Decision of the Complaints Committee – 05769-21 Lewis v essexlive.news
Summary of Complaint
1. Dominic Lewis complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that essexlive.news breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock) and Clause 6 (Children) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Billericay girl, 12, tragically takes her own life after 'struggling' with mental health, inquest hears”, published on 24th May 2021.
2. The online article reported on the death of the complainant’s sister, Amira Temani-Lewis. It reported that “[a] 12-year-old Essex girl tragically took her own life after 'struggling' with mental health issues”. The article, which reported on the inquest into the child’s death, said that “[p]olice and ambulance arrived at the scene where CPR was performed on Amira. She was rushed to Basildon Hospital but despite best efforts of hospital staff, she was confirmed dead at 1.50pm, shortly after arrival at the hospital”. The article went on to state that “[t]he court heard that Amira had ADHD, for which she was prescribed medication” and that “[s]he was also a 'young carer' for her mum”. It also reported that the court heard “[w]hen Amira was six years old, she had previously told social service workers that she 'wanted to die'”. The article concluded by stating that the post-mortem examination determined the medical cause of death was “1A hanging”.
3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 as it described Miss Temani-Lewis as a “young carer”, when in fact her mother had carers who came to the home. He also said the article incorrectly reported that his sister died in hospital, when actually she had died before she arrived at the hospital. The complainant further said that it was inaccurate to state that she had ADHD, as she in fact had autism. He also disputed that his sister had struggled for years and said it was therefore inaccurate for the article to state that she was “struggling” and spent “years… battling mental health problems”.
4. The complainant said the article constituted a breach of Clause 2 as the family was given no prior warning that the article was going to be published and they did not consent to the information being shared. He said that this caused upset and affected the family’s mental health. This lack of prior warning, and the publication’s decision to share the article on social media, also amounted, in the complainant’s view, to an intrusion into the family’s grief and shock in breach of Clause 4. It had caused them great upset to see Miss Temani-Lewