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Watchdog raps daily over claims that club sold alcohol to 16-year-old

The press watchdog has rapped a regional daily for presenting claims that a nightclub broke licensing laws by selling alcohol to a 16-year-old girl as fact.

The Independent Press Standards Organisation has found against the Huddersfield Daily Examiner over its presentation of claims made about a nightclub by the mother of the alleged underage drinker.

The Examiner had reported that the mother had criticised Halifax’s Acapulco Club, claiming it had permitted entry to and served alcohol to her 16-year-old daughter, adding she had found the teenager “passed out in the doorway of a nearby bingo hall after she spent just £7.50 on ten drinks in the space of an hour”.

But the story – headlined “Girl, 16, ‘passes out’ in doorway after club sells her ten 75p Jagerbombs” – prompted nightclub owner Simon Woodcock to complain to IPSO, claiming there was no evidence that the girl had entered the venue or been sold alcohol.

The Acapulco Club, Halifax

The Acapulco Club, Halifax

IPSO subsequently found the story had stated, as fact, that the child was permitted entry to and then sold a specific amount of alcohol by Mr Woodcock’s establishment, without qualification or attribution.

Mr Woodcock, who had been quoted by the Examiner as saying he was “deeply concerned about this story”, claimed in his complaint to IPSO that the reported incident had never occurred and there was no evidence that the underage girl had entered the venue or been sold alcohol.

Complaining under Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice, he denied that the family member quoted existed and said that the story’s publication had been seriously damaging to the reputation and finances of the business.

The Examiner had based the story on a press release and had contacted the girl’s mother, Mr Woodcock, the local council and the police for comment upon receipt of the statement.

Denying a breach of Code, the newspaper said it had accurately reported the allegations made by the family member, adding that the story made clear the status of these allegations.

It also noted that the story made clear the venue’s position, and published Mr Woodcock’s comments in full as well as the response provided by the local council.

After the story’s publication, and upon receipt of further concerns raised by Mr Woodcock after his review of the venue’s CCTV footage, the Examiner returned to the mother for further comments and in order to obtain a police reference number.

When the mother did not respond to this request, the paper contacted the police for a public statement, removed the online story and published a correction online.

Mr Woodcock did not consider theses actions sufficient to remedy the issue because the wording did not state unequivocally that the events described did not happen, nor did it adequately address the financial consequences of the story’s publication or include an apology.

IPSO found the Examiner had relied on claims which had been made by the mother, and shared within a press release, against Mr Woodcock’s establishment.

These allegations were serious, claiming that it had sold alcohol to a person under the age of 18, potentially in breach of the law and licensing regulations.

The Code Committee was not in a position to reconcile the conflicting accounts, or to rule on the accuracy of the claims made by the mother, but considered that the article had misleadingly presented, and adopted, these allegations as fact.

IPSO found the headline, read on its own or in conjunction with the text, did not make sufficiently clear that the story was reporting a claim which had been made by the mother.

By presenting serious allegations about the conduct of a licensed establishment in this way, the Committee said the Examiner had not taken sufficient care over the accuracy of the story.

The complaint was upheld, and the full adjudication can be read here.