Ruling

Resolution statement – 19588-23 Margetts v chroniclelive.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      10th August 2023

    • Outcome

      Resolved - IPSO mediation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Resolution statement – 19588-23 Margetts v chroniclelive.co.uk


Summary of Complaint

1. Jane Margetts complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that chroniclelive.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “'Loving' mum died from cancer - but NHS delays impacted her heartbroken family, inquest rules”, published on 24 June 2022.

2. The article – which appeared online only – reported on the inquest of a woman. It reported the circumstances leading up to her death; the evidence given by the complainant – the Consultant Medical Oncologist involved in the deceased’s care and who dealt with her referral; the coroner’s comments, including that while there “certainly been opportunities where the chronology […] could have been brought forward [it] would not have altered the outcome […] from a medical point of view”.

3. The article reported how the inquest heard how the deceased had been “referred to the oncology department to see if she was able to undergo chemotherapy to prolong her life [but] the referral was not picked up for 18 days”. It then stated that the deceased’s “referral”, which had been “sent on July 27”, was “dealt” with “on August 14” and she "allocated her an appointment for four weeks later”. It then stated that during her “follow up appointment on September 14”, she was told her cancer was terminal and it would be too dangerous to undergo chemotherapy” and she died on 3 October 2020.

4. It then included the complainant’s comments to the inquest: she had to “prioritise” referrals; the deceased’s referral had not been marked as “urgent”; and she had used the information available to her to make the decision.

5. The article also included comments made by a member of the deceased’s family: they had received “a copy of the referral in the post” two weeks after her death, had been informed that it was “not possible to identity why the letters were sent” and suggested that a “whistle blower of some sort” had been involved.

6. The complainant said the article contained a number of inaccuracies, in breach of Clause 1. She said that the article was inaccurate to report that the deceased’s “referral” was “not picked up for 18 days” and that she had allocated her the next available appointment. She also said that the article was inaccurate to report that the woman’s “referral”, which had been “sent on July 27”, was “dealt” with “on August 14” and she "allocated her an appointment for four weeks later”. While she accepted that these dates had been heard during the inquest, she had verbally corrected the record during her own evidence. She said the referral letter was, in fact, sent on 11 August 2020 and she was allocated an appointment on 18 August 2020.

7. The complainant also said that the article misrepresented the circumstances leading to and surrounding the death. For example, she stated that no context was provided with regard to the upsurge in referrals as a result of Covid-19. She also suggested that the article appeared to support the family’s claim that the late arrival of a letter –following the death of the deceased – indicated that a whistleblower had been involved, which she denied. Further, the complainant said that the article wrongfully suggested that she had been negligent in her post. Instead, the inquest concluded that the woman died “as a result of natural causes” but acknowledged that there had been delays in communication. She said that parts of her evidence were quoted verbatim and in such a way to imply fault but others – such as the actions she took to mitigate delays – were not covered.

8. The complainant also said that the headline was inaccurate and misleading to report that “inquest rules” that “NHS delays impacted her heartbroken family”. She said that it wrongly implied that inquest found NHS delays contributed to the death of the deceased, which it did not.

9. On 11 August 2022, the complainant – via her representative – contacted the publication directly, via e-mail, with her concerns about the article. In doing so, she explained that an incorrect timeline was presented to the inquest and her evidence had corrected these dates.

10. The publication said it was satisfied that it had accurately reported inquest proceedings and provided the reporter’s contemporaneous notes to demonstrate this. It said that it had no record of the complainant verbally correcting the chronology presented to the inquest.

11. Upon receipt of the complainant’s initial concerns and on 17 August 2022, the publication requested an audio recording of the hearing from the coroner. This request was denied by the court on 26 August 2022. The publication, therefore, returned to the complainant on 31 August 2022 and explained its position: it would consider appropriate amendments to the online article should the complainant provide evidence to support her position.

12. In response, on 14 April 2023, the complainant’s representative provided the publication with a transcript of her evidence to the inquest during which she verbally corrected the dates (the referral letter was sent on “11 August 2020” and an appointment was allocated on “18 August 2020”). The representative also said this document showed how the complainant had explained the context of the delay and proposed amendments to the online article.

13. On 21 April 2023, the publication confirmed that the dates had been amended accordingly and the following correction published at the foot of the online article:

“A previous version of this article reported that [the deceased’s] referral had been sent on July 27 and she was allocated an appointment on August 14. We have since been advised that these dates were corrected in court - to the letter being received on August 11 2020 and an appointment was allocated on August 18 2020. We are happy to clarify this.”

14. The publication did not accept a breach of the Editors' Code. It said that it was entitled to focus on specific aspects of the inquest. It maintained that it had accurately reported the comments made by the complainant to the inquest and the coroner’s findings, including that while the delay in referral did not impact the medical outcome of the deceased it would have given the family more time to spend with their loved one. Further, the publication said it had accurately reported the comments made by the family; this was clearly presented as their opinion and distinguished as such.

15. While the complainant welcomed the amendments made to the online article, she did not consider that the steps taken by the publication were sufficient to resolve her complaint. She suggested further amendments to the online article; however, these were not accepted by the publication.

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

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

17. During IPSO’s investigation the complainant said that the removal of the online article from the publication’s website – and for the publication to contact search engines to ensure the article did not remain searchable elsewhere on the internet – would resolve the matter to her satisfaction.

18. In order to resolve the complaint and in a gesture of goodwill, the publication removed the online article and requested the removal of the article from search engines.

19. 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:  21/06/2023

Date complaint concluded by IPSO:  01/08/2023