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Daily newspaper rapped over inaccurate ‘suicide bid’ story

purcellA daily newpaper has been rapped by the press watchdog over a report which implied a former city council leader had attempted suicide.

Steven Purcell, pictured left, complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation via his solicitors that The Herald, Glasgow, had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Cowboys hold few fears for retiring city boss”, published on 15 December 2014.

The article discussed the challenge the media coverage following the resignation of the complainant, who had resigned as leader of Glasgow City Council in 2010, had posed in an interview with the authority’s retiring chief executive.

The article commented on Mr Purcell’s “unexpected emotional breakdown” and continued: “Alcohol dependency, cocaine, gangster connections, suicide attempts, cronyism and good-old fashioned corruption would underpin the media narrative around Glasgow City Council for the rest of the year.”

The complainant said that the article was inaccurate because it alleged that he had attempted suicide, when he had only contemplated doing so.

He denied what he took to be the implication that he had “gangster connections”, or that he had taken part in “cronyism and good old fashioned corruption”.

In addition, he said that the article inaccurately connected him to “shady dealings” and a “brown envelope culture”.

The newspaper referred to an article which said that it had been revealed that the complainant “ended up in a river last month after walking out of a drink and drug rehab clinic. Friends fear it was a suicide attempt”.

Another article reported that “according to some, Purcell re-emerged at the clinic soaking wet, having apparently fallen into a lake”. The complainant had been reported as saying “by Saturday, I was contemplating suicide”, in a third article.

However, it accepted the complainant may not have attempted suicide and, in an attempted to resolve the issue, offered him the chance to be interviewed by the newspaper to set the record straight – an offer which he declined.

IPSO found in the coverage referred to by the newspaper, there had been speculation of an attempted suicide.

However, to report that “suicide attempts” was one of the themes which would “underpin the media narrative around Glasgow City Council”, was a distorted account of the media coverage, and contained a significant implication about the complainant’s personal life, which the newspaper accepted was inaccurate.

This gave a significantly misleading impression, and demonstrated a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article.

The complaint was partially upheld on this basis, and the full adjudication can be read here.

Other recent IPSO cases involving regional newspapers include:

Jon v Western Gazette

Mary Jon complained that the Western Gazette had breached Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock) and Clause 9 (Reporting of Crime) in an article headlined “‘I’ve just killed someone': Yeovil driver panicked and ran over dogwalker after hitting another car”.

The article, which reported the driver of a car had pleaded guilty to causing death by dangerous driving after a crash in which the complainant’s friend had died, was accompanied by a picture gallery containing photographs of the car which had been severely damaged in the incident.

She said that the photographs were upsetting, and served no purpose, given that it was obvious that the car would have been damaged in the crash.

The complainant was also concerned the article had referred to the deceased as “Ms”, rather than “Miss”, and expressed concern the story had report details of the driver’s fundraising, which she considered inappropriate in the context of his crime.

The newspaper had used the photos, released to them by the Crown Prosecution Service, to demonstrate the car had been travelling at excessive speeed in a residential area.
It furthered the use of “Ms” was not inaccurate, and said that the judge had taken character references into account during sentencing – denying a breach of Clause 9.

The complaint was not upheld, and the full adjudication can be read here.

Tanswell v Frome Standard

Derek Tanswell complained that The Frome Standard breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply), Clause 3 (Privacy), Clause 4 (Harassment), Clause 6 (Children), Clause 12 (Discrimination) and Clause 13 (Financial Journalism) in an article headlined “Councillor flouts laws he serves to uphold”, published on 23 October 2014, and an article headlined “Family facing anxious wait after flouting planning laws over caravan”, published on 8 January 2015.

The articles reported that the complainant, a Frome councillor who served on Mendip’s planning committee, had “flouted” planning laws after he moved a static caravan on to a field in Chapmanslade that he owned with his partner, Sharon Snook (who formally owned the land).

The newspaper had reported Mr Tanswell owned the land, which it admitted was inaccurate, and offered to publish a clarification on this matter.

IPSO found the paper had not been “significantly misleading”, and the complaint was not upheld.

The full adjudication can be read here.

Hogbin v Herne Bay Gazette

Joanne Hogbin complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation on behalf of her daughter, Bethany Mackie, that the Herne Bay Gazette had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 3 (Privacy), Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock) and Clause 10 (Clandestine devices and subterfuge) over an artile reporting Ms Mackie had been jailed for five years for causing death by dangerous driving, and drink-driving.

The article reported that while Ms Mackie had told the court of her “genuine remorse”, she had “enjoyed a booze-fuelled Christmas trip just days before she was jailed”. The front page article was accompanied by a photograph of Ms Mackie in which she was holding a full wine glass aloft.

The complainant said her daughter had been drinking Coca-Cola from the glass, and that the photo had been taken on a family day out.

While the complainant confirmed that she and her adult friend had had one alcoholic drink each, as depicted in one of the photographs she had uploaded, she made clear that Ms Mackie had not drunk any alcohol on the trip.

The newspaper said that the references to a “boozy trip”, and a “booze-fuelled Christmas trip”, were accurate, as evidenced by the photograph of the complainant and her friend drinking alcoholic drinks on the train.

It said that the article had not claimed that Ms Mackie was drinking an alcoholic drink, but that she had “held a full wine glass aloft”, which was an accurate description of the photograph in question.

The paper offered to publish a clarification on page 3 or page 5, cross-referenced from the front page, in which the complainant would be able to state that Ms Mackie was not drinking alcohol on the trip, and that she was genuinely remorseful. It also offered to publish a follow-up story from the complainant’s perspective; a reader’s letter, enabling the complainant to put her point of view in her own words; or an interview with Ms Mackie from prison.

IPSO found a breach of Clause 1, but not of Clauses 3 or 5.

The complaint was upheld and the full adjudiction can be read here.

Jones v Berwick Advertiser

Gavin Jones complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Berwick Advertiser breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) in an article headlined “Town clerk storms out of meeting”, published on 19 November 2014, and an article headlined “Deputy mayor boycotts council in protest against Georgina Hill”, published on 24 November 2014.

The articles under complaint both reported that the town clerk had “stormed out” of a Berwick Town Council committee meeting, which the complainant had chaired, after a “war of words” with a second councillor attending the meeting.

The complainant did not dispute that the town clerk had left the committee meeting, but said that she had politely requested to leave the room and that the phrase “stormed out” was inccurate.

IPSO found no breach of Clause 1, and a full adjudication can be read here.