The Sun newspaper, which faced an angry backlash for its 'mark of the devil' story featuring a four-year-old-boy, has admitted it "didn't get it right" and failed to protect the child's welfare, despite the fact the boy's parents did not complain.
The exclusive story entitled "BOY, 4, HAS MARK OF DEVIL", was fiercely ridiculed on Twitter and blasted by MPs, who likened the "irresponsible" journalism to child abuse. A petition calling on the old press regulation body, the Press Complaints Commission, to censure the paper was signed by more than 8,900 people.
Critics argued that the story, printed in July, could endanger the child if anyone were to believe he was actually marked by the devil - as happened with eight-year-old Victoria Climbié, killed by her guardians who believed she was possessed by demons.
The front page of the paper
"A sinister Satan sign that mysteriously appeared on a four-year-old boy is proving a devil to explain," the story started, accompanied by a picture of the boy, and his grim-face mother, who spoke of her "horror".
"Just looking at it made me shake thinking something unnatural had visited my boy," the mother said in the piece. "Something or someone made the sign on him but we just can't explain how."
The complaint to the new press complaints body IPSO about the front-page splash was not made by the child, dubbed “Boyelzebub”, or his parents, but by Conservative MP Dr Sarah Wollaston, the first time that the new complaints body has agreed to accept a third-party complaint.
Wollaston said she was concerned the story could encourage others to make similar marks on their children "on the basis that they could receive payment" and complained about references "to the devil and the occult in relation to a clearly identified child".
In a statement set to be published on Page 2 of the paper, the Sun said: "The Sun is proud of our record standing up for children and we believe we make a real difference.
" We have listened to the concerns about a story we ran on 29th July headlined "Boy, 4, has mark of devil" and we accept that, on this occasion, we didn't get it right.
"As a result, we have tightened our procedures on all stories involving children, including the issue of paying parents".
The Sun said the parents had come via a press agency, and had been paid for the story. After meeting Dr Wollaston and the Children's Commissioner for England, the paper admitted there were 'valid issues" with the story.
The paper said that it would ensure the legal and managing editor sign off any all significant stories involving minors, and all payments. Crucially, the paper said it would no longer make payments for images that might improperly impact on the welfare of the child.