Ruling

Resolution Statement – 17549-23 Derrick v Bucks Free Press

    • Date complaint received

      15th June 2023

    • Outcome

      Resolved - IPSO mediation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Resolution Statement – 17549-23 Derrick v Bucks Free Press


Summary of Complaint

1. Linda Derrick complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Bucks Free Press breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “’Bullying’ councillor is banned from parish offices”,  and an article headlined “Councillor ‘won’t resign’ after breaching code of conduct” – published on 10 March 2023.

2. The first article reported that, following allegations of bullying, a councillor of Hughenden Parish Council [the complainant], had been “excluded” from the authority’s offices (except when attending council meetings) until she underwent formal training and forced to apologise. The article reported that this was because Buckinghamshire Council’s standards committee had found the complainant had failed to treat fellow officers with respect in relation to three separate complaints. The article also reported that the resolutions against the complainant had been "endorsed” by a “full” council.

3. The article also appeared online in substantially the same format under the headline “Hughenden councillor banned from offices and forced to apologise”.

4. The second article, which appeared next to the first article, reported on the complainant’s response to the disciplinary procedures. The article reported statements from the complainant that “she will not be resigning and will continue to represent her constituents to the ‘best of her ability’”. The second article also reported the sanctions against the complainant, including that she was “excluded” from access to Hughenden Parish Council until she undertook the recommended training, aside from attending council meetings. It also said that “[t]he resolutions from the sub-committee were endorsed by full council”.

5. The article also appeared online in substantially the same format under the headline “Hughenden councillor ‘won’t resign’ after ‘bullying’ blog posts online”.

6. The complainant said that the articles included several inaccuracies in breach of Clause 1. Firstly, the complainant said that she had not been banned from the Parish offices or forced to apologise. The complainant said this was because the Buckinghamshire Council had only recommended the sanctions and did not have the power to implement them. The complainant also stated that the resolutions had not been “endorsed by the full [Hughenden Parish] council”, and that they were yet to discuss them. The complainant also complained that she had not had an opportunity to comment on the article prior to its publication.

7. The publication did not accept a breach of Clause 1. The publication acknowledged that it had erroneously stated that the complainant had been banned from attending Hughenden Parish Council by Buckinghamshire Council, and accepted that this sanction had only been recommended. However, it did not accept that this was a “significant inaccuracy”, and therefore required correction under Clause 1 of the Editors’ Code. It considered this to be the case where the inaccuracy appeared in the context of an article reporting on a public figure being reprimanded for breaching codes of conduct.

8. However, as a gesture of goodwill, the publication amended the online version of the first article to state that it had been “recommended” that the complainant be excluded. The publication also amended the online version of the second article to state that sanctions against the complainant had been “proposed”.

9. The complainant did not accept these amendments as a satisfactory resolution to her complaint.

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.

Mediated Outcome

10. The complaint was not resolved through direct correspondence between the parties. IPSO therefore began an investigation into the matter.

11. During IPSO’s investigation the publication offered to print the following correction:

"On March 10, the Bucks Free Press published an article under the headline, "'Bullying' councillor banned from parish offices', reporting that parish councillor Linda Derrick had been banned from Hughenden Parish Council by Buckinghamshire County Council. This was inaccurate. Buckinghamshire County Council had recommended that Dr Derrick be excluded from Hughenden Parish Council office except when attending council meetings. Though Hughenden Parish Council later accepted the recommendation to exclude Dr Derrick from the parish council office except when attending council meetings, we acknowledge the error in the initial article and would like to apologise to Dr Derrick." 

12. The complainant said that this would resolve the matter to her satisfaction.

13. As the complaint was successfully mediated, the Complaints Committee did not make a determination as to whether there had been any breach of the Code.

 

Date complaint received:  16/03/2023

Date complaint concluded by IPSO:  23/05/2023