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Council involved in comment spat with weekly loses second IPSO complaint

A council involved in a spat with an independent weekly’s editor has had a second complaint about the newspaper rejected by the press watchdog.

HTFP has reported recently on Thurrock Council’s decision to ignore comment requests from the Thurrock Independent, although the authority has since said the policy only applies to editor Neil Speight.

The policy was put in place earlier this month after the Independent Press Standards Organisation revealed it had rejected a complaint from the authority about an Independent front page editorial published in January this year, which described it as a “council of secrecy and contempt”.

Now IPSO has rejected a second complaint about a separate Independent front page story, which detailed allegations made in a whistleblowing letter concerning “bullying, malpractice, negligence and nepotism” at the council.

Thurroc April

The article, published in April, reported on allegations of negligence made against Thurrock Council’s children’s services, with claims that a “small child died while under the care of Thurrock Council” prior to the authority receiving the whistleblowing letter.

In the piece, the Independent explained that it had approached the council with “12 specific questions” relating to the allegations contained in the letter, including the question: “According to the document, a young child under the council’s care – at least that the council was aware of – has died in recent months. Is this true? How long had the council been aware of the family’s issues?”

The article reported the council’s response in full and quoted the contents of the whistleblowing letter, while the body of the article criticised the complainant’s response to the claims made in the whistleblowing document.

Complaining under Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice, the council said that the article had contained misleading and damaging allegations concerning its children’s services, claiming the child referred to was not in the care of the council because a case “being open to social services”, as in this case, was not the same as the child being in the council’s care.

The authority added that contrary to the article’s claim, serious case reviews are not triggered automatically, and claimed it had explained this process to the Independent.

It further claimed that contrary to the Independent’s suggestion that whistleblowers’ allegations had not been taken seriously, it had responded to the journalist’s questions with a statement, as was standard practice for media enquiries.

The Independent provided a copy of the whistleblowers’ anonymous letter to IPSO, along with correspondence which had passed between its unnamed journalist and the council prior to publication.

Denying a breach of Code, the paper said that it was accurate to report that the child had been in the “care” of the council, and did not accept that the article had distorted the degree of responsibility which the council had over the child’s welfare.

The Independent added that it was entitled to criticise the council for its response to the whistleblowing claims, and noted that the very fact that the whistleblowers had felt the need to approach the paper with their concerns demonstrated that the council had not taken the matter seriously.

IPSO found the allegation relating to the death of the child, and whether the council could be considered culpable, was presented throughout as an allegation which had been made by the whistleblower, rather than as a statement of fact asserted by the newspaper.

The Committee added care had been taken by the newspaper to review the contents of the whistleblowers’ letter, and make enquiries as to its veracity through its contacts within the council, prior to approaching the complainant for comment.

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

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  • August 31, 2018 at 10:29 am

    You’d think the well-paid, tin-skinned CEO of Thurrock Council would have better things to do, n’est ce pas?
    Anyway, well done to the Thurrock Indy for upholding the mantra of accountability

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