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Watchdog dismisses former NHS chief’s complaint against regional daily

IPSO_logo_newA former health chief’s complaint against a regional daily has been dismissed by the press regulator.

Phil Morley complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Hull Daily Mail had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply) and Clause 4 (Harassment) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in articles documenting his time as chief executive of the Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust.

The stories reported Mr Morley had focused unrelentingly on targets, which had led to reports of a culture of bullying, and that his “key allies” at the Trust had received approximately £250,000 in pay rises and extra payments.

Mr Morley said one article had inaccurately implied that he had sanctioned staff pay rises fraudulently or dishonestly, and listed what he believed to be all the inaccuracies.

The complainant said he was not offered a right to reply before either articles were published, adding the Trust was asked to comment on incentive payments made to directors without being asked to verify the information with regards to salary increases.

He considered that the newspaper’s continual negative reporting of his tenure as chief executive of the Trust, nine months after he had left the post, amounted to harassment.

Mr Morley asked the newspaper to acknowledge the inaccuracies in a prominent position, to apologise for any innuendo suggesting that promotions were given due to favouritism or without following due and proper process, to apologise for not approaching him for comment before publication and to publish a statement making clear he refuted any allegation of wrongdoing.

The Mail strongly denied that the coverage had implied that the complainant had acted fraudulently or criminally. Rather, it had alleged that the complainant’s “allies” had been given substantial pay rises and promotions while he was in charge of the Trust.

It said its primary sources of information about appointments, promotions and pay rises were senior members of staff who were concerned about the management of the Trust. This information was then confirmed by other sources, including by the interim chief executive, in the presence of the director of communications.

The Mail added it had approached Mr Morley directly for comment, but he had declined and referred the newspaper back to the Trust.

It would not apologise for any “innuendo”, as requested, as innuendo was purely subjective.

However, it offered the complainant a full right to reply in the form of an interview, or it said it would consider publishing a piece written by him in which he could address his concerns.

IPSO found the article had not alleged that the complainant had acted fraudulently or unlawfully.

Although the complainant had identified some inaccuracies with regards to the exact job titles and salaries awarded, in this context, these were not significant inaccuracies that warranted correction under the terms of Clause 1 (ii).

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

IPSO has also ruled on the case of Keith Johnson, who complained the Mid Devon Advertiser had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article which reported that an “NHS day of action” at Newton Abbot, coordinated by campaign group 38 Degrees, had taken the number of signatures on a “Save our NHS” petition up to 2,500.

Mr Johnson, one of the local organisers of the day, said the newspaper had published inaccurate statements made by a Conservative candidate in the general election, which misrepresented the event.

The complainant expressed concern the comments, which formed more than half the article, had strongly implied that their campaign had sought to criticise the NHS, rather than to defend it from privatisation.

The Advertiser said there were six candidates for the Teignbridge parliamentary seat, and the Conservative candidate was the only one not to attend the NHS Day of Action.

It approached her for comment in an effort to produce a balanced report, as it considered that she should be given the opportunity to explain her absence.

The Advertiser added the candidate had previously had talks with the group and considered her to have a reasonable understanding of the event.

There was no reason for it to believe that she had made an error in her description of the event, and so it had not considered it necessary to check the accuracy of her comments.

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