ITV West Country – Sandplace Road Report

We have today received the following from ITV West Country:

Dear Ms Colton-Dyer

Thank you for your email to ITV concerning an item broadcast on ITV News West Country on 8 July 2021. I apologise for the delay in responding to it.

The report related to the closure of Sandplace Road in Looe, which resulted from structural damage to a wall that was deemed by Cornwall Council to be unsafe. We were sorry to hear that members of Looe Town Council were unhappy with the report and we therefore wish to assure you that we have reviewed the news item in detail and discussed it with the on-screen journalist reporting on the story, Sam Blackledge, in order to respond to each of your points in turn.

You have confirmed that a number of residents in Looe considered the report to be misleading in that references to “the Council” were believed to have been to Looe Town Council as opposed to Cornwall Council. Within the report, Cornwall Council was the only council to have been mentioned as it is Cornwall Council that is responsible for the maintenance of Sandplace Road, as well as the vast majority of highways within Cornwall. Mr Armand Toms was interviewed by Mr Blackledge in his capacity as Councillor at Cornwall Council and not in his capacity as a member of Looe Town Council. This was made clear by the reporter and in the on-screen credit. We can confirm that Looe Town Council were not referenced within the report and therefore we do not consider the report to have been misleading in this respect.

Mr Elio Rossi was interviewed on air as a “resident” in Sandplace Road. We understand from your email that he does not own a property in the road and was staying in one of the properties temporarily as a holidaymaker. Whilst the report acknowledges the disruption caused by the road closure for “residents and holidaymakers”, the reporter acknowledges that Mr Rossi had previously identified himself as a holidaymaker and that by referring to him as a “neighbour” there was a risk that viewers may have implied he was a permanent resident. ITV and Mr Blackledge offer our apologies for this error.

You have also raised concerns that Councillor Armand Toms was unaware that the 2013 landslide in Sandplace Road, in which a resident sadly lost her life, would be referred to within the report. Mr Toms was asked numerous questions on camera relating to the closure of the road, some of which were included within the final report on West Country News, and some of which were not. Mr Toms was asked by Mr Blackledge whether the Council were more cautious when it came to issues such as the leaning wall, which was the subject of the report, because there had been a history of safety issues within the same road including the 2013 incident that occurred just two houses down from the dangerous wall. Mr Toms freely responded to the question and said, “I think they are being cautious on this because of the impact of the other things that have happened on the road, of course”. This comment was not included within the final report.

We offer our sincere apologies to the residents and to Mr Toms for any distress caused by referring to the tragic incident in Sandplace Road in 2013 and note that our reporters do not seek to “sensationalise” news items, as has been suggested, or refer to previous incidents without sufficient reason to do so. In this case, as the 2013 tragedy occurred just metres away from the new safety concerns with the leaning wall, we consider it to have been editorially justified to query whether the repeated safety issues would impact upon the Council’s cautiousness in Sandplace Road. There was no implication within the report that the wall would cause or had caused a further landslip, or that the cause of the structural issue was the same as the cause of the 2013 incident. However  there was a clear link between the two stories in terms of the safety of residents and road users, and the associated actions of Cornwall Council in the same area of the road.

We understand that there are also concerns that the report suggests that it is the responsibility of the residents who own the adjoining land to maintain the wall. Our reporter undertook various steps to clarify this information, which included liaising with Cornwall Council who stated as follows:

 “We’re putting in place an emergency diversion after an inspection of a privately owned wall on Sandplace Road in Looe raised safety concerns about its structural stability. The council’s building control team has served a dangerous structure notice at the property. Our highways team is putting in place the closure of Sandplace Road and signs for a diversion from July 7. We will continue to monitor the situation with a view to replacing the closure with traffic lights. In the meantime, please follow the signed diversion route. Any issues can be reported by calling 0300 1234 222. Our priority is the safety of residents and road users. We apologise for any delays and will update on progress as soon as we can.”

Councillor Armand Toms was also asked on 8 July whether it was the responsibility of the homeowner to rectify the wall issue and he replied, “Yes, he has been very active and I have got to praise him about what he has done so far. He has a plan in place, he has a design by a local structural engineer, that is today as we speak being looked at by our highways structures team. Once that has a sign-off then that should be enough to allow the works to go forward.”. An attempt was also made to speak with the owner of the property on the day of filming however unfortunately there was nobody in the property to talk to. Had there been additional time, then further attempts would have been made to contact them in order to reflect their views on the issue, however due to there being limited time to deliver the news report this was unfortunately not possible. We therefore consider that Mr Blackledge took steps that were reasonably possible in the time frame to ensure the report was accurate and fair.

We wish to offer our sincere apologies once again for any distress caused to you, Mr Toms and the residents of Sandplace Road as a result of our news report and assure you that it is our priority to ensure that every report is accurate, balanced and does not cause any viewers harm or distress. We hope that this email clarifies the steps that were taken by the ITV West Country team to ensure that the report was fair and accurate taking into account all the relevant circumstances at the time.

Yours sincerely

Jim Stevens

Deputy Head of News