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Complainant Name:
The Royal Hospitals NHS Trust

Clauses Noted: 8

Publication: The Voice


The Royal Hospitals NHS Trust complained that a reporter from The Voice had gained admission to a hospital ward by subterfuge and that he and a photographer persisted in their attempts to photograph a sick child despite being asked to leave, in breach of Clause 6 (Hospitals) of the Code of Practice.

The hospital said that the mother of the child, a 14-year-old girl in a coma after an accident, had been with her daughter in the hospital and was anxious to avoid media coverage to prevent distress to her wider family. A reporter from The Voice gained access to the ward by pretending to be a relative and told the mother he could catch the motorist who injured her daughter if she gave an interview. The mother, the hospital said, was distressed by the slow progress of the case and agreed to the request on those terms. The senior ward nurses, knowing her earlier reluctance, told her not to feel pressurised and that The Voice had no power to identify and charge the hit and run driver. When the returning journalists were told of the mother's change of mind they became aggressive and tried to take a photograph of the child before they were ordered to leave.

The newspaper had replied directly to the complainants about the alleged incident and agreed the reporter had gained access to the ward by falsely claiming to be a relative, but said the child's mother agreed to speak the following day. When he returned with a photographer they were asked to leave without speaking with the mother and their request to the childs uncle at the bedside for a photograph of the child was refused. They then left the ward and denied being aggressive. The editor apologised for any distress which might have been caused to the mother; she had spoken to both journalists to ensure such an incident did not recur.

The complainants said that the journalists account differed from that of those involved and considered the severity of the incident had not been properly acknowledged.



The Commission requested the editor's comments under the Code but received no reply. It continued to make such requests over a number of months in writing and by telephone, but despite repeated assurances that a response would be made this was not forthcoming. Later requests to the publishers met with similar assurances but no substantive response.

Central to the industry's Code of Practice are its provisions to protect the vulnerable - including those in care of a hospital. Breaches of the part of the Code are rare but, when they occur, are extremely serious. In this case, it was clear to the Commission that there had been a flagrant breach of the Code. The Commission deplored it and, in upholding the complaint, heavily censured the editor.

The Commission was also deeply concerned at the lack of any response to its requests for information when investigating the matter under the Code. Neither the editor, nor the publishers of the newspaper (Voice Group Ltd), had provided any substantive information - despite repeated requests for it over a long period. The Commission condemned this failure to respond and asked the editor to ensure that complaints taken up by the Commission in future are treated with the speed and thoroughness that self regulation demands.


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