Mail Online censured over 'Amanda Knox guilty' story

Mail Online has been censured by the PCC over a story it ran in October claiming Amanda Knox had lost her appeal against her conviction for the murder of British student Meredith Kercher.

The story appeared on the website on 3 October 2011 under the headline 'Guilty: Amanda Knox looks stunned as appeal against murder conviction is rejected", in which in claimed Knox 'sank into her chair sobbing uncontrollably while her family and friends hugged each other in tears'after the verdict was read out.

Knox was cleared of murdering Kercher but announced to be guilty of slander, which was the first charge read out.

At the time a spokesman for the Daily Mail told Press Gazette that the article was only online for 90 seconds and that it had launched an inquiry into the error.

Complaints were made to the press watchdog under Clause 1 (accuracy) of the Editors' Code of Practice and were upheld by the PCC.

The PCC said that as well as the 'overarching complaint that the article had reported the wrong verdict'complainants also drew attention to 'the inclusion of quotes attributed to prosecutors, apparently reacting to the guilty verdict (‘justice has been done' although ‘it was sad two young people would be spending time in jail'); a description of the reaction in the court room to the supposed verdict (‘Knox...sank into her chair sobbing uncontrollably while her family and friends hugged each other in tears'; Meredith Kercher's family ‘remained expressionless, staring straight ahead, glancing over just once at the distraught Knox family'); and the claims that Ms Knox was ‘taken out of court escorted by prison guards and into a waiting van which took her back to her cell' and would be ‘put on a suicide watch'.

The Mail said that in such high-profile cases it was 'standard practice for newspapers to prepare two stories in advance", and that there had been 'confusion in the court as the judge had initially found Ms Knox guilty of slander".

It also pointed out that several other news sources had initially published the wrong verdict.

This is understood to include The Sun website, Sky News and The Guardian's live blog, though the Mail appeared to be the only news outlet that ran a full-length article.

According to the PCC, in its defence the paper said that the quotes had been obtained from the prosecution in advance of the trial 'to be published in the event that the appeal was rejected".

'In addition, the Italian authorities had advised the reporter that all those found guilty of murder were placed on suicide watch as a matter of course," it said.

The Mail also claimed that the individual responsible for the error had been disciplined and that it had published an explanation online apologising to readers for the error.

The PCC adjudication continued: 'The correct verdict had been reported in its print edition the following day. The newspaper also made clear that it had launched an immediate internal inquiry to examine its procedures in the light of the complaint.

'As a result, ‘set and hold' stories would now be commissioned to include only the basic verdict and factual background material: there would be no colour and no quotes based on possible outcomes."

It added: 'In the commission's view, the article had sought to present contemporaneous reporting of events (describing, in colourful terms, how individuals had physically behaved) which simply had not taken place. This was clearly not acceptable.

"The commission did not see any difficulty in newspapers writing ‘set and hold' articles.

'It understood that there were, at times, pressures to ensure that readers were informed of current affairs at the earliest opportunity.

'However, it is also vitally important that descriptions of events, especially trials, are published in a manner which complies with the Editors' Code.

'Describing reactions and behaviour that have not taken place, in a factual manner as if they had, must always raise a breach of Clause 1 of the Code.

'The commission acknowledged that the article which reported the verdict incorrectly had only been published for a short period.

'It also welcomed the swiftness of the newspaper's response and its decision to examine its procedures in light of the events, which had led to changes in the manner in which it would approach similar stories.

'Nonetheless, given the other information in the report, the commission decided to uphold the complaint.

'It trusted that the preparation of future articles would not involve inaccurate descriptions in this way."

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