The Press Complaints Commission has upheld a complaint against the Swindon Advertiser for an inaccurate headline written, according to the paper, at a “remote subbing hub”.
The Newsquest paper’s headline falsely claimed that a garage, S & R Motors, was being investigated by Trading Standards after a complaint.
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It reported a woman’s claims that there was a defect with a used car she had bought from the garage and that she was unhappy at being given contradictory accounts by the complainant and another garage about whether it was roadworthy.
S & R Motors said the headline on the 31 January article, “Trading Standards investigate garage”, was inaccurate. It told the PCC that although a referral had been made, it was not being investigated. The garage also denied the woman’s claims that it had behaved “dishonestly or negligently by allowing the customer to drive an unsafe vehicle”.
According to the PCC, the Advertiser did not respond to a request for comments on the complaint initially for 13 days. The Advertiser said that it understood S & R Motors was pursuing legal action. When it emerged that it was not, the article was removed from the Advertiser website.
The PCC said another 42 days passed before the paper provided a “substantive response”.
The Advertiser accepted that the headline was inaccurate and offered to publish a clarification. The newspaper also told the PCC that the inaccurate headline had been written by a sub-editor at its “remote subbing hub”.
The PCC ruled the headline was inaccurate and that it was “unacceptable” for the newspaper not to offer a clarification on the story for two months.
It said: “The Editors’ Code requires publication of a correction or clarification ‘promptly and with due prominence’ once a significant inaccuracy is recognised.
“The power of a remedy is inevitably weakened the longer the original inaccuracy is permitted to remain uncorrected.
“In this instance, the complainants had made the newspaper aware of a straightforward and easily verifiable inaccuracy on the day of publication, which had stemmed from a failure to take appropriate care over the article’s headline.”
It added: “The commission noted that even in the absence of an uncorrected significant inaccuracy, it would have upheld the complaint on the basis of the newspaper’s delay in providing a substantive response to the complaint. The commission was extremely concerned by the deficiencies in the newspaper’s complaints handling process, as exhibited in this instance."
The PCC rejected a further complaint about publication of the garage customer's allegations. The commission noted that the allegations had been put to S & R Motors and their response published.
The PCC said: “It was plain that the condition of the vehicle had not been established. There was no further breach of the code in this regard.”
In 2011, subbing of the Swindon Advertiser moved 30 miles away to Oxford.