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West Midlands weeklies rapped over ‘model cop’ story

Two weekly newspapers have been censured by the press watchdog over an inaccurate story about a police officer quitting the force to work as a model.

Rebecca Morris, a former police community support officer (PCSO), complained to the Press Complaints Commission over the story which appeared in both the Halesowen News and the Stourbridge News in June.

The story, which had been supplied by a news agency, suggested she had left the force following previous press reports about photographs of her modelling, and claimed she was now looking to “carve out a second career” as a model.

Ms Morris denied both claims and complained to the PCC under Clause 1 of the Editor’s Code of Practice, which covers accuracy.

In its adjudication published today, the PCC upheld the complaints against both newspaper and said it was “deeply concerned” by their handling of it.

It said the Newsquest-owned titles had failed to respond to the complaint within a reasonable timeframe and failed to provide evidence to back up its stories.

The watchdog said:  “The Commission noted that the newspaper stood by its story.

“However, it had provided its initial comments on the complaint only after a delay of over six weeks, and it had not provided evidence to corroborate the disputed claims, including most substantively that the complainant had been “carving out a second career” as a model, or to demonstrate that it had taken care, as required by Clause 1 (Accuracy), not to publish inaccurate or misleading information.

“The Commission was deeply concerned by the newspaper’s handling of the complaint: it had failed to provide a substantive response within a reasonable timeframe, and it had suggested in correspondence that it could not comment on the newsgathering methods employed by the agency that had supplied the copy.

“The preamble to the Code makes clear that editors must “co-operate swiftly with the PCC in the resolution of complaints” and further that they should take care to ensure that the Code’s terms are “observed rigorously by all editorial staff and external contributors”.

“The Commission emphasised that this includes agency reporters who supply material to subscribing publications.

“The Commission upheld the complaint under Clause 1 and noted that after issuing its decision it would seek confirmation that the newspaper understood its obligation under the Code to assist the Commission’s inquiries promptly and fully.”