IPSO rejects complaint against inaccurate newspaper story based on information from council website

A complaint that a newspaper failed to take care over the accuracy of a story based on information from a local authority's website – which later turned out to be wrong – has been rejected by the Independent Press Standards Organisation.

Lorna Dredger complained that story which appeared in the Braintree and Witham Times on 4 February, under the headline "Surveys undertaken on Chipping Hill to see if safety improvements are needed after fatal crash", breached clauses 1, 3 and 5 of the Editors' Code of Practice, covering accuracy, privacy and intrusion into grief or shock.

The report said that as a result of a collision in which Dredger's partner had died, road safety officers were carrying out traffic surveys to establish whether safety improvements were needed.

Dredger said police and Essex County Council told her that the traffic surveys had nothing to do with the road incident involving her partner, adding that the newspaper had used his death to sensationalise an otherwise mundane story.

She also said the image used was not of the stretch of road where the collision had taken place.

Dredger said she was not told that the article, which included irrelevant, distressing details, was to be published, adding that the newspaper contacted her daughter to ask for her views on the safety of the road, which had upset her, and she had asked to be left alone.

The newspaper said it was sorry for the distress its article had caused, but there was no attempt to sensationalise the story.

The article was based on the agenda for a Braintree District Local Highways Panel meeting, published on the Braintree District Council website. The agenda had said "after the fatality in October 2014, the Road Safety Engineer requested that a PV2 was carried out to assess the footfall at this location".

But Essex County Council, the responsible local authority, had since confirmed that the surveys were unconnected to the collision.

The newspaper published a correction on page four, where the original article appeared, and online making clear that the survey was unrelated to the accident.

The photograph with the story was a stock image of the road, and the article had not said that the collision took place at that exact location.

The newspaper said it was not normal practice to contact readers if upcoming stories might affect them directly or indirectly. But it said that in this instance it considered it good practice to contact Dredger's daughter to ask her if she wished to comment before the story was published. She said the road needed a crossing and asked the newspaper not to contact her or her family again, which the newspaper had done.

Dredger said the newspaper had not given her a draft correction before publication. The correction itself was unsatisfactory – it was too small, had referred to her partner as Antonio Dredger, rather than Mr Dredger, as requested. She also pointed out it had blamed the council for the mistake.

IPSO's complaints committee said the newspaper was entitled to rely on the accuracy of information about the reason for the survey published on a local council website. It had not failed to take care over the accuracy of the information.

But it had turned out that the information on the council's website had been inaccurate, and that the surveys themselves were not aimed to address the causes of the collision, as suggested in the article. This was a significant inaccuracy, and the newspaper was obliged to correct it promptly and with due prominence.

The newspaper's prompt publication of the correction on page four, where the original article appeared, and online was sufficient.

The newspaper was entitled to tell readers in the correction that the council was the source of the information, and to use the full name of Dredger's late partner. The article had also been removed from the newspaper's website.

The caption to the photograph with the original article had not suggested that the image showed the exact location of the traffic accident.

The committee sympathised with Dredger's position, that it was distressing to read about her partner's accident, but the newspaper was entitled to publish the article, which concerned road safety, an issue of local concern, and had not disclosed private information about Dredger.

On the intrusion issue, the committee said that although it was regrettable that the inaccuracy had caused distress, the article itself had not contained insensitive details, nor had its tone or presentation been inappropriate.

While the committee understood that Dredger's daughter found the newspaper's pre-publication phone call intrusive, the call was made four months after the accident. It was not unsympathetic of the newspaper to contact the family for comment then. There was also no suggestion that the newspaper made any further contact when asked to desist.

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