Ruling

Resolution Statement – 18452-23 Landale v thesun.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      14th September 2023

    • Outcome

      Resolved - IPSO mediation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 2 Privacy, 4 Intrusion into grief or shock, 6 Children

Resolution Statement – 18452-23 Landale v thesun.co.uk


Summary of Complaint

1. Ruth Landale complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that thesun.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief and shock), and Clause 6 (Children) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “CLIFF TRAGEDY Mystery as Brit found dead at bottom of cliff on Greek island two weeks after last being seen reading book in restaurant”, published on 16 May 2023.

2. The article reported that the complainant’s mother, Susan Hart, had disappeared while on holiday and subsequently found deceased. It reported that “mystery surrounds the death of a Brit tourist whose body was found at the bottom of a cliff on a remote Greek island”. The article further reported that “Susan, who suffered from dementia, was wearing hiking boots and other outdoor gear when she went missing” but that she “later decided to sit out the activity due to her health problems after arriving in Telendos”. It also reported that “Susan Hart, 75, was last seen reading a book at a restaurant in Kalymnos before she suddenly disappeared” and that “[she] lived in Switzerland with her spouse”. The article went on to report that “Susan's body was then sadly discovered on May 16 in an obscure area in Agia Triada, over 16 miles away from Telendos”. The article was accompanied by a photograph of the complainant’s mother and a child; part of the child’s face was cut off in the photograph but the majority was visible.

3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1, as it reported that her mother had been found deceased. In fact, she said that, at the time of the article’s publication, searches for her mother were ongoing and she had not been found. The complainant said that a Greek news publication had falsely reported that her mother had been found deceased, but that this report had been removed shortly after its publication as it was not accurate. During IPSO investigation, the complainant provided an email from the Foreign Office to support her position on this point. This email said that her mother’s body had been found on 20 May 2023 – four days after the article’s publication. 

4. The complainant also said that the article contained further inaccuracies such as: her mother’s age, details about where she was from, information regarding what her mother was doing at the time of her death, that her mother had pulled out of climbing due to health reasons when in fact she had never been climbing as she did not enjoy it, and the distance between the location in which she was found and where she went missing.

5. The complainant said the article also breached Clause 4 as – at the time of the article’s publication – her family had not received any official received confirmation from the Greek authorities that her mother had been found or that she was deceased. The complainant further said that when her family tried to call the publication to discuss her concerns, the person at the other end of the call had informed the family that they did not care and terminated the phone call.

6. The complainant also said the article breached Clause 2, as it included her name and other personal information, such as comments and posts she had made about the search for her mother, taken without her consent from her private social media accounts – including the photograph included in the article, and details about her mother’s last known whereabouts and age. The complainant acknowledged that several of her social media posts, in relation to aiding the search for her mother, were made public.

7. The complainant said the article also breached Clause 6 as it included a photograph of her son alongside his grandmother. The complainant felt that it was unnecessary for her son’s image to be published in a widely available online article, where it detailed the tragic circumstances of his grandmother’s death and where his face had not been pixelated.

8. The publication said it did not accept that the article breached Clause 1, and said that it was confirmed on 20 May that the complainant’s mother had died. The publication also did not accept the article was in breach of Clause 4, as there were several reports within the Greek media that reported the death of the complainant’s mother – published prior to the article under complaint – which reported on her death. Therefore, it said this news was already public and it had not broken the news. The publication further stated that they were aware that the complainant’s family had gone to Greece to assist police and therefore assumed they had already been appraised of the reports by police.

9. The publication also did not accept that the conduct of the person who spoke directly to the complainant on the phone breached Clause 4. It said that the complainant’s concerns had been passed to a reporter, who had returned the call, expressed regret, and asked what in the article was incorrect. After the complainant had explained her concerns, the reporter had then said that they would investigate the matter, and get back to the complainant once they had more information. It did not accept that the content of the call could be fairly described as insensitive or unfeeling.

10. In relation to Clause 2, the publication did not accept that the Clause was engaged as the information which the complainant said breached the Code had appeared on public social media posts, intended to publicise her mother’s disappearance.

11. While the publication did not accept a breach of the Code, it amended the article after the complainant got in touch with it via phone, and removed the reference to the complainant’s mother having been found deceased. This change was made the day of the article’s publication.

12. Upon receipt of the complaint from IPSO, the publication offered to publish the following correction, as a footnote to the article:

“Although it was reported on Greek national television that Ms Hart's body had been found on 15th May, the UK Foreign Office subsequently stated that it was found on 20th May. This article was changed when this was brought to our attention. We are sorry for any distress caused”.

13. The complainant strongly disputed the publication’s recollection of the phone call, and said that any correction should be published at the start of the article and include a meaningful apology to her and the rest of her mother’s family.

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.

Mediated Outcome

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

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

It was reported that Mrs Hart's body had been found on 15th May. This was later disputed, with the UK Foreign Office subsequently stating that she was found on 20th May. This article was changed when this was brought to our attention. We are very sorry to Mrs Hart's family for any distress caused.

16. The complainant said that this would resolve the matter to her satisfaction and that the correction should be printed directly underneath the headline and standfirst. The publication agreed to publish the wording in this location.

17. 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:  16/05/2023  

Date complaint concluded by IPSO:  17/08/2023