Clauses Noted: 5
Publication: Daily Record
Mrs Laura McQueen complained to the Press Complaints Commission through Mrs Jennifer Whyberd that an article headlined "Two die in lorry, car and minibus pile-up", published in the Daily Record on 16 December 2011, had intruded into her grief in breach of Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock) of the Editors' Code of Practice.
The complaint was upheld.
The article reported on a road traffic incident the day before in which the complainant's husband and another person had been killed. It was illustrated with a photograph that showed the complainant's husband's body, still in the vehicle in which he had died and with his injured face clearly visible. The complainant said that the publication of this graphic image had caused severe shock and upset to her and her family at what was already a very difficult time.
The newspaper offered its immediate and unreserved apologies to the family. It said the photograph had been published through an error; its staff had not realised that the image included the complainant's husband. It had issued new rules to its picture desk and production staff regarding the use of photographs with graphic content to ensure that such an error would not recur. It had published an apology on page 2, the wording of which had been agreed with the family through the PCC; this had been illustrated with a picture of Mr McQueen chosen by the family. The editor of the newspaper also offered to meet the complainant to apologise in person.
The complainant remained distressed by the newspaper's error and did not consider she had received meaningful redress.
Under the terms of Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock), "in cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively". As both parties had accepted, the use of an explicit image of the complainant's husband the day after his death had been a grievous error. The Commission acknowledged the newspaper's position that the publication had been inadvertent. Nonetheless, in the view of the Commission, the publication of the photograph could not represent "sensitive handling". This raised a clear breach of Clause 5 of the Code.
The sole remaining question for the Commission was whether the steps taken by the newspaper had represented a sufficient remedy to this breach. The newspaper had responded rapidly once it was aware of the situation and had published a prominent apology to the family; its editor had offered to meet family members in person to apologise; and it had tightened its procedures to prevent such an error from recurring. The Commission considered that this had been an appropriate and responsible reaction to the issues raised by the complaint and the distress caused to the complainant. Nonetheless, in all the circumstances of this case, it concluded that the action taken by the newspaper was insufficient to remedy the breach of the Code; and moreover, that the breach on this occasion was not capable of remedy. There was therefore an outstanding breach of the Code, and the complaint was upheld.
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