Decision of the Complaints Committee – 01828-20 Coates v bucksfreepress.co.uk
Summary of Complaint
1. Jane Coates complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the bucksfreepress.co.uk breached Clause 5 (Reporting of suicide) in an article headlined “Devastated family of bright 17-year-old from Marlow who took his own life remember his 'irreplaceable spark and kindness'", published on 11 September 2019.
2. The article reported on the inquest of a man who had taken his own life. It reported information heard during proceedings as to the circumstances of the death, as well as including a tribute from the man’s family. It also reported that the coroner found that the man had died after having “ingested a toxic substance” and gave the chemical name of this substance.
3. The complainant, the mother of the man who died, said that the article breached Clause 5. She said that by reporting the name of the substance that her son used to take his life, the article included excessive detail of an “emerging” method of suicide and could lead to simulative acts. She was very concerned that the information appeared to have been picked up by a third party website which “glamorised” her son’s death; the possibility that the article under complaint could lead to simulative acts had caused her and her family much distress.
4. The publication offered its condolences to the complainant and her family for their loss but did not accept that the article breached Clause 5. It said that it had taken steps to avoid including excessive detail as to the suicide method used, for example by not including the quantity of the substance that the man used to take his own life, or the concentration of the substance which was present in his blood. It said that the substance was only fatal when taken in relatively large quantities. The publication also noted that Clause 5 recognised the media’s right to report legal proceedings, and where the cause of death was officially registered as [named substance] toxicity, it was necessary to name this substance in order to accurately record the cause of death. It said that there was a public interest in reporting on the inquest and its findings, and that the reporter worked with the family via a family counsellor to provide a photograph and tribute to be included in the article. It also said that it had referred to guidance from IPSO and the Samaritans in reporting the death and included contact details for the Samaritans at the end of the article. Finally, although the publication understood the complainant’s concern at the content of articles which may have appeared on other websites, this was out with its control, and it did not mean that the article under complaint constituted a breach of the Code.
Relevant Code Provisions
5. 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
6. The Committee expressed its sincere condolences to the complainant and her family for their loss.
7. The Committee noted the complainant’s concern at the reporting of her son’s death on third party websites. However, the Committee was only able to make findings on the article under complaint.
8. There is a public interest in reporting cases of suicide, and a requirement under the Code to do so accurately. The purpose of Clause 5 is to prevent the publication of material which might lead to simulative acts, balanced with the media’s right to report on legal proceedings. The article had named the substance that the man had ingested and recorded that this was the coroner’s verdict as to the medical cause of death. However, the article did not include any details which might support an individual in carrying out a simulative act, such as the amount of substance required, the preparation of the substance, and how the substance could be obtained or administered. While the Committee understood the complainant’s concern that the substance used was relatively infrequent as a method of suicide, it did not consider that the article contained “excessive detail” about this method. There was no breach of Clause 5.
9. The complaint was not upheld
Remedial Action Required
Date received: 17/03/2020
Date completed by IPSO: 11/06/2020Back to ruling listing