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Regional daily rapped over report on police officer sacking

NewIPSOA regional daily has been censured after wrongly reporting that a police officer had been sacked for sharing “racist” WhatsApp messages.

The Bournemouth Echo website reported on a police tribunal which examined inappropriate messages posted by officers under the headline ‘Dorset Police officer sacked for sharing racist WhatsApp messages.’

However the officer in question, Mark Jordan-Gill, complained to the press watchdog that the reference to ‘racist’ messages in the headline was inaccurate.

The story had been based on a Dorset Police press release stating that Mr Jordan-Gill had been “dismissed for sending inappropriate messages and pictures” – but it had made no reference to him having shared racist images or messages, and the tribunal had not found that this was the case.

Mr Jordan-Gill complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation under Clause 1 of the Editors’ Code of Practice, which covers accuracy.

He provided a copy of the press release in question which stated: “A serving Dorset Police officer who was found guilty of gross misconduct after posting inappropriate and offensive messages on a WhatsApp group has been dismissed without notice.”

The Echo acknowledged that the story had inaccurately reported that the complainant shared racist messages, saying this was due to the article having been typed in “excessive haste” for online publication.

However it did not accept that the headline was significantly inaccurate, given that information at the time stated that Mr Jordan-Gill was in a WhatsApp group of officers in which sexual, pornographic, misogynistic, homophobic, racist, bullying, abusive, offensive and inappropriate messages had been shared.

In its ruling, IPSO’s code committee ruled that the headline was inaccurate and that the Echo’s reasoning for the inaccuracy – excessive haste when preparing the story for publication – demonstrated a lack of care taken to ensure the article was not inaccurate, in breach of Clause 1 (i) of the Code.

It also ruled that the inaccuracy was sufficiently serious to warrant a correction, in accordance with Clause 1 (ii.)

While the Echo had already amended the headline and offered to publish a correction as a footnote to the story, IPSO did not consider this to be sufficiently prominent and ordered them to publish it as a standalone article with a link on the homepage for 24 hours.

The complaint was upheld, and the full ruling can be read here: