Ruling

19498-23 Newman v The Sunday Telegraph

    • Date complaint received

      16th November 2023

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 19498-23 Newman v The Sunday Telegraph


Summary of Complaint

1. Paul Newman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Sunday Telegraph breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Widower wins legal fight to stop funeral”, published on 11 June 2023.

2. The article reported that a widower had “won an urgent injunction against his own daughter to prevent her burying his late wife” – the complainant’s mother – after a funeral director had refused to call off the burial arrangements. It also reported that a “hearing at the High Court in Leeds” was told the mother – who was, according to the article, from “Paddington, west London” – had died “from pancreatic cancer in February” and her daughter had arranged her funeral but the widower “said his wife of 57 years, a mother of five, had a horror of burial, and he wanted her to be cremated as she would have preferred”. It then reported the court “ordered the body be cremated after a service at West London Crematorium, and the ashes interred in Kensal Green Cemetery”, with the judge ruling that “two separate wakes would be permitted”, to be arranged by the widower and the daughter, respectively. It also stated that the widower was “given permission to be the only person to deliver a eulogy”. It went on to report that the widower was “contesting a will produced by [the daughter] that left most of the estate to her”.

3. The article also appeared online, under the headline “Widower wins injunction against daughter to stop late wife’s funeral - and cremate her instead”. The online article included an additional sub-heading, which reported: “[The widower] strongly believes his wife wanted to be cremated in London, not buried in Ireland”. The text of the online version of the article went on to report the woman died “on Feb 1 this year”, with the “hearing at the High Court […] told that [she] had a horror of burial and had often spoken of her fears of being underground with ‘worms and insects’. It also reported the daughter rejected the widower’s claims regarding the contested will and “argued that [it] was valid because her father and mother, and her husband were all sitting in [her] lounge” as the woman spoke to the other executor; and maintained that her “mother was not confused or highly medicated”.

4. The online version of the article also reported it was “alleged that two days after” the woman died, the daughter and her husband were “involved in an altercation with her sister […] and her son […] outside the family home during which police were called”. It stated the widower said “he was granted a non-molestation order against” the daughter and her husband by a family court. While the print version of the article described the daughter as “Mrs”, the online article described her with the title “Ms”.

5. The complainant was not acting on behalf of any individuals identified within the article, but said that he was referenced, and involved in some capacity, in the ongoing legal proceedings. The complainant said the article included several inaccuracies in breach of Clause 1. First, he said the article was inaccurate to report proceedings had been held at the “High Court” when, in fact, it had been held at the Business and Property Court in Leeds. Second, he denied the judge said it was “a horror burial” and had in fact ordered that the funeral should go ahead.

6. Further, he disputed his mother’s widower “was given permission [by the court] to be the only person to deliver a eulogy” or that the “court [had] ordered” his mother’s body be “be cremated after a service at West London Crematorium, and the ashes interred in Kensal Green Cemetery”. Instead, he said an agreement was reached by all parties, with the outcome being a Catholic Church service in East Acton, followed by cremation service at West London Crematorium with her ashes then interred five days later at Kensal Green Crematorium.

7. The complainant also denied his mother was “from Paddington, west London”; she had lived in Acton. In addition, the complainant denied she had been married for “56 years” to the widower; they had in fact been married for 57 years. He also disputed she was a “mother of five”; she had six children.

8. With regard to the online version of the article, the complainant said it was inaccurate to report his mother died on “1 February”; she had, in fact, died on 2 February. In addition, the complainant said the online article inaccurately reported the contested will had been signed in his sister’s “lounge”; the will had been signed in his mother’s sitting room He also said that the online article inaccurately referred to his sister as “Ms” and therefore misrepresented her marital status.

9. The complainant also said the online article’s coverage of the “altercation” outside the family home following the death of his mother was inaccurate: it omitted key information about the incident and misreported which individuals had been involved.

10. The publication did not accept a breach of the Editors’ Code. It said the article had been based on the following court documents, which it provided to IPSO: the widower’s Particulars of Claim the Defence and Counterclaim by the daughter; the widower’s Reply to Defence and counterclaim; and the Judge’s Order. It maintained that it was a fair and accurate of court proceedings held before the Business and Property Court in Leeds, and which is part of the Chancery Division, Leeds District Registry of The High Court of Justice. It further noted that the complainant was not party to the legal proceedings; although he was a family member, he was neither the claimant or the respondent in the legal matter which the article reported on.

11. The publication denied the article reported that there had been “a horror burial”. Instead, the article reported the claim, made by the widower to the court, that the woman had a “horror of burial”. It also noted that the Claim stated it was the widower’s “strong belief” that his wife “wanted to be cremated in London and would not want her body to be buried” and that “she told many people that she was frightened of being buried and going underground with the ‘worm and insects’”. It did not, therefore, consider that the article had inaccurately reported the details of the case.

12. Further, the publication did not accept the article misrepresented the funeral arrangements for the mother which had been made during court proceedings. Regardless of any agreement reached informally by the family, the Judge’s Order made clear that the widower “alone shall be permitted to deliver a eulogy [for his wife] during the funeral service” and detailed that the complainant’s mother “shall be cremated following a Catholic funeral service to be conducted at the West London Crematorium […and] her ashes shall be interred at the Kensal Green Cemetery”.

13. While the publication accepted it had, due to human error, incorrectly reported that the complainant’s mother had resided in “Paddington”, it did not consider that this amounted to a significant inaccuracy and considered it was immaterial to the article. Nevertheless, upon receipt of the complaint from IPSO, on 12 July, the publication amended the online article to report that the complainant’s mother was from “East Acton, west London”.

