A regional daily launched an internal investigation after it published a story mistaking a man for his criminal relative.
The Sunderland Echo told the press watchdog that a reporter was involved in an ongoing internal investigation over a story which wrongly named Lee Steabler as one of a group of men convicted of a series of crimes.
In fact the defendant in question was a relative of Mr Steabler, with the same surname but a different first name.
The story, published on 19 November, prompted Mr Steabler to complain to the Independent Press Standards Organisation, saying the inaccuracy had caused him shock and distress.
The issue was resolved between the two parties without IPSO making a ruling on the matter, but the Echo confirmed to the watchdog that it had launched its own investigation into what happened.
It is unclear whether the investigation is still ongoing or what the outcome of it was, as Echo publisher JPIMedia declined to comment further on the matter when approached by HTFP.
Complaining to IPSO under Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice, Mr Steabler said the story’s publication had resulted in many approaches on social media from people falsely connecting him with the case.
He added that he contacted the publication at the time and was not satisfied with its response or explanation for the mistake occurring, and that he declined the offer of any correction as he did not want any new mention of his name in relation to the case.
The Echo responded that it had made an honest mistake as there were other people involved in the proceedings that had names similar to the complainant, and it was coincidental that this error wrongly identified him as being involved.
Furthermore, the newspaper pointed out that the article used the defendant’s correct address and age, which distinguished him from the complainant.
The Echo amended the online article immediately after being contacted by Mr Steabler to correct the error, and the inaccuracy did not appear in print, while an offer of a full clarification and apology had been declined by him.
During IPSO’s investigation, the paper offered to write a private letter of apology to Mr Steabler, adding that the reporter concerned was involved in an ongoing internal investigation into the matter.
The Echo said steps had also been taken to reiterate to all staff the importance of the Editors’ Code, including holding regular training sessions.
Mr Steabler replied that this would resolve the matter to his satisfaction, and the full resolution statement can be read here.