The Yorkshire Evening Post has defended its story showing an image of a sick child forced to sleep on a hospital floor after accusations it was staged.
The regional daily broke news of Jack, 4, who was admitted to Leeds General Infirmary on 3 December with suspected pneumonia but was left waiting for hours as there were not enough beds available.
The JPI Media-owned YEP broke the story online on Sunday morning after Jack’s mother Sarah got in touch. The image then made the front page of the YEP and the Daily Mirror yesterday.
It was also shown to Boris Johnson by an ITV News reporter and resulted in Health Secretary Matt Hancock making an appearance at the hospital.
Posts circulating online have since wrongly claimed the photo of Jack on the floor was staged by his mother who, they claim, put him there and “took photos on her mobile phone and uploaded it to media outlets before he climbed back onto his trolley”.
Most of the posts quote the same spurious source in a “good friend” who is a “senior nursing sister” at the hospital. Some have been shared by Telegraph columnist Allison Pearson and ex-Tory MP Michael Fabricant.
Daniel Sheridan, the YEP reporter who broke the story, tweeted last night to clarify that he had requested and given time for a full response from the hospital before publication “due to the nature of the accusations”.
He noted that the hospital confirmed what had happened in its response, which it has since published in full, and apologised to Jack.
“No story would ever be published by YEP without full verification,” Sheridan said. “This was in no way staged, and highlights the need to check all accusations to avoid any miscommunication.”
James Mitchinson, editorial director of JPI Media’s Yorkshire titles, this morning shared an email he has sent to a reader who had seen some of the fake claims circulating online and questioned the veracity of the story.
The Yorkshire Post editor told her: “Because it is irresponsible – and reckless – to take one person’s word and take it as fact, we immediately checked the veracity of the assertion with the hospital.
“That’s not a boast, by the way, just bog-standard journalism.”
After telling the reader that the claim was confirmed by the hospital, Mitchinson wrote: “So, as you can see, we went to great lengths to establish the story was true and to check that the hospital accepted as much.
“I do not blame you for contacting me as you have done. You are not the only one to have seen the Sheree Jenner-Hepburn Facebook post – amongst thousands of others very similar in nature – and believed it to be true….”
Jenner-Hepburn, a random Facebook user who appeared to have written one of the most widely-shared posts, has since told the Guardian she believes she was hacked and that she does not know anyone in Leeds.
She told PA she had received death threats as a result of being named online as the source.
Mitchinson also told the reader the posts contain no “credible source” and that the words “a good friend of mine” add “warmth and humanity to the post in order to dupe others into believing her words are credible”.
“Margaret, it may well be that those who will benefit the most by breaking the bond of trust you have with the likes of The Yorkshire Post and Yorkshire Evening Post have already won, but I urge you to consider which news source you can get in touch with,” he said.
“Who is willing to look you in the eye and tell you they did their best to get it right versus those who pop on Facebook, spout something so compelling that others share it, and with that undermine the truth and discombobulate decent citizens.”