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Mother's anger over murder trial coverage

Below are summaries of the latest complaints involving the regional press which have been resolved between the parties involved, with help from the Press Complaints Commission.

Wilmslow Express, Stockport Express
Miss Jo-Anne Taylor, of Stockport, complained on behalf of her daughter Deborah – who, along with Lee Whitely, had been convicted of the murder of Peter England – that an article referring to the murder contained inaccuracies. (Clause 1).

Resolution: The complaint was resolved by the publication of the following clarification:

“Further to our article dated 4 February (‘TV series relives brutal Heavily murder’) – about the murder of journalist Peter England by Lee Whitely and Deborah Taylor – we are happy to clarify that Deborah Taylor was 17 at the time of the murder, and not 18 as we reported. Our report also stated that the couple went to the Acton Court Hotel after the murder to see in the New Year, and subsequently lived alongside the body for some days.

“These claims were made 11 months later after the well publicised trial: one witness claimed to have seen the couple at Acton Court; and another informed a journalist that she had heard a noise in the deceased’s flat.

“We have been asked to point out that – during the trial – the court did not hear any suggestion whatsoever that the couple attended Acton Court or lived alongside the body of the victim. Deborah Taylor denies the veracity of these claims and we are happy to clarify her position.”

Cornish Guardian/West Briton
Councillor John Woodward of Camborne complained that the newspapers had misleadingly presented his annual allowance as an hourly rate for attendance at official council meetings, that they had also inaccurately calculated this figure, and that they had not contacted him prior to publication. (Clause 1).

Resolution: The complaint was resolved when the newspapers agreed to publish a statement clarifying the matter of the allowance, correcting the calculation and apologising for not contacting him:

“In our article ‘Councillor’s ‘£700 per hour’ yearly wage’ (08/10/08), we reported that Councillor John Woodward’s annual pay, when divided by the number of hours spent in council meetings, worked out as over £700 per hour. We would like to make it clear that this figure accounts only for time spent in official Council meetings and not for the other duties which the allowance covers.

“We would also like to acknowledge that our original calculation was based on a misreading of data – which led to an underestimation of Councillor Woodward’s levels of attendance at council meetings – and to apologise to Councillor Woodward for not contacting him prior to publication to confirm our figures.”

The Scotsman
Professor Christopher Harvie MSP complained that an article reporting on his contribution to a debate about broadcasting in the Scottish Parliament had reversed the order of comments he had made relating to the respective attitudes to reporting of Lord Reith and Hitler, and the “evil doing” of Blue Peter. (Clause 1).

Resolution: The newspaper accepted that the order of the complainant’s comments had been reversed, but did not consider that readers would have been misled. Given that the article had included the complainant’s position that his quotes had been taken out of context, and that he considered Hitler to be a “crazy racist”, the complainant accepted the matter as resolved.

Sheffield Telegraph
Nicola Peckett of Samaritans complained that an article contained excessive detail about the manner in which a man had taken his own life. (Clause 5).

Resolution: The matter was resolved when the newspaper took steps to alert staff to the problems of reporting on inquests in light of amendments to Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock) of the Code of Practice. The online version of the story was amended to reflect the concerns that had been raised.

The Bolton News
Russell Birtwistle, of Bolton, complained that the newspaper had breached his privacy by publishing his name and the fact of his involvement in confidential police and internal school inquiries, when those inquiries had cleared him of all charges. (Clause 3).

Resolution: The complaint was resolved when the newspaper published a second article detailing the fact that the complainant had been cleared of all charges by both the police and the school authorities. Whilst the complainant would have preferred to have had some say in the wording of the article and the timing of its publication, he accepted this as a satisfactory resolution.