Resolution Statement 20406-17 Scott v

    • Date complaint received

      11th October 2018

    • Outcome

      Resolved - IPSO mediation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 12 Discrimination, 2 Privacy, 4 Intrusion into grief or shock, 5 Reporting suicide, 6 Children

Resolution Statement 20406-17 Scott v

Summary of complaint 

1.    Anna Scott complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock), Clause 5 (reporting suicide), Clause 6 (Children) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined: “’I'm losing control of my life': Last text of university student to mother before she found hanged in hotel room”, published on 15 November 2017. 

2.    The article was a report of the inquest into the complainant’s daughter’s death. It reported that she had taken her own life, and included various details about the complainant’s daughter’s mental wellbeing prior to her death. The article reported evidence heard at the inquest that the complainant’s daughter had been involved in a “custody battle” regarding her young son, and that “she suffered from mood swings and was prescribed antidepressants after she became ‘terrified’ of losing her child when he temporarily went to live with his father”. The article included an obscured image of the complainant’s grandson. 

3.    The article also quoted at length, evidence given by the complainant at the inquest. It reported the complainant’s comment that "[her daughter] probably didn't realise it would be so quick, that she would be unconscious so quickly and that no one was there to help her. I'm sure she didn't go to the hotel with the intention to do that." 

4.    The complainant said that the headline was inaccurate because her daughter did not send her a text message stating “I’m losing control of my life”; it said “I’m losing my life.” She said that the misreporting of this text message gave a misleading impression of the conversation. The complainant also said that her daughter was not involved in a custody battle. She said that her daughter had full custody of her son, and that he was only staying with his father for one week. 

5.    The complainant said that the publication of the article represented an intrusion into her private life, and had discriminated against her daughter. She said that the inclusion of information about her grandson’s custody arrangements, and his photograph, had intruded into his private life. 

6.    The complainant said that by reporting her comment that “"[her daughter] probably didn't realise it would be so quick, that she would be unconscious so quickly”, the publication may encourage others to take their own life, if they believed it to be a fast method. 

7.    The complainant also said that a reporter had followed her out of the inquest, and shouted her name three times. She said that this demonstrated a failure to approach her with sympathy and discretion. 

8.    The publication first expressed its condolences for the complainant’s loss. It said, however, that it did not fail to take care over the accuracy of the article: it was supplied by a reputable news agency, in line with standard industry practice, and it had been published in good faith. The publication explained that the reporter who attended the inquest had since left her job, so it was unable to retrieve the notes she had taken at the inquest. However, it was able to confirm that the reporter had heard the specific phrase “I’m losing control of my life”, twice during the inquest. 

9.    The publication did not accept that the article gave a significantly misleading impression regarding the complainant’s grandson’s custody arrangements, and it relied on the comments made by the complainant at the inquest, to support its position. 

10. The publication said that its reporter did not shout at the complainant as she had alleged. The reporter said that she said “excuse me” to the complainant outside the inquest room, in the hope of getting an interview, and the complainant ignored her and walked away. The reporter denied having pursued the complainant. 

11. The publication did not accept that publication of the article represented an intrusion into the complainant’s private life: it was entitled to report on the public legal proceeding. It also did not accept that the article was in breach of Clause 5, Clause 6 or Clause 12 of the Code. 

Relevant Code Provisions 

12. 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 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. 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. 

Clause 5 (Reporting Suicide)*

When reporting suicide, to prevent simulative acts care should be taken to avoid excessive detail of the method used, while taking into account the media's right to report legal proceedings. 

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.

iv) Children under 16 must not be paid for material involving their welfare, nor parents or guardians for material about their children or wards, unless it is clearly in the child's interest.

v) Editors must not use the fame, notoriety or position of a parent or guardian as sole justification for publishing details of a child's private life. 

Clause 12 (Discrimination)

i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's, race, colour, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.

ii) Details of an individual's race, colour, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story. 

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.

Mediated outcome 

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

14. During IPSO’s investigation, the publication offered to publish the following clarification in the online Comments and Clarification section: 

"As part of our article of 15 November 2017 concerning the inquest on the death of Ellen Scott, we reported news agency copy that a text message from her said ‘I'm losing control of my life'.  We have now been shown a transcript of the hearing which states that the text said ‘I'm losing my life’. We are happy to make this clear and apologise to Ellen's family for any distress caused by the report of the Inquest.” 

It also offered to remove the online article, and to send a private letter of apology to the complainant. 

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

16. 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: 27/11/2017

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 07/08/2018