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Complainant Name:
Messrs Andrew McCooey and Co on behalf of Miss Myra Hindley

Clauses Noted: 1

Publication: Daily Mirror

Complaint:

Messrs Andrew McCooey and Co, Solicitors of Sittingbourne, Kent, complained to the Press Complaints Commission on behalf of their client Miss Myra Hindley that an article headlined “Myra: weeks to live” published in The Mirror on April 23 2001 was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code of Practice.

Following an offer by the newspaper to resolve the matter, the Commission did not consider that any further action was required.

The article said that prison sources had said that the complainant was suffering from advanced lung cancer as a result of smoking and could die within weeks. Her solicitors said that she was not suffering from cancer and was not terminally ill. They had accessed her medical records which confirmed that she was not suffering from cancer and supplied confirmation from the prison governor that the story was inaccurate.

The editor said that the poor state of the complainant’s health had been reported for years, including a piece in The Sun in 1999 which suggested that she could die at any moment. The editor questioned whether she had complained about that piece. He said that with regard to the article in his own newspaper, his reporters had been informed by reliable sources that the complainant was terminally ill. Furthermore, the reporter Aidan McGurran had seen an internal memo which stated that she was indeed suffering from cancer. While he was happy to swear a statement to that effect, he could not go into any further detail because he had to protect his source in accordance with the Code of Practice. The paper was informed that planning meetings had taken place regarding the complainant’s funeral and, when approached, Cambridgeshire Constabulary issued a press release confirming that funeral arrangements had been made. The editor wondered why such arrangements would have been made unless the complainant was seriously ill. Finally, the editor pointed out that the prison had refused to deny the allegations. Although it commented that the complainant was not well, to have denied the central allegation would not have been a breach of her confidence. However, the editor offered to publish a letter from the complainant’s solicitors disputing that the complainant was suffering from cancer.

The solicitors said that there was no internal memo stating that the complainant had cancer. She was in good health three months after the article was published stating that she might be dead within weeks. They rejected the offer of a letter as inadequate.

Decision:
Sufficient remedial action offered

Adjudication:

The Commission noted that the newspaper had received information from anonymous sources on which it had based its story. The Commission would not expect the newspaper to reveal any confidential source as to do so would be a breach of the Code. In such cases where a complainant disputes the accuracy of material that is based on a confidential source, the Commission looks to see whether the newspaper can demonstrate that it has – in line with the Code – taken care not to publish inaccurate material. It also considers whether there is any corroborative material or, in the absence of such material, whether any fair opportunity to reply has been offered.

The Commission therefore firstly considered whether the lengths to which the newspaper had gone to verify its story were adequate under the Code. It noted that the newspaper had approached the prison service which had, while commenting on the complainant’s general state of health, refused to comment on the central allegations concerning cancer. The newspaper had also asked the local police to confirm what it had been told regarding plans for the complainant’s funeral and the Commission noted that the police had indeed done so in a press release. It was therefore clear that the newspaper had not simply reported the information given to it by its source but had gone some way to establishing whether there were any grounds to publish the source’s claims. However, there was no corroborative material and, as the Commission was clearly not in a position to make a finding about the facts of the article, it considered that the offer of a letter disputing the central claim was a necessary and suitable remedy to the complaint.

Report:
55



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