Decision of the Complaints Committee 04850-19 Young v Teesside Live
Summary of Complaint
1. Emma Young complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Teesside Live breached Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock) and Clause 5 (Reporting of suicide) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “’Ellie fell into the darkness – and I heard a thud’: Dangling teen lost grip and plunged 150ft” published on 18 June 2019.
2. The article was a report of the complainant’s daughter’s inquest. The article reported the height and name of the local viaduct that the complainant’s daughter fell from, and reported that she had accessed the viaduct through local woods. This was partly illustrated by a photograph of the viaduct. It reported that the inquest heard that a friend had found the complainant’s daughter sitting on the edge of the viaduct – when the complainant’s daughter took hold of a metal railing at the top of viaduct, the friend grabbed hold of her wrist and jumper to try and restrain her. The article reported that the complainant’s daughter had “dangled” for a minute over the edge of the viaduct whilst her friend kept hold of her wrist. However, the article reported that the friend told the inquest that “I had to let go” and “[Complainant’s daughter] fell into the darkness – and I heard a thud”.
3. The article also reported the details of the complainant’s daughter’s post-mortem, and information about her mental health history. It also reported what was heard during the inquest about difficulties in the complainant’s daughter’s romantic relationship.
4. The complainant said that the article breached Clause 5 as it included a level of detail as to her daughter’s method of suicide that was excessive and could enable simulative acts. She said that she was not previously aware how the viaduct could be accessed – she said that the inclusion of the photograph, reporting that her daughter had walked through the woods and along the railway track, and then explaining how she climbed across the iron railing and sat on the edge, revealed that a jump was possible, and would almost certainly end a person’s life.
5. The complainant also said that the article breached Clause 4. She said that she understood that publications were free to report inquest proceedings, but that the headline reference to the “thud” that her daughter made when she fell was extremely distressing to her family, as was the article’s focus on her daughter’s relationships. Likewise, she said that the description of her daughter as a “dangling teen” was sensational and insensitive, and noted that these words were not heard during the inquest.
6. The publication did not accept that it had breached the Code; however it recognised that the article had caused the complainant and her family distress. It said that in relation to Clause 5, reporting the location of a death or how to access it did not constitute detail of a suicide method – any place which was high up was clearly potentially dangerous. It said that detailing how to get to a place did not constitute detail as what to do next. In relation to Clause 4, it said that the references to “thud” and the complainant’s daughter’s relationships were quotations from the inquest; it was entitled to quote freely from proceedings. In relation to the description of the complainant’s daughter as a “dangling teen”, it said that this was an accurate summary of the complainant’s daughter’s friend’s inquest statement, in which she explained how she had held on to the complainant’s daughter’s arm for approximately a minute as she was suspended from the viaduct. It said that although there was no intention to cause upset, the facts of the complainant’s daughter’s death, as told by her friend during the inquest, were upsetting in itself; simply accurately summarising this could not be described as insensitive or gratuitous. It noted that the article was removed by the publication after it was contacted by the complainant directly as a gesture of goodwill, and offered to write her a private letter of apology if this would resolve her complaint.
Relevant Code Provisions
7. 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.
Clause 5* (Reporting 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
8. The Committee expressed its sympathies to the complainant, and recognised the distressing circumstances surrounding this complaint.
9. The Committee considered that location may constitute a detail of the method of suicide. In this case, where the location of death was central to the method of suicide, Clause 5 was engaged. The report of the incident did not include a level of detail which was excessive given that, without reading the article, readers would understand that jumping from an extreme height could be fatal. The additional details highlighted by the complainant, including how her daughter reached the viaduct and that she had climbed over the viaduct railings, did not constitute excessive detail in breach of Clause 5.
10. Clause 4 requires that publication is handled sensitively in reporting cases involving grief or shock. Although reporting evidence heard during an inquest can be very upsetting to families or friends, deaths affect whole communities and the obligation to handle publication sensitively does not restrict the right to report legal proceedings including inquests. The word “thud” was a direct quote from evidence heard at the inquest, as were the published details about the complainant’s daughter’s relationship. There was no breach Clause 4.
11. The description of the complainant’s daughter as a “dangling teen” was not a direct quote from evidence heard at the inquest, and the Committee recognised that this had the potential to cause distress to the complainant. The inquest had heard distressing testimony about the events leading up to the complainant’s daughter death and the Committee considered that the description in the headline was justified as a summary of this testimony. The article did not go beyond what was heard at the inquest, and did not mock or belittle the complainant’s daughter. There was no failure to handle publication sensitively, and no breach of Clause 4.
12. The complaint was not upheld.
Date complaint received by IPSO: 20/06/2019
Date decision issued: 13/11/2019