Tabloid vilified after claiming officers 'shot man in the back'

A national tabloid newspaper has been accused of “shameful and dangerous journalism” after its reporters falsely accused officers of shooting a man in the back.

Jan 8, 2019
By Website Editor
PFEW Chair John Apter

Senior policing leaders attacked the mailonline over its lengthy article claiming officers shot a former soldier as he tried to run away. 

They rounded on the sensational article after the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) took the extremely unusual step of revealing its initial finding of body-worn video analysis so early in its investigation – saying the news article was incorrect. 

Sean Fitzgerald, 31, was shot by West Midlands Police officers during a raid at an address in Coventry on Friday evening (January 4). 

The chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW), John Apter, called for the mailonline to say sorry. He has since written to the editor, is in the process of making a complaint to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) and taking legal advice. 

Mr Apter said on Twitter: “A shameful and dangerous piece of ‘journalism’ which undermines the investigation, could fuel public unrest and adds to the grief of the family. 

“This headline has been proved to be wrong by the @policeconduct. An immediate and unequivocal apology is the least I would expect.” 

The online arm of The Daily Mail published an article at 4.34am the day after the shooting, reporting accusations being made by Mr Fitzgerald’s friends who did not witness the incident. 

In its first main paragraph the article said: “An ex-squaddie was killed by police officers after being shot in the back in a ‘drugs bust gone wrong’ during an intelligence-led raid at an address in Coventry.” 

The story was based on claims made by Mr Fitzgerald’s friends, who “found out this had happened from a neighbour”. 

On Saturday (January 5), the IOPC announced it had attended the scene and post-incident procedures, and is carrying out an independent investigation into the shooting. 

At 6.15pm that day, it updated its release to say that having reviewed body-worn video being worn by the officers, “and contrary to reports – there is no indication the man was shot in the back”. 

The mailonline article was updated at 9.12pm but failed to mention the new information from the IOPC. It was not changed until 60 hours after publication and 46 hours after the IOPC statement. 

On Tuesday (January 8), following a post mortem that took place the previous day, the IOPC revealed that Mr Fitzgerald “died after receiving a single gunshot wound to the chest”. 

It added: “We have now verified that a single round was discharged by a firearms officer. Mr Fitzgerald was shot as he emerged from the rear of the property while other officers were gaining entry at the front.” 

The operation involved the execution of a warrant by the West Midlands Regional Organised Crime Unit and West Midlands Police in support of a Warwickshire Police investigation. 

Michelle Core, Daily Mail’s Senior Editorial Compliance Officer, said: “At the time of our original coverage, we included reports by friends and neighbours, making clear our sources, naming them, and how their claims originated. In this context our coverage was contemporaneously accurate.” 

However, the article first paragraph continued to say officers had shot the man in the back 60 hours after it was originally published and 46 hours after the IOPC had refuted this allegation. 

Ms Core adds: “We note the headline included claims in inverted commas to indicate they were taken from a quote and did not represent our opinion, consistent with current press headline practices.” 

However, she did not say why its own copy did not contain inverted commas in the first paragraph. 

We have asked the Daily Mail why this was the case so long after the truth was known, after Police Professional raised this with them and if they will be issuing an apology and instigating disciplinary action against its staff but has received no further response. 

The media outlet was roundly attacked on social media over its claim. 

Protect Our Police (@ProtectRPolice) tweeted: “Fake news from @DailyMailUK is dangerous and only seeks to stir up community tension against British Policing Thankfully the IOPC disclosed early evidence based fact to dispel this papers attempt to create mistrust in our community #FactNotFiction#BuildTrustNotDivision.” 

Graham Wettone  (@grahamwettone) responded to the Daily Mail saying: “Lazy reporting – will you be printing an apology/ retraction as a result of the @IOPC_Help statement confirming he wasn’t shot in the back?”

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