Decision of the Complaints Committee -- 00285-20 Ratcliffe v kentlive.news
Summary of Complaint
1. Hannah Ratcliffe complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that kentlive.news breached Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock) and Clause 5 (Reporting suicide) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Heartbreaking last text sent by dad found dead in Ramsgate cave” published on 8 January 2020.
2. The article reported on the inquest of a man who had taken his own life. It reported that the man had injured himself and then jumped from a cliff; a member of the public had found a bloodied knife at the top of the cliff. It also reported contents of the texts the man had sent to his family before he died, and the street address of where the man lived with his family.
3. The complainant was the sister-in-law of the man who died. She said that her sister and the wider family were unaware that the man had injured himself before he jumped from the cliff and reading this information in the article had caused them much distress. She also said that it was deeply distressing to read the contents of the texts sent by the man to his family, and to have the street where he lived included in the article. She said that publication of this information constituted a breach of Clause 4. The complainant also said that the article breached Clause 5 because it included information about how the man had injured himself before he jumped from the cliff.
4. The publication expressed its sincere condolences for the complainant’s loss however, it did not accept that the article breached the Code. It said that the article simply reported what had been heard in the inquest. It said that as with all open inquests, newspapers are entitled to report freely on proceedings, even if this is distressing to a family. It said that the article did not give excessive detail of a suicide method. The information about where the man died was heard in the inquest and was a public, easily accessible area. It was not excessive to include the information about how the man injured himself because it was necessary to explain how the coroner was satisfied that the man had taken his own life; the coroner relied upon it to find a verdict of suicide, and to rule out an accidental death. However, as a gesture of goodwill, it offered to write a private letter to the complainant and her family.
Relevant Code Provisions
5. Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock)
In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively. These provisions should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings.
6. Clause 5 (Reporting of suicide)
When reporting suicide, to prevent simulative acts care should be taken to avoid excessive detail of the method used, while taking into account the media's right to report legal proceedings.
Findings of the Committee
7. The Committee expressed its sincere condolences to the complainant and her family for their loss.
8. The Committee recognised that reading a report of a family member’s inquest can be distressing, especially where a person may not have been aware of some of the circumstances of a death, or the fact that information heard at the inquest can be reported, subject to the requirements of the Code. The Committee noted that the requirement that publication is handled sensitively in cases involving personal grief or shock does not restrict the right to report legal proceedings, which include inquests. As well as the proceedings being a matter of public record, there is a public interest in reporting on a death, the circumstances of which affect communities as well as immediate family members.
9. In this instance, the article was a factual report of the inquest proceedings. Reporting information heard at the inquest as to how the man died, the texts he sent to his family before he died, and where he had lived was not insensitive in breach of Clause 4. In relation to Clause 5, the article had reported how the man had injured himself, and this was referred to by the coroner as being a core detail in the narrative of her findings. The Committee considered that this did not constitute excessive detail as to a suicide method; it was apparent that, because of their nature, the actions of the man would have caused him harm, and it was necessary to include this information in the article to fully explain to readers the basis for the coroner’s finding of suicide. For this reason, there was no breach of Clause 5.
10. The complaint was not upheld
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 14/01/2020
Date complaint concluded: 17/04/2020