The Shropshire Star reported William Donald Stannett had died following a house fire, which prompted his daughter Anne Downes to complain to the Independent Press Standards Organisation.
The Star had used information taken from press releases by Shropshire Fire & Rescue Service and the West Midlands Ambulance Service, which the newspaper claimed indicated Mr Stannett had died as a result of the fire.
The story was reported in a similar way by a number of other media outlets.
Ms Downes complained to IPSO Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock) of the Editors’ Code of Practice, saying it was inaccurate to report that her father had died in the house fire, and the quotations from the emergency services in the article did not support this conclusion.
The complainant said that it had been distressing to read the wrong information about her father’s death in the newspaper, especially as that information gave the impression that her father had been burned alive.
She also said that the article, in particular the use of the word “drama” to describe what had happened, was insensitive.
The Star said that the information provided by the emergency services had indicated that the man had died as a result of the fire, with the press releases headlined ‘Fatal fire prompts home fire safety checks’ and ‘Man dies in house fire’ respectively.
The information had been published in good faith and the newspaper’s intention had never been to cause distress. However, upon receipt of the complaint and following consultation with the coroner, the newspaper accepted that the complainant’s father had died of natural causes before the fire had broken out.
In light of this, the Star offered to publish a clarification and apologised to the complainant for the upset the use of the word “drama” had caused her.
However the newspaper defended its use of the word, saying it had been used to convey the fact that there had been a large response from the emergency services, including three fire engines.
The complainant declined the Star’s offer to run a tribute to her father, over which she would have been given copy approval.
IPSO found the newspaper was entitled to rely on the information provided by the emergency services, and the press releases had stated that the complainant’s father had died in the fire. It also ruled that the use of the word “drama” was not insensitive.
The Star had promptly offered to publish a correction in its first response to the complaint, having legitimately relied on information from official press releases from the emergency services, which it had published in good faith.
In all the circumstances, including the nature of the inaccuracy and the finding that there had been no failure to take care over the accuracy of the article, the newspaper was not required to publish the correction on its front page.
The complaint was not upheld, and the full adjudication can be read here.