Decision of the Complaints Committee – 01779-21 Evison v yorkshirepost.co.uk
Summary of Complaint
1. Jessica Evison complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that yorkshirepost.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 3 (Harassment), Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock), Clause 5 (Reporting of suicide), Clause 6 (Children) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) in an article headlined “North Yorkshire sheep farmer whose partner died by suicide speaks out on mental health crisis in the industry”, published 18 February 2021.
2. The article reported on a “’mental health epidemic’” in agriculture and stated that a recent survey by a charity had found “that 88[%] of farmers under the age of 40 rank poor mental health as the biggest hidden problem facing farming today". It focused on one case of a woman “who [had] lost her partner to suicide” in 2019 after he had struggled “with depression”. The article also stated that he had been “diagnosed with depression shortly before he died” and that “she had been caring for him” at this time.
3. The complainant, the mother of the man who died, said the article was inaccurate in reporting that her son had “died by suicide”. There was still an ongoing investigation into the cause of death and the inquest was yet to be held. The complainant also said it was inaccurate to claim that her son had “struggled” with depression. Whilst she accepted that he had been diagnosed with depression a short time before his death, this did not constitute a struggle. She also said that the article misleadingly implied that her son’s partner had been a full-time carer. The complainant also said that the article breached Clause 3 because it led to her family being contacted by members of the public; Clause 4 because it had caused distress and was lacking compassion; and, Clause 5 as it was inaccurate as to her son’s cause of death. Further, she said the article breached Clause 6 as it related to her child and, Clause 12 as it discriminated against her son who, she said did not have a mental illness, as well as against people suffering from mental health problems.
4. The publication did not accept it had breached the Code. It said that its story had been based on a press release by a mental health charity, which presented the case of the complainant’s son and his surviving partner as one of its case studies. It said it had then interviewed the woman who had told her story and recorded her account of the life and death of her partner in good faith. It emphasised that she had a right to speak out about his death; the fact that the complainant disagreed with her account did not made it inaccurate.
5. The reporter was told the method of suicide but had removed this detail and the son’s name to ensure the article was compassionate. The journalist had also corroborated the fact that the son had died by checking an online obituary and funeral notice; neither source of information contradicted the notion that the son had died from suicide and the funeral notice encouraged donations to a mental health charity. It said this constituted due care not to publish inaccurate information with regard to reporting the complainant’s son’s cause of death. In any event, it said that the disputed claim could not be significantly inaccurate where no finding had yet been made by the coroner on this point. During IPSO’s investigation, it also provided confirmation from the police that the death was not treated as suspicious and that there was currently no active police investigation into the death.
6. Nonetheless, on becoming aware of the complainant’s concerns, the publication removed the article. It also offered to publish a statement from the complainant when it covered her son’s inquest.
7. The complainant did not accept these actions as a resolution to her complaint.
Relevant Code Provisions
8. Clause 1 (Accuracy)
i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.
ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be correction, promptly and with due prominence, and –where appropriate– an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator.
9. Clause 3 (Harassment)
i) Journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit.
ii) They must not persist in questioning, telephoning, pursuing or photographing individuals once asked to desist; nor remain on property when asked to leave and must not follow them. If requested, they must identify themselves and whom they represent. iii) Editors must ensure these principles are observed by those working for them and take care not to use non-compliant material from other sources.
10. 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.
11. 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.
12. Clause 6 (Children)
i) All pupils should be free to complete their time at school without unnecessary intrusion.
ii) They must not be approached or photographed at school without permission of the school authorities.
iii) Children under 16 must not be interviewed or photographed on issues involving their own or another child’s welfare unless a custodial parent or similarly responsible adult consents.
iv) Children under 16 must not be paid for material involving their welfare, nor parents or guardians for material about their children or wards, unless it is clearly in the child's interest.
v) Editors must not use the fame, notoriety or position of a parent or guardian as sole justification for publishing details of a child's private life.
13. Clause 12 (Discrimination)
i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's, race, colour, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.
ii) Details of an individual's race, colour, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.
Findings of the Committee
14. The Committee first wished to express its sincere condolences to the complainant for her loss, and empathised with the profound distress and heartbreak the family had endured.
15. Whilst the disputed claim was presented as a statement of fact, the context around it was a story that was clearly based on the account of the woman, who was presented by a registered charity as a case study of someone who had lost their partner to suicide. The article had been presented as her story, illustrating broader concerns about mental health in the farming community. The story made no reference to an inquest nor implied that there had been an official finding about the cause of death. Further, the publication had taken steps to corroborate her claims, including checking publicly available information about the death. In this context, the Committee concluded that it had taken adequate care over the accuracy of the claim. There was no breach of Clause 1(i).
16. There was no official cause of death at the time of writing. The police had confirmed the death was not being treated as suspicious, that the case had been passed to a coroner, and that an inquest was yet to be held. In circumstances where the complainant’s son had not been named; the article had related the woman’s account of her experiences; and it did not imply that there had been an official finding as to the cause of death, the Committee did not identify any significant inaccuracy or misleading statement requiring correction under Clause 1(ii).
17. The complainant had accepted that her son had been diagnosed with depression, however she said he had not “struggled” with this for a long period. The article made no claim as to exactly how long the son had suffered from mental health nor did it make a claim of fact as to the extent of those issues. The disputed claim appeared in the context of the partner’s own personal account of the tragedy. The claim that the complainant’s son had been “diagnosed” and “struggled” with depression did not constitute a failure to take care not to publish inaccurate information, nor did it give rise to a significant inaccuracy or misleading statement. There was no breach of Clause 1.
18. The article had stated that the complainant’s son’s partner “had been caring for him” before he died. The Committee did not agree that this implied that she had been a full-time carer; it made no claim as to the extent of care she provided. This reference did not breach Clause 1.
19. Clause 3 generally relates to the way journalists behave when researching a news story and is meant to protect people from being repeatedly approached by the press against their wishes. Concerns about the behaviour of members of the public, as distinct from concerns which related directly to the content of the article or the conduct of a newspaper employee, were not a matter for IPSO.
20. The article was a report on the complainant’s son’s mental health and death, as well as the experience of his surviving partner. The Committee acknowledged that the complainant had found the article distressing and strongly disputed the woman’s account of the events surrounding the complainant’s son’s death. Nonetheless, the article did not insult the deceased; it included minimal details about the cause of death and focused on the issue of mental health in farming more broadly. The publication of the article was handled sensitively within the meaning of Clause 4. There was no breach of this Clause.
21. In order to prevent simulative acts, Clause 5 prohibits the inclusion of excessive detail about the method of suicide used in any given case. The article did not mention the method of suicide. Clause 6 relates to intrusions into a specific child’s time at school, approaches to children and the publication of material relating to their welfare and private life. Its protection extends to children under 16 or under 18 but in full-time education. The complainant’s son was aged 19 at the time of the incident reported on. Clause 12 is designed to protect specific individuals mentioned by the press from discrimination based on their race, colour, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation or any physical or mental illness or disability. It does not apply to groups or categories of people. Whilst the son’s mental health was referenced, such references were neither pejorative nor prejudicial. Further, the references to the son’s mental health were genuinely relevant to the story, where the story centred on mental health and suicide in farming. For these reasons, there was no breach of Clause 5, Clause 6, or Clause 12.
22. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 18/02/2021
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 12/08/2021Back to ruling listing