PCC: Independent on Sunday failure to include police comment on Raoul Moat story was breach of Editors' Code

The PCC has ruled that the Independent on Sunday failed to adequately report both sides of the story in a report which claimed Northumbria Police failed a policeman who was shot while on duty.

But it did not censure the paper because it said that it had offered the complainant, Northumbria Police, sufficient remedial action. 

The article reported an allegation by the family of PC David Rathband that Northumbria Police had "failed" to protect his welfare after he was shot by Raoul Moat whilst on duty.

The report cited in support of this claim a nine-month delay before PC Rathband received counselling he was promised by the police force, during which time he had tried to take his own life, and also quoted the ghost writer of PC Rathband's autobiography, who said: "David [told] me how he had to buy his own cane – I think that says it all".

The article said Northumbria Police had previously rejected allegations that it failed in its duty of care to PC Rathband but had declined to comment on the day before publication.

Northumbria Police said the report included inaccuracies – including the claim that it had declined to comment – and failed to take proper account of its response to the claims.

The force said that in March 2012 it had issued a statement to the newspaper setting out its position that the delay in providing support had arisen because of PC Rathband's difficulty in accepting that he needed psychological support, his "lifestyle commitments", the need to obtain his consent for access to his medical records and the channelling of correspondence through his lawyers.

Before publication of the article under complaint, the force had provided brief further comment and had confirmed to the newspaper that the 2012 statement "still stood".

In addition, a representative of the force told the reporter in a voicemail in March 2012 that it had bought two canes for PC Rathband. Again, this was omitted.

Merely noting its broad denial was insufficient in this context, the force said.

The newspaper said that, while preparing the article, the reporter sent the force a number of questions about PC Rathband's welfare. It said that the force had replied that it could not comment due to the upcoming inquest and ongoing civil claims.

It said that two years had passed since the alleged telephone message, and that the reporter had no recollection of it. Nonetheless, the newspaper said it offered to publish a wording making clear that "the force maintains that responsibility for the delay lay largely with PC Rathband himself" and that "Northumbria says it purchased canes for [PC Rathband]".

Clause 1 of the Editors' Code requires the press to "take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information", the PCC said in its adjudication.

It went on: "This does not necessarily amount to an obligation to contact those who are the subject of allegations for their comments, but where those allegations are significant, publications will often need to do so in order to test their veracity or to obtain alternative versions of events.

"Once in possession of those comments, the newspaper must consider carefully what to include in the published material. While the code does not impose any obligation on publications to be 'balanced', care must be taken to ensure that readers would not be misled by omission."

It said that when last year the newspaper contacted Northumbria Police for its comments on a number of questions about PC Rathband's welfare, it had not raised the issue of the delay in his receiving counselling or the allegation that he had had to buy his cane himself.

But the newspaper was aware of the 2012 statement outlining the force's detailed response on the delay, and had received confirmation, in response to an inquiry, that the force had not changed its position in this regard.

In its report, the newspaper outlined the delay which occurred before PC Rathband received the treatment, along with comments by a family member implying that the delay arose because of the force's failings.

"This was a serious charge against the force, particularly in the context of PC Rathband's subsequent suicide," the PCC said.

"While the newspaper had not been obliged to include the force's statement in response verbatim, the omission of even minimal outlines of its response on this specific issue – of which the newspaper was aware – in favour of a mere denial of any failings, represented, in the commission's view, a failure to take care not to publish inaccurate or misleading information, because it tended to suggest that the force could not or had not disputed the family's characterisation of the delay. This raised a breach of Clause 1 (i) of the Editors' Code."

Rathband killed himself in February 2012, two years after he was shot in the face and blinded by Moat.

On the allegation that PC Rathband had to buy his own cane, the PCC said: "In the context of the presentation of the allegation, which portrayed this alleged neglect as demonstrating the force's overall treatment of PC Rathband, the Commission considered it significant, and the newspaper's failure to afford the complainant the opportunity to comment on it raised a further breach of Clause 1 (i) of the code.

"The newspaper was therefore required under the terms of Clause 1 (ii) to publish a clarification on these points.

"The commission concluded that the proposed clarification was sufficient to remedy the breaches of Clause 1 (i), and that the newspaper should now publish it in order to avoid a breach of Clause 1 (ii) of the Code."

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