Lancashire Telegraph rapped for identifying source

The Lancashire Telegraph has been criticised by the Press Complaints Commission for failing to protect a confidential source.

A man complained following the 9 March story headlined: ‘Burnley bodies sent to Blackburn.”

The complainant said he spoke to a reporter from the paper about the proposed closure of Burnley’s mortuary on condition that he was not identified.

Clause 14 of the Editors’ Code states that journalists have a duty to protect confidential sources

However, in the article he was referred to as ‘a worker at Burnley’s mortuary”. Because he was one of only two people who worked there – the other being his boss – his employers had been able to identify him as the source of the information.

He had subsequently been dismissed on grounds of gross misconduct for making his remarks to the newspaper.

The newspaper said it did not consider the complainant to be a confidential source because he had not revealed confidential information. A number of health workers in the area had been informed of the proposed mortuary closure.

The paper also told the PCC that although it had agreed not to identify the complainant by name, it had not been told that indirect identification was also to be avoided.

The reporter had not known, and had no reason to know, that the man was one of only two employees at the mortuary, it said. The editor offered to send the complainant a private letter of regret.

In its ruling, the PCC said: ‘Given that the need for confidentiality had been established between the parties, the onus was on the newspaper to establish whether the form of words it proposed to use would have effectively identified the complainant in any case.”

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