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Newspaper entitled to rely on emergency service statements rules IPSO

A weekly newspaper has been absolved of any wrongdoing by the press watchdog after publishing police and fire service information which later turned out to be inaccurate.

The Worthing Herald had been taken to task by Deborah Lovell after it reported that a number of plants, believed to be cannabis, had been found at her house during an investigation into a fire there.

The Herald also reported Ms Lovell’s partner had been arrested on suspicion of cultivating cannabis as a result of the investigation, with police saying he had been “detained, questioned and accepted a caution”.

But, despite her claims the article was inaccurate on these points, IPSO sided with the Herald after the newspaper said in its defence that the article had been based on a statement issued by the police on the morning of publication.

police tape

In her complaint under Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice, Ms Lovell said no plants had been found at her house, while her partner had been cautioned in relation to an historic offence relating to the cultivation of cannabis eight years previously.

She also added claims the fire had started in the loft were inaccurate, according to communications she had received from the fire service after the completion of its investigation.

The Herald said that on receiving the complaint from Ms Lovell, it had asked the police and county council, which had provided a statement initially on behalf of the fire service, to confirm the information they had provided, and both organisations had done so.

The paper denied that it was misleading to omit that the offence for which the man was cautioned related to actions eight years prior, adding the police had in any case not referred to this in their statement, but said that it would be happy to amend the article, or issue a clarification, if Ms Lovell were able to provide formal confirmation of the alleged inaccuracies.

During the course of IPSO’s investigation, Ms Lovell provided a response from the police which stated that its initial press statement had been misleading, as well as an apology from the service for providing information prior to the completion of its investigative work.

She said the police response supported her position that the article was inaccurate because no living cannabis plants had been found at the property, and only a single dead plant.

In response to the police response to Ms Lovell, the Herald offered to amend the article headline to say “cannabis plant” in the singular, to amend the text to state that the man had been arrested “after part of a dried cannabis plant was found in the property”, and to publish a clarification.

Ms Lovell rejected the offer, saying it was unsatisfactory because it did not include an apology.

IPSO found the Herald had been entitled to rely on information provided by the police, council and fire service, and there was therefore no failure to take care over the accuracy of the claims made.

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

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