The Scottish Sunday Express has apologised for the “terrible offence” caused by a front-page story about the teenage survivors of the Dunblane massacre.
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 massacre had posted “shocking blogs and photographs” on social networking sites.
The first two paragraphs of the Scottish Sunday Express story read: “Dunblane survivors have ‘shamed’ the memory of their dead peers with foul-mouthed boasts about sex, brawls and drink-fuelled antics as they reach adulthood.
“A number of the youngsters, now 18, have posted shocking blogs and photographs of themselves on the Internet, 13 years after being sheltered from public view in the aftermath of the atrocity.”
The story sparked outrage, with an online campaign which described the coverage as the low point of the newspaper’s history and called for readers to sign a protest petition demanding disciplinary action against reporter Paula Murray, whose byline appeared on the story, and editor Derek Lambie.
The complaints to the PCC were made under the privacy and accuracy clauses of the Editors’ Code of Practice.
In an article yesterday headlined: “Dunblane, we’re sorry”, the paper said: “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.”
The apology added: “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.”
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.