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Newspaper apologises over ‘Dunblane’ headline

A Scottish weekly has issued an apology after publishing an ‘alarmist’ headline which raised the spectre of the Dunblane massacre.

The Lanark Gazette published a story last month focusing on concerns about pupil safety about a local nursery school where pupils were having to be based in a Portacabin because of building work.

South Lanarkshire Council complained to the Press Complaints Commission over the story, which was headlined ‘Dunblane danger for local kids?’

It said the story breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors Code of Practice and that the headline was unnecessarily alarmist.

The PCC said the matter was resolved when the newspaper published the council’s response to the article, as well as a PCC-negotiated apology.

It read:  “Further to our article of 2 February (‘Dunblane danger for local kids?’) and the subsequent readers’ letters (9 February edition), we would like to apologise to readers for any alarm or distress caused by the headline. Although alluding to comments made in the story, we appreciate that it may not have been appropriate.”

The Commission has been continuing its work of mediating complaints against newspapers despite its impending closure.

Here is a round-up of other recent cases involving local and regional titles.

Woodcock v Selby Times

Mrs Patricia Woodcock on behalf of the family of Dr Andrew Stanford complained that the newspaper had published an article reporting on the death of Dr Stanford which intruded into the family’s grief and shock in breach of Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock) of the Editors’ Code.

The complaint was resolved privately between the parties.

Butland v Westmorland Gazette

Cameron Butland, Chair of Governors at Grasmere CE VA School, complained that the newspaper had published an article about the school, its management and teachers’ pay that contained a number of factual errors in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code.  The complainant said the school had agreed to run a follow-up piece after being contacted directly but nothing had appeared in print.

The complaint was resolved when the newspaper carried the promised follow-up article which clarified the points under complaint and contained an apology for the delay in its publication.

A woman v The Scotsman

A woman complained through her legal representatives, Robertson & Ross, that an article had identified her and her children in breach of Clause 6 (Children) and Clause 9 (Reporting of Crime) of the Editors’ Code.

Following a PCC investigation, the matter was resolved privately between the parties.

Mendham v Eastern Daily Press
Mendham v East Anglian Daily Times

Mr Peter Mendham complained that the newspapers had incorrectly stated that he had been recalled to prison for attempting to contact and harass the woman he had previously been convicted of attacking. He had in fact been recalled for possessing a camera mobile phone, which contravened his parole conditions.

The complaint was resolved by the publication in the newspapers of an interview with the complainant.

Mlatem v South Wales Argus

Mrs Carol Mlatem complained that the newspaper had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 3 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice. The complainant had been contacted by a reporter from the newspaper, and had made clear during a telephone conversation with that reporter that all information given in the conversation was to be ‘off the record’. The complainant had been distressed when the newspaper printed quotes from the conversation, and a picture of her family from a previous article. The complainant considered the inclusion of the photograph would have misled readers to think that her family had been willing participants in the publication of the article.

The complaint was resolved when the PCC negotiated an agreement whereby a letter would be sent by the newspaper to the complainant and her family expressing its regret for the distress that had been caused by the article.

Hemming v Sunday Mercury

Mrs Christine Hemming complained that the newspaper had incorrectly claimed she had stated in court that her husband had had 26 mistresses and that she had left him in 1997 to pursue a relationship with a former university friend.

The complaint was resolved when the newspaper offered to interview the complainant in order to afford her the opportunity to make public her position.