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Daily rapped over failure to verify dead woman claim with doctor

A regional daily has been rapped by the press watchdog after failing to make sufficient attempts to contact doctors about a woman’s death.

The Independent Press Standards Organisation has found against the Greenock Telegraph after it reported as fact that Donna Gallagher “had been denied an X-ray”, as had been claimed by her family.

The claim was disputed by Dr Brian Kerr, a GP who was involved in Mrs Gallagher’s care, prompting him to complain to the watchdog about the Telegraph’s front page story about her death, published on 21 December last year.

The story’s intro had reported that “a courageous mum who died just a year on from a devastating cancer diagnosis [had] been denied an X-ray”.

Greenock IPSO

After an investigation, IPSO found the Telegraph had not done enough to verify the claim due to only having made a single request for comment with a receptionist at the GP practice.

Complaining under Clause 1 of the Editors’ Code of Practice, Dr Kerr said he had no record of the woman ever having been refused an X-ray.

He added an X-ray had in fact been arranged in July 2020, and its findings were consistent with the pain Mrs Gallagher was reporting at that point.

Dr Kerr also alleged a number of other inaccuracies in the coverage.

Denying any breach of Code, the Telegraph said the claims in the story were not presented as fact, but as the views of her family.

In any event, it said it had contacted the GP practice for comment before the story was published, and that a reporter had briefly spoken to a receptionist – although it was unable to supply any further details of the phone call, or confirm when it had occurred.

The Telegraph said it had no way to verify whether the woman had been sent for an X-ray without access to her medical records or the practice sharing information with it journalists.

IPSO found the Telegraph had not spoken to any of the doctors involved in the woman’s medical care, nor sought to obtain any other documentation to support, depsite reporting the claim about the X-ray as fact.

Although it had contacted the GP Practice prior to publication, the Committee found the newspaper did not appear to have followed up this call and had not provided any notes of the conversation it had had with the receptionist.

It had therefore presented an unverified claim as fact, and had not distinguished it – in the opening of the story – as the family’s comment on the care Mrs Gallagher had received.

IPSO found no other wrongdoing on the Telegraph’s part. The complaint was upheld, and the full adjudication can be read here.