The press watchdog has dismissed a complaint over a weekly newspaper’s reporting of a car crash, but expressed “concern” over its reporter’s lack of note-taking during a conversation with a police spokesperson.
Caroline Westbrook-Jones complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Warrington Guardian had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article reported that a woman had been struck by a car near to a primary school following a dispute with another woman over parking.
Ms Westbrook-Jones said that she was the driver of the car referred to in the article and accepted that she had been involved in a dispute in the car park, but maintained that the other party had not been “hit” or “struck” by her car, as reported.
She claimed the other party had fallen backwards and injured herself during the altercation and the article had been “one-sided” for failing to give her account of the incident.
The complainant said she had not been charged and the police investigation had been dropped, while the police officer who had taken her statement on the day of the incident had confirmed to her that the police had not given permission for the newspaper to publish the story.
She added someone claiming to be the other person involved in the altercation had left a comment beneath the online article, which she considered had given a significantly inaccurate, one-sided account of the incident, and exaggerated the extent of her injuries.
This led to the publication of further abusive comments from other readers.
The Guardian said the article was a routine news report based on information supplied by Cheshire Police. The information was supplied over the telephone, immediately written up, and published online. No notes were taken.
When it was alerted to the complainant’s concerns, the reporter contacted the police to verify the information. The newspaper provided an email in which the police confirmed that its 22 May 2015 records stated that an altercation had taken place between a driver and a pedestrian over parking, and that the vehicle had “collided with the pedestrian”.
The newspaper considered that it was unlikely that either party would be identified from the article because no one was named, but offered to publish a statement noting Ms Westbrook-Jones’s denial
It said if the police issued a fresh statement following the outcome of the investigation, it would be happy to publish it.
With regards to the reader’s comment, the Guardian said it could not be expected to adopt a position as to whether the account was accurate; if the complainant disputed it, she was free to post her side of the story.
IPSO said the fact the reporter had failed to take any notes during the conversation with the police was a matter of some concern, particularly as the article included a verbatim quote attributed to a Cheshire Police spokesperson.
However, as the police had confirmed that the article accurately reflected its records of the incident, the Committee was satisfied that there was no failure to take care over the accuracy of the information in breach of Clause 1 (i).
IPSO found no wrongdoing on any other point, and the complaint was not upheld.
The full adjudication can be read here.