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Daily absolved of wrongdoing over death knock after family’s complaint

A regional daily has been absolved of any wrongdoing over a death knock and subsequent approaches to a grieving family.

The Independent Press Standards Organisation has found approaches by Dundee daily The Courier to the relatives of Lisa Scott were “sympathetic and professional” after an investigation into the issue.

Ms Scott’s mother Maureen had complained after she and her family were contacted about two stories – firstly after her daughter’s death was “death was announced on the Facebook page” of a local funeral director, and then when it was revealed an investigation had “launched into the conduct of a paramedic” present at the scene of the crash.

However, IPSO found no wrongdoing on the part of the Courier’s journalists, who had subsequently complied with a request issued by the watchdog on Mrs Scott’s behalf that they should stop contacting her.

How the Courier covered Ms Scott's death

How the Courier covered Ms Scott’s death

Complaining under Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 3 (Harassment) and Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock) of the Editors’ Code, Mrs Scott said a Courier journalist had attended her home prior to the first story’s publication. Her sister answered the door and gave no comment.

After the initial story was published, her nephew had contacted The Courier via Facebook Messenger to claim “the family” had not approved the story and considered it to be inaccurate.

When asked by The Courier, he said he was “a family member” but did not specify his exact relation to the woman who had died, and said it was “disgusting” for the journalist to approach the family three days after the woman’s death, though he did not expressly request that the publication not contact the family.

He then declined a request to speak on the phone with a journalist.

Following the second story’s publication, a Courier journalist posted a note through Mrs Scott’s door asking to talk and leaving their phone number.

In a subsequent pohone call made by the reporter, they asked Mrs Scott for comment on the allegations made against the paramedic, of which she was not aware at the time.

At this point, IPSO passed on to the publication an email request that they not contact Mrs Scott or her family.

Mrs Scott claimed that in neither case had the publication of the stories been handled sensitively, as both appeared on the front page despite her nephew asking for the first online story to be deleted.

She also said that a journalist had come to her door for comment a few days after her daughter’s death, when she was still in shock, and that her sister had made clear there was no comment and could not recall stating that it was her niece who had died in the accident.

Mrs Scott further stated the subsquent phone call had added to her grief and suffering – particularly as she did not know the exact allegations against the paramedic.

In response, The Courier said it wanted to speak to Mrs Scott’s nephew over the phone, and not via Facebook, in order to verify his identity and clarify his concerns, but he did not wish to.

Furthermore, the newspaper said its approaches to the family were justified, proportionate and handled sensitively in line with its commitments under the Editors’ Code.

It also said that it had not contacted Mrs Scott or her family since it had received the request via IPSO not to contact her or her family.

The Courier expressed regret about the circumstances which led to it revealing the allegations about the paramedic to Mrs Scott, but believed that the problem lay with the Scottish Ambulance Services for not bringing the allegations to the complainant in a timely manner – noting that there was almost a full month between the first and second stories being published, and that the allegations were raised during this period.

After reviewing the messages on social media and the accounts of the conversations that took place, IPSO did not consider that any of the contact was either intimidating or harassing where the language used by the newspaper was sympathetic and professional.

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

Other recent IPSO cases involving regional newspapers include:

Lynch v Kent Online

Gloria Lynch, on behalf of her family member, complained under Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 6 (Children) and Clause 9 (Reporting of crime) of the Editors’ Code of Practice after a Kent Online story and accompanying podcast reported on an incident in a McDonald’s restaurant.

Kent Online had reported a security guard has been arrested after an incident in which a group of girls verbally abused staff and customeers inthe restaurant.

Ms Lynch said a family member had been idenifiable from the coverage, which had been widely sharred, and was so distressed she did not want to go to school.

Kent Online said it had taken steps not to identify the girls by pixelating their faces.

It said that the images were stills from a video that had been widely circulated online and provided a screenshot of the video on a Facebook group with 33,000 members.

IPSO considered information concerning the incident included in the coverage was already established in the public domain, but nonetheless found Kent Online had taken care to obscure the identity of the girls when publishing the images by pixelating their faces.

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

Leach v The Herald, Glasgow

John Paul Leach complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Herald breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice after Glasgow-based daily The reported he was facing an internal investigation by the University of Glasgow after he “displayed an image of the female brain as part of a teaching session”.

Mr Leach said The Herald had incorrectly reported that “no male equivalent of the slide” was shown during his presentation to students.

The Herald subsequently amended the online story to remove the reference to the lack of a “male equivalent slide”, while further amendmends – and an acknowledgment of the errors – were made after IPSO began investigating the case.

As the complaint was successfully mediated, IPSO did not make a determination as to whether there had been any breach of the Code.

The full resolution statement can be read here.