significant experience”. In addition, Mrs Brame had a number of years’ experience as a clerk and was considered to be qualified for the appointment to the role by Hadleigh Council. Therefore it was inaccurate to state she was not “qualified to fulfil” the role or that it was “required when she was appointed”.

64. The fourth article breached Clause 1 by reporting Mrs Brame had ”posted a derogatory message on social media about a work colleague”. The publication had not offered a correction, however where the Clerk had pinned this image to her public Pinterest board – notwithstanding that it did not appear to be directed at a current work colleague, as the article implied in a misleading manner – the Committee determined a correction was the appropriate remedy in this instance. The correction should acknowledge the Clerk had not posted a derogatory message on social media about a work colleague, but had in fact pinned the image in question to her Pinterest board prior to working at the council.

65. The Committee then turned to the remedial action required in regard to the ninth article’s inaccurate claim that “Hadleigh accounts show that in this current municipal year the mayoral and civic costs are £712”. This was a passing reference in the context of an article that was otherwise accurate. Therefore, on balance, the Committee considered that a correction was the appropriate remedy. The correction should acknowledge the Original inaccuracy, and should put the correct position on record; namely, that the half year accounts for 2022/23 showed an expenditure of £244 and the £712 figure was the forecasted expenditure for the entire 2022/23 municipal year.

66. The Committee then considered the placement of these corrections.

67. As the inaccurate information appeared in the headline of the first and fourth article, the corrections to these articles should appear as standalone corrections and links to these corrections should be published on the homepage for 24 hours before being archived in the usual way. In addition, if the publication intends to continue to publish the articles without amendment, a correction should be added to the articles and published beneath the headlines. If the articles are amended to remove the inaccurate information in question, the corrections should be published as a footnote.

68. The Committee then considered the placement of the other corrections. The inaccurate information appeared in the text of the second, third, and ninth articles under complaint. Therefore, should the publication intend to continue to publish these articles without amendment, the corrections on the articles should be published beneath the headline. If the articles are amended to remove the inaccurate information, the corrections should be published as a footnote on the respective articles in which the inaccurate information appeared.

69. The wording of all corrections should be agreed with IPSO in advance and all should make clear that a correction has been published following an upheld ruling by the Independent Press Standards Organisation.


Date complaint received:  20/02/2023

Date decision issued:  08/11/2023