A recent piece in The Guardian showed the power the mainstream media still has to push settlement in legal cases or rectify complaints, particularly where big brands reputations are at stake.
The story, published at the end of last year, explained how a Mr Christopher Seddon, who had been picking up shopping for his elderly mother, was incorrectly identified by a security guard as being the man responsible for the theft of £102 of meat two weeks before. He was arrested by police and taken to the local police station where he was held for over six hours before being charged with theft. Over the next three months he spent £9,600 on legal advice and expert evidence in order to prove his innocence.
Just before his case was due to go to trial the CPS dropped the case due to insufficient evidence. The whole experience was described by Mr Seddon as a ‘nightmare’ and left him seriously out of pocket. He wrote to Waitrose to complain about the actions of the security guard who had claimed he was the thief on flimsy evidence but the supermarket, after two months finally offered him only £500, considering the issue a police matter.
After publication of The Guardian article over 1,100 Guardian readers commented online, with many writing directly to Waitrose’s chief executive to complain. Only a week after publication of the article, Waitrose reached a financial agreement with Mr Seddon that he was reportedly happy with.
The case shows that in situation where there is likely to be public sympathy for the complainant and potential damage to the reputation of the organisation involved, the media can be a powerful tool in gaining redress. In many cases, seeking press coverage risks the danger of prejudicing a legal case or a client may be uncomfortable with the limelight, however in other circumstances such news coverage has the power to elicit apologies, change policies and force the hand of culpable organisations.
Meanwhile Seddon is happy the matter is over. “Without the Guardian this outcome would not have been possible. I hope that the publicity will serve as a wake-up call to retail businesses and security firms that they cannot allow this sort of thing to happen and then attempt to shirk their responsibilities,” he said.