Mail Online failed to sensitively handle a report about an alleged murder victim when it published a “gratuitous” video showing him lying on a blood-stained floor, a press regulator has ruled.
The UK’s most-read website reported on the death of British man John William Jones, who was found dead with a stab wound in his Malaysian home on 18 October last year.
His wife Samantha has been charged with murder and is currently awaiting trial in Malaysia.
In a story headlined “British woman faces the death penalty after ‘stabbing her husband to death during an argument’ in Malaysia”, Mail Online embedded a video from a foreign news website that showed Jones lying on the floor surrounded by blood, with his face and upper body blurred out.
Jones’ son complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the video was gratuitous and breached Clause 4 (intrusion into grief or shock) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.
He said the video was “deeply upsetting” for his family and that there was no justification for publishing the images of his father and the crime scene.
Mail Online apologised for any distress caused by the video, adding that the foreign editor overseeing the story had reviewed and approved a different video but the wrong one had been published by accident.
“It was not able to confirm exactly how the video published became embedded in the article,” the IPSO ruling said.
“Nevertheless, it said that the footage of the victim that was published was heavily pixilated, such as to make the victim unidentifiable.
“It said there were no obvious injuries visible, and that the victim’s face and upper body had been blurred. It said the video was a dispassionate illustration of the scene of a serious crime.”
But IPSO upheld the complaint, saying: “This was not footage showing the aftermath of a major incident, or an event that had taken place in public. Instead, it related to an incident that had taken place inside a home.
“Publishing a video showing gratuitous footage of an alleged murder victim at a crime scene, on a blood-stained floor, represented a failure to handle publication sensitively.”
The Complaints Committee added that the breach was exacerbated by the fact it was published just 12 hours after the incident, and seven hours after the victim’s son was informed.
However IPSO did not uphold a second complaint by the victim’s son that the timing of the article’s publication also breached Clause 4 of the code.
Not all members of the family had been informed of the death by the time of publication and Mail Online did not contact the Foreign Office until several minutes after the article went online.
The committee expressed concern that “no definitive steps had been taken to check if the immediate family had been informed prior to publication” and that the Foreign Office was not contacted until later, but said that “on balance” this did not represent a failure to handle the story sensitively.
A local news article, which contained the same video, was published hours earlier. A police statement was also sent to the media which included the name of the victim.
IPSO also noted its “concern at the two pieces of misinformation” given to the complainant by the publication when he first made contact.
The website initially told him the video it had embedded in the article had not contained footage of his father, claiming this must have been added after publication and that it had no control over this.
It later accepted that it was not possible for the video to be edited by a third party after publication and apologised for the error.
Mail Online also initially claimed the Foreign Office had been contacted before publication, but later acknowledged this was incorrect.
The website has now published an adjudication, which IPSO ordered to appear on the top half of its homepage for 48 hours.