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COMPLAINT TO BBC
A complaint was made to the BBC on 28 June 2017 concerning a report about Shepherds Court on The World Tonight on Radio 4 at 10pm. (The episode is available online.) A response was received on 7 July, which didn't address the detail of the original complaint. A further complaint was made on 18 July and this was upheld on 13 October 2017.
BBC response 7 July 2017
"We understand you felt this report regarding fire safety at Shepherd's Court was misleading, and has caused alarm amongst the residents.The comments made about safety precautions at Shepherd's Court were made by a concerned resident, Annette. She listed additional measures which she considered necessary for her protection, including fire extinguishers and fire doors. Andrew Hosken, our reporter, repeated this list for emphasis. During our report it was nowhere stated that the tower breached safety regulations."
Complaint to BBC made on 18 July 2017
This response contains additional factual errors, and does not respond to the detailed factual complaint I made. The part of the interview I drew your attention to was the comments made by Elizabeth (not Annette) regarding fire extinguishers and fire doors.
The exact words and the way in which they were made and the reaction from the interviewer would have given the overwhelming impression that fire extinguishers should have been installed at Shepherds Court and that there weren't any fire doors in the building. At no point in the remainder of the programme is this view challenged or commented upon. Listeners were not told that London Fire Brigade policy is not to install fire extinguishers, and the wrong assertion about there being no fire doors at Shepherds Court should have been corrected - there are over 120 fire doors opening directly onto common areas, all closed when not in use and inspected frequently.
What "emphasis" did Hosken intend in his repetition other than to sensationalise?
The report may not have stated that the tower breached regulations, but most listeners would have been left with the strong impression the block had no fire doors and was deficient in not having fire extinguishers. This was misleading and likely to cause confusion and alarm among residents of Shepherds Court and other tower blocks. It was inaccurate and sensationalised reporting, and Hosken's intention was deliberate.
BBC response 18 July 2017 15:56
Thank you for contacting us regarding The World Tonight, which went to air on Tuesday 27th June. We understand you're unhappy that we didn't challenge a resident of Shepherds Court when they said there was no fire doors or fire extinguishers, during a report about fire safety.
We would like to apologise for getting the name of the resident wrong in our previous correspondence. However we stand by our original point that our reporter, Andrew Hosken, in no way suggested that the building breaches fire regulations.
BBC response 13 October 2017 upholding complaint
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AB/1700249 13 October 2017
The World Tonight, Radio 4, 27 June 2017
I’m writing to let you know the outcome of your complaint about this edition of The World Tonight. I’m sorry this has taken rather longer than we initially led you to expect.
Your complaint was that an interview with a resident of Shepherd’s Court, a London tower block where there had been a serious fire in August 2016, gave a misleading impression as to the vulnerability of that building to fire. She was introduced thus:
She then stated that the building had no fire doors, no sprinklers and no fire extinguishers. Each of these claims was repeated by the reporter. Although fire safety measures in that building were not the direct focus of the report it seems to me that, given the context was a fire in this particular block of flats, it was important to avoid giving a misleading impression of them. I agree with you that, in fact, a misleading impression was created.
Buildings of that age frequently do not have sprinklers. Some may have been retrofitted with sprinklers but as the relevant official guidance1 in these matters makes clear there is certainly no requirement that sprinklers should be fitted:
Similarly, there is no requirement that fire extinguishers should be provided and, as the guidance makes clear, this is not a straightforward issue:
In both those instances, incomplete information contributed to an impression being created that the building was exposed to unnecessary fire risks. The third claim, there were no fire doors, was simply mistaken. The fact is that in such buildings the front door to each flat is actually a fire door, as are doors giving onto stairwells.
For these reasons, I’m upholding your complaint. I hope you’ll accept my apologies, on behalf of the BBC, for the breach of standards which occurred. A summary of our finding will be published on the BBC Complaints website, along with a summary of any action taken as a result.