The Press Complaints Commission has reprimanded the Scottish Sunday Express for publishing a story that intruded on the privacy of the Dunblane school massacre survivors.
About 60 people complained to the Press Complaints Commission about the paper’s 8 March splash, headlined: “Anniversary shame of Dunblane survivors: internet boasts of sex, drink and violence as youngsters hit 18”.
The piece, which has since been removed from the Express.co.uk website, claimed a number of the witnesses in the 1996 school shooting had posted “shocking blogs and photographs” on social networking sites.
The story sparked outrage, with an online campaign demanding disciplinary action against reporter Paula Murray, whose byline appeared on the story, and editor Derek Lambie.
The Scottish Sunday Express argued that the information contained in the story had been publicly accessible on social networking sites, and that the individuals were well-known as they had been named at the time of the shooting.
But it recognised that the tone of the coverage was “ill-judged and unjustified”. The paper published a lengthy apology in March for the “terrible offence” caused by the story.
The PCC said in its ruling today that the breach of the editors’ code of practice was “so serious that no apology could remedy it”.
“They were not public figures in any meaningful sense, and the newsworthy event that they had been involved in as young children had happened 13 years previously,” the PCC said.
“Since then they had done nothing to warrant media scrutiny, and the images appeared to have been taken out of context and presented in a way that was designed to humiliate or embarrass them.
“Even if the images were available freely online, the way they were used – when there was no particular reason for the boys to be in the news – represented a fundamental failure to respect their private lives.
“Publication represented a serious error of judgement on the part of the newspaper.”
Sixteen children and a teacher died on 13 March 1996 when gunman Thomas Hamilton burst into the gym at Dunblane Primary School and opened fire. Hamilton then shot himself.
The massacre led to legislation banning people from owning handguns.
The Sunday Express apology in March read: “Our front-page story about the teenage survivors of the Dunblane massacre and their use of social networking websites has caused terrible offence, not only in that town, but across Scotland and around the world.
“It is our belief that nobody was misquoted, but the story was undeniably inappropriate. It has upset the young people we named and caused great distress to their parents.
“Where possible, we have spoken to the families involved and given them a heartfelt apology. Today we apologise to you, our loyal readers.”
It went on: “Scottish Sunday Express readers expect us to shine a light on the wrongs in our society, to expose the crooks, highlight the hypocrites and to give everyone the odd chuckle with the extraordinary stories that ordinary Scots so often have to tell.
“We think we are pretty good at all that, and everyone involved in producing this newspaper takes pride in what we publish.
“It is also hugely important to us that the Scottish Sunday Express reflects the feelings of the people of Scotland. On March 8 we got that all wrong.”