PCC: Guardian's Duggan headline was misleading

  • IPCC and Met claimed headline was ‘substantially misleading’
  • Readers’ editor acknowledged ‘serious failings’
  • Guardian says error was not the result of neglect or bad faith

A headline on a Guardian story about the shooting of Mark Duggan – an event that helped trigger last year’s riots in London – was misleading and innacurate, the PCC has concluded.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) and the Metropolitan Police Service complained to the PCC that a 19 November article – headlined “Revealed: man whose shooting triggered riots was not armed; Mark Duggan investigation finds he was not carrying gun when killed in Tottenham” – breached of Clause 1 (accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.

The PCC agreed but also found the paper had taken sufficient remedial action over the complaint.

The Guardian article claimed that the IPCC investigation into the death of Mark Duggan on 4 August 2011 found no forensic evidence existed that he had been carrying a gun when he was shot by police. The story also alleged that a gun Duggan had collected earlier that day was recovered between 10 and 14 feet from his body.

The complaints related to the headline and sub-headline, which the Met and IPCC said were ‘substantially misleading and unsupported by either the text of the article or the facts as they were known at the time”.

They argued that the IPCC investigation was in fact ongoing and had not yet established the sequence of events that had led to Duggan’s death – and so the suggestion it had concluded Duggan was not carrying a gun was misleading.

The article was first published online in the evening of 18 November and the IPCC, which had provided comment before publication, contacted the paper within hours of the story going live.

The sub-headline was amended online and in some later print editions to say that there was “no forensic evidence” that Duggan was carrying a gun when he was killed, but the main headline remained unaltered.

After further complaints on 19 November the headline was eventually changed to “New questions raised over Duggan shooting”.

On 26 November the newspaper published a correction and apology in its Corrections & Clarifications column that referred to the headline as “seriously misleading” and accepted that “it [was] wrong to infer that Duggan was unarmed from the fact that the gun was not found on him”.

On 28 November the paper’s readers’ editor Chris Elliott wrote a piece on the editorial process that had led to the headline being published, concluding it had misled readers.

The paper accepted Elliott’s findings ‘but maintained that the error was not the result of neglect or bad faith, as the headline had been given close consideration ahead of publication”.

In its adjudication the PCC said stories relating to Duggan’s shooting were particularly sensitive due to the perception that it was the catalyst for the London riots in August 2011.

‘The headline had wrongly implied that the IPCC had reached a conclusion that Mr Duggan had not been armed at the time of his death,’said the PCC.

‘The terms of Clause 1 (ii) – which require that ‘a significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and – where appropriate – an apology published’ – were therefore engaged.

“The newspaper had taken steps to remedy the error, which included issuing a correction and apology and publishing a critical explanation of its editorial processes by its Readers’ Editor, who referred to ‘serious failings’.

‘The commission considered the adequacy of the remedy the newspaper had provided.”

It also found the newspaper’s delay in addressing the complaint was a ‘matter of regret”, adding: ‘Had it taken full account of the IPCC’s concerns on the evening of 18 November, it would evidently have been in a position to revise the main headline online and in at least some print editions of the newspaper”.

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