Ruling

19325-17 A woman v Dover Express

    • Date complaint received

      12th July 2018

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 2 Privacy, 6 Children

Decision of the Complaints Committee 19325-17 A woman v Dover Express

Summary of complaint

1. A woman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Dover Express breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 6 (Children) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Tragic tot swallowed mum’s methadone dose and died”, published on 26 October 2017.

2. The article reported on an anonymised Serious Case Review, published by a Children’s Safeguarding Board which focussed on the events leading up to the death of a young child. The article had identified the deceased child and her mother as being the subject of the safeguarding report which had set out the historical interactions between the woman’s family and a range of agencies. The article also identified the street address at which the child died.

3. The article had identified the deceased child as being the youngest of five children and had highlighted “more than ten opportunities” for agencies to intervene in the care of the children, their failure to act prior to the death of the youngest child, and lessons that could be learnt for the future. The article detailed the concerns raised in relation to the woman’s care of her children, dating back to “1988” including issues raised before the birth of the deceased child, and information relating to the children’s emotional wellbeing, behaviour and medical care as well as one child’s school attendance record. It detailed examples of all the children having been exposed to “neglect”, as set out in the Serious case Review, including examples of the children being found in significant distress. The article also explained that concerns had been raised from a variety of sources relating to the children’s emotional wellbeing, behaviour and medical care. The article said the safeguarding report had concluded by criticising the relevant authorities, and had found that “not enough was done to raise concerns over the child and their siblings’ neglect”.

4. The article explained that the Serious Case Review had recommended that “all agencies should review their internal safeguarding supervision practices as a result of this case in order to “ensure that they provide critical reflection, robust challenge, risk review and support to staff when dealing with families. The article also reported a statement from an NSPCC spokesperson: “While no-one could have predicted this toddler’s tragic death, it is clear there were a series of missed opportunities in identifying the harm [they] were exposed to. “The review raises concern over the assessment of risk surrounding the child and it is now important that all its recommendations are swiftly acted on. The child must always be at the heart of decisions that professionals make in these situations and lessons must be learned from this report”.

5. The article also appeared online on kentnews.live in substantively the same format on 18 October under the headline “More than 10 opportunities were missed to save a toddler in Dover who died after she swallowed her mother's methadone”.

6. The complainant, the custodial guardian of the four children, said that by identifying the children’s mother, as well as their youngest sibling as being the subject of the anonymised Serious Case Review, the article had identified the other children, three of whom shared the surname of the deceased child. She said that this was intrusive and unjustified.

7. The complainant said that the article had inaccurately reported that concerns relating to the children’s mother had dated back to 1988 when, in fact, the safeguarding report had said that agencies were known to be involved with the family since 1998; she said that this significantly misrepresented the timeline of the woman’s interactions with safeguarding services. The complainant also said that the Serious Case Review contained inaccuracies which were repeated in the article. Specifically, she disputed the claims that four of the children had been born outside a hospital setting, that they had missed medical appointments, and that they had all required medical treatment after birth.

8. The newspaper did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that the mother’s conviction in relation to the death of her child had been an extremely high profile case within the local area. It also said the precise circumstances surrounding the death of the child had been distinctive and unusual and the factual circumstances had been detailed at length in the Serious Case Review.

9. The newspaper noted that no reporting restrictions had been imposed during the criminal proceedings following the youngest child’s death which would prohibit the media from naming either the mother or the child. It denied that the other siblings were identifiable from the article, or that the information which was published represented an intrusion into the children’s private life or their time at school. The publication said that it had taken steps to protect the identity of the siblings by removing identifying details included in the safeguarding report. It noted that, in court, reporters had asked if the woman could be referred to as a ‘mother of five’ and this had been permitted.

10. The newspaper said that there was a public interest in examining the way publicly funded social services work, their mistakes and what improvements could be made. The fact that the Children’s Safeguarding report had chosen to conduct a Serious Case Review into events leading up to the child’s death showed that there were serious concerns to be considered.  It said that the article had highlighted many safeguarding failures which may have contributed to the child’s death; it said that the article was not about the family's perceived failings, but rather, it addressed the possible shortfalls in safeguarding which may have led to the death of a young child. The newspaper said reporting on this was of significant public interest.

11. The newspaper said that the article was an accurate report of a Serious Case Review which was in the public domain. While the newspaper noted that the published report had anonymised the child and their mother, it said that it had been placed within the public domain and the facts surrounding the child’s death had been so unusual, it was journalistically unfeasible and unrealistic not to connect the serious case review to the previous court case. It said that the mother’s conviction had been heavily publicised and the woman and deceased child had been widely named at that time, and their address had been published.

12. The newspaper acknowledged that the date at which concerns were first raised by safeguarding authorities had been misreported. It said that this typographical error was immediately amended when it was brought to the publication’s attention, and a footnote was added to the online article as follows:

A previous version of this article stated that ‘Several causes for concern were outlined dating back to 1988’. We would like to make clear that this should have in fact stated 1998, and has now been amended.