14. The publication did not accept the article inaccurately reported the complainant’s mother had been married to her husband for “57 years” and was a “mother of five”. The Claim said the complainant’s mother was married to her husband “for 57 years and they had five children together”. While the publication accepted that the Claim acknowledged the complainant was “also a child of [the woman] and was adopted as a baby”, it did not consider that this rendered the article inaccurate or misleading: the woman had given birth to five children. Notwithstanding this, upon receipt of the complaint, it amended the online article to make clear that the woman was a “mother of six”.

15. The publication also denied the online article misreported the date of the mother’s death: the Claim stated she “died at 11pm on 1 February 2023 but the medical fact of death was not signed until after midnight and so dated 2 February 2023”.

16. Further, the publication did not accept the online article was significantly inaccurate or misleading to report the contested will was signed in the daughter’s “lounge”. It said this was a human error, made while covering a complex story about a court dispute between family members including over the woman’s will. In any event, it said the location where this document was allegedly signed did not materially affect the accuracy of the story. Nevertheless, upon receipt of the complaint, the publication amended the online article to instead read that the contested will was signed in the mother’s living room.

17. The publication also denied the online article’s coverage of the incident outside the widower’s house was inaccurate. It noted the article was a report of court proceedings, and which the publication was entitled to rely upon and for which the complainant was not a party to. It said the Claim, in referencing this incident, said that “two days after the deceased died, on 3 February, [the daughter] and her husband and acquaintances made an attack of her sister [and her sister’s] son […] outside the [widower’s] home. The police were called and video evidence was obtained.” The Claim also stated that the widower was “granted a [n]on-[m]olestation order against [the daughter and her husband] in March 2023” by a family court.

18. Upon receipt of the complaint, on 12 July, the publication amended the online article to make clear the martial status of the daughter – and changed the title used from “Ms” to “Mrs” – though it did not accept that this represented a significant inaccuracy.

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.

Findings of the Committee

19. The Committee first wished to express its condolences to the complainant for his loss.

20. The newspaper’s responsibility under Clause 1 was to report the details of the legal case accurately. Therefore, the Committee turned first to the question of whether the newspaper had demonstrated that it had taken care over the accuracy of its report, and whether the resulting article included any significant inaccuracies in need of correction.

21. The article was based on legal documents submitted to the Business and Property Courts in Leeds. Where this Court is a specialist jurisdiction of the High Court of England and Wales, the Committee did not consider it was significantly inaccurate to report that the hearing took place at the “the High Court in Leeds”. The Committee then noted these documents set out the widower’s claims that it was his “strong belief” his wife “wanted to be cremated” and was “frightened of being buried and going underground with the ‘worms and insects’”. These documents also set out when she had died (“1 February 2023”); the length of her marriage (“57 years”); the Judge-ordered arrangements for her funeral (to be “cremated following a Catholic funeral service [at] the West London Crematorium [and] thereafter, her ashes interred at the Kensal Green Cemetery”); and that the Judge ordered that the widower “alone shall be permitted to deliver a eulogy” for the woman. In such circumstances, where the article reflected the information given in the court documents, the Committee did not consider there had been a failure to take care over the accuracy of the reporting of the legal case, or identified any significant inaccuracies on these points which required correction. There was no breach of Clause 1 on these points.

22. The complainant said the article inaccurately reported that his mother was a ”mother of five, as she had six children – and had adopted him as a child. The Committee understood that this inaccuracy held personal significance to the complainant. However, the role of the Committee was to decide whether the inaccuracy was significant in the context of an article which was focused on the claims being made in the legal proceedings and the judgment of the court. In this context, and where the documents detailed that the widower and the woman had “five children together”, the Committee did not consider that the woman was a “mother of five” represented a failure to take care or a significant inaccuracy requiring correction. While the Committee did not find a breach of the Code, it welcomed the steps taken by the publication to address the complainant’s concerns on this point.

23. In addition, the Committee did not consider misreporting where the complainant’s mother had lived represented a significant inaccuracy; this did not materially affect the accuracy of the article, which concerned the legal dispute between the widower and the daughter, and “Paddington” and “Acton” were areas both located in “west London”. The Committee also accepted that the error appeared to have occurred as a result of human error, and did not consider that this reached the bar of a failure to take care as defined by the terms of Clause 1 (i). There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

24. The complainant said the online article was inaccurate to report that the contested will had been signed in the daughter’s “lounge”, rather than at his mother’s home. The Committee accepted that the error appeared to have occurred as a result of human error, and did not consider that this reached the bar of a failure to take care as defined by the terms of Clause 1 (i). Nor did the Committee consider that this represented a significant inaccuracy that required correction under the terms of Clause 1 (ii) where the exact location where this document had been signed was not a significant element of the story or material to the accuracy of the article as a whole and where it was evident that there was a dispute over the content and legitimacy of the mother’s will, which had been produced by the daughter. The Committee also did not consider that the online article was inaccurate to refer to the daughter with the title “Ms”. While the Committee noted that the text of the article and court documents made clear the daughter was married, other than referring to the daughter using the title Ms – which is not a title used exclusively by unmarried individuals – the article did not otherwise refer to the daughter’s marital status. There was no breach of Clause 1 on these points.

25. The Committee noted the complainant had raised further concerns over the accuracy of the article’s report of the alleged “altercation” outside the family home, following the death of the woman. In circumstances where these points related specifically to the family members involved, and which had reportedly resulted in the involvement of the police, the Committee considered that it would require the direct involvement of these individuals – or their authorised representative – to be in a position to make a ruling on these points of complaint. The complainant had confirmed that he was neither acting on behalf nor with the consent of these other family members. In the absence of their involvement, the Committee could not consider these aspects of the complaint and therefore made no ruling on these points.

Conclusion

26. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

27. N/A


Date complaint received: 15/06/2023

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 31/10/2023