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Chief vet loses complaint against regional daily

NewIPSOThe press watchdog has rejected a chief veterinary officer’s complaint against a regional daily which claimed he had ‘hounded’ a colleague out of her job.

Robert Huey, the chief veterinary officer of Northrn Ireland, complained over two stories published in the Belfast Telegraph in October last year.

The first story covered Mr Huey’s attendance at a dinner held by the North of Ireland Veterinary Association (NIVA), reporting that it had been criticised for having him as guest of honour “despite him having hounded a colleague…out of her job.”

The second story, published a week later, concerned strike action by vets at abbatoirs, saying that dismay at Mr Huey’s leadership was a “significant factor” in the dispute and repeating the assertion that he had hounded a colleague.

Complaining to the Independent Press Standards Organisation, Mr Huey said both stories were inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 of the Editor’s Code.

He said that while an employment tribunal had found that the colleague in question had been “treated detrimentally”, it did not conclude that he had “hounded, harassed, pursued or persecuted” her – and that the use of the term “hounded” was therefore inaccurate.

Mr Huey also said both articles were misleading as the tribunal judgment had made clear that a number of incidents had contributed to the situation, and that he had only been involved in one incident.

And he claimed it was misleading to report that he had been a “guest of honour” at the dinner event and questioned whether the event organisers had described him as such.

Denying a breach of Clause 1, the Telegraph referred to extracts from the tribunal judgment regarding the treatment of the colleague, arguing that the useof the term “hounded” was “entirely justified.”

The judgement read:   “We find it to have been reasonable for the claimant to regard [Mr Huey’s] actions as intimidating, patronising and belittling and dismissive of her as a professional. We therefore find [Mr Huey’s] action to have been detrimental to the claimant.”

“The encounter with [Mr Huey] was one of the key reasons why the claimant felt that she had no option but to resign (rather than for example to ask for a transfer) because she realised that the attitude to her ‘went all the way to the top’.

The Telegraph said NIVA had not disputed that the complainant was a guest of honour at the dinner in correspondence with the newspaper.

In its ruling, the Code Committee said that, in the light of the tribunal’s findings, it did not consider the newspaper’s characterisation of the complainant’s actions to be significantly misleading or inaccurate.

It also noted that neither article stated that the complainant had been the only individual involved in the treatment of the colleague, and that it had not been misleading or inaccurate for the articles to focus on the complainant and not reference other parties.

Finally it concluded that it had not been misleading or inaccurate for the article to refer to the complainant as “a guest of honour”.

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