'Do not believe a stranger on social media who disappears into the night' - An open letter from our editor to you

A recent story featuring the mother of a young boy who had a traumatic experience at Leeds General Infirmary has been the subject of a number of complaints to our newsroom.
The picture of Jack which has been shared widely across the internet in recent days. Credit: Sarah WillimentThe picture of Jack which has been shared widely across the internet in recent days. Credit: Sarah Williment
The picture of Jack which has been shared widely across the internet in recent days. Credit: Sarah Williment

The story in question features a mother who contacted our sister title the Yorkshire Evening Post and provided them with a picture of her son, Jack, sleeping on the floor of the hospital due to a lack of beds. You can read that story here.

It has been picked up by politicians, national media and social media users and led to a series of allegations being made towards his mother and our journalists, as well as causing a great deal of confusion to the general public.

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Among those to contact us was a woman by the name of Margaret, a loyal reader of The Yorkshire Post, expressing her disappointment over the story, which she described as a "set up".

Our editor, James Mitchinson, has replied to her and, as so many people have been raising similar issues, we have decided to publish his reply as an open letter.

Here is his reply in full:

Margaret (forgive my using your first name but I am loath to guess at your title for fear of getting it wrong).

Thank you for your email and thank you for being one of our loyal weekend readers. So much time, effort and talent goes into putting the weekend package together that it is always nice to know there are people out there who value it.

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Forgive my doing this, but I do feel it is important to respond as you would expect me to as the editor of one of the most trusted newspapers in the country.

The story was first published by the Yorkshire Evening Post after the mother - Sarah - contacted us directly;

Because it is irresponsible - and reckless - to take one person's word and take it as fact, we immediately checked the veracity of the assertion with the hospital. That's not a boast, by the way, just bog-standard journalism;

The hospital itself confirmed the set of circumstances you read in our story were and are correct;

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The Chief Medical Officer for Leeds Teaching Hospitals - Dr Yvette Oade - accepted the situation had occurred and offered an explanation as to why. The principal reason given for what happened to Jack was demand outstripped capacity. They were overrun;

The Chief Executive, Julian Hartley, confirmed their ordeal had taken place. He offered a personal apology to Sarah and to Jack whilst backing the staff at LGI who are absolutely giving their all, but cannot cope with the sheer number of people needing their help.

So, as you can see, we went to great lengths to establish the story was true and to check that the hospital accepted as much. I do not blame you for contacting me as you have done. You are not the only one to have seen the Sheree Jenner-Hepburn Facebook post - amongst thousands of others very similar in nature - and believed it to be true. What we are dealing with is quite simply: a very poorly little boy in a place that cannot give him the care he needs and as a result a mother reaching out for help. They are the ones that really matter, here.

As I say, I am not surprised you have been misled by that post. But, if you'll bear with me, I offer you this:

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That account has now disappeared. Our accounts are still here and you can hold me and my journalists to account;

You have no way of holding Sheree to account, nor checking her words. She's a stranger to you. You don't even know if it is a real person, so why do you trust her claim over the newspaper you've taken for years, in good faith?;

Sheree - robot or human - did not offer a credible source. The words a 'good friend of mine' adds warmth and humanity to the post in order to dupe others into believing her words are credible. They are not, as far as anyone can tell. I attach below a screengrab of multiple accounts who also claim to have a 'good friend' at LGI. It simply isn't credible or true. Again, the words are manufactured very carefully and cynically in order to mislead;

I also attach for your interest several accounts claiming to be 'a former paediatric nurse' - the accounts are fakes. All make the same claim, using the same wording.

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Margaret, it may well be that those who will benefit the most by breaking the bond of trust you have with the likes of The Yorkshire Post and Yorkshire Evening Post have already won, but I urge you to consider which news source you can get in touch with. Who is willing to look you in the eye and tell you they did their best to get it right versus those who pop up on Facebook, spout something so compelling that others share it, and with that undermine the truth and discombobulate decent citizens.

I would be more than happy to meet you over a coffee or such to offer you an explanation as to how sophisticated and corrosive the proliferation of fake news is, and what you can do to guard against being conned by it. Only - of course - if that is not patronising (I absolutely do not mean it to be) and welcome. However, if you no longer trust your Yorkshire Post - and I will be frustrated and disappointed if these people had wrecked your confidence in this historic champion for the county - contact the hospital directly. Whatever you do, do not believe a stranger on social media who disappears into the night.

Very best wishes to you and your family ahead of the festive period.