13. The newspaper also offered to publish a similar clarification on page four of the print edition.

14. The publication said that it was reasonable to rely on the accuracy of the Serious Case Review. However, it said that it would be happy to amend any inaccuracies should the Safeguarding Children’s Board make any changes to the report.

Relevant Code provisions

15. 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.

Clause 2 (Privacy)

i) Everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence, including digital communications.

ii) Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual's private life without consent. Account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information.

iii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals, without their consent, in public or private places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Clause 6 (Children)

i) All pupils should be free to complete their time at school without unnecessary intrusion.

ii) They must not be approached or photographed at school without permission of the school authorities.

iii) Children under 16 must not be interviewed or photographed on issues involving their own or another child’s welfare unless a custodial parent or similarly responsible adult consents.

The Public Interest

There may be exceptions to the clauses marked * where they can be demonstrated to be in the public interest.

1. The public interest includes, but is not confined to:

  • Detecting or exposing crime, or the threat of crime, or serious impropriety.
  • Protecting public health or safety.
  • Protecting the public from being misled by an action or statement of an individual or organisation.
  • Disclosing a person or organisation’s failure or likely failure to comply with any obligation to which they are subject.
  • Disclosing a miscarriage of justice.
  • Raising or contributing to a matter of public debate, including serious cases of impropriety, unethical conduct or incompetence concerning the public
  • Disclosing concealment, or likely concealment, of any of the above.

2. There is a public interest in freedom of expression itself.

3. The regulator will consider the extent to which material is already in the public domain or will become so.

4. Editors invoking the public interest will need to demonstrate that they reasonably believed publication - or journalistic activity taken with a view to publication – would both serve, and be proportionate to, the public interest and explain how they reached that decision at the time.

5. An exceptional public interest would need to be demonstrated to over-ride the normally paramount interests of children under 16.

Findings of the Committee

16. The article had included highly sensitive information about the four children on whose behalf the complaint had been made, including about their emotional and physical wellbeing, their upbringing and ability to integrate within society, and their relationship with their mother. This information clearly related to their private life and had the potential to be intrusive. The article had named the children’s mother and the child who had died. By virtue of this, the woman’s remaining children were identifiable as being the subject of the Serious Case Review to those who knew them.

17. This had the clear potential to intrude into the children’s private lives, and their time at school. An exceptional public interest was required justify publication of this material.

18. The purpose of a Serious Case Review is to analyse how and why a tragic incident such as the death of the children’s youngest sibling had happened, with the aim of learning lessons so that it can be prevented from happening again. Publicity about the conclusions of a Serious Case Review is an essential part of this process. It enables the public to hold to account those charged with keeping children safe.

19. In this instance, the Serious Case Review found that there had been missed opportunities to intervene over the course of many years, even before the child’s birth. It was necessary, in order to identify the gravity of these alleged failings, to detail concerns of serious neglect within the family which the authorities had failed to act upon. The key factual context was that the mother had four older children, and that no action had been taken in relation to concerns raised about their welfare, a number of years before the youngest child had died. The Serious Case Review had been produced to provide critical reflection, draw out lessons and safeguard for other children in similar circumstances in the future. The reporting of the precise nature of the children’s “neglect”, and the impact upon them, enabled the newspaper to scrutinise the extent of the agencies alleged failings and hold them to account.

20. This was an exceptional public interest, which justified the publication of details from the report. There was also a specific public interest in identifying the mother and the child, so that the public were able to understand the specific tragic consequences of the alleged failings, in the context of previous reporting of the criminal proceedings relating to the death of the child. This public interest was sufficient to justify to justify the specific intrusions identified in this case. There was no breach of Clause 2 or Clause 6.

21. The complainant had said that the article had repeated a number of alleged inaccuracies included in the Serious Case Review. The newspaper was not responsible for the content of the Report, and the information in the report was clearly attributed to the Review. The newspaper was entitled to rely on the Report, and there was no failure to take care over the accuracy of these claims, and therefore no breach of Clause 1 (i). The Committee did not establish that the article included any significant inaccuracies requiring correction under the terms of 1(ii). Nonetheless, given the sensitive circumstances of the case, it welcomed the publication’s undertaking to correct any information which the Safeguarding Children Board might later concede to be inaccurate.

22. The newspaper had misreported the year that agencies were known to have first been involved with the family. The Committee welcomed the newspaper’s decision to promptly amend the online article and to append a footnote accordingly. However, the Committee did not consider that this typographical error had given rise to a significantly misleading impression. The article had made clear the nature of the concerns raised in the Serious Case Review. While the typographical error was unfortunate, it did not constitute a failure to take care over the accuracy of the report or a significant inaccuracy, in the context of the article. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

Conclusion

23. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

24. N/A

Independent Complaints Reviewer

The complainant complained to the Independent Complaints Reviewer about the process followed by IPSO in handling this complaint. The Independent Complaints Reviewer decided that the process was not flawed and did not uphold the request for review. 

Date complaint received: 25/10/2017
Date decision issued: 09/05/2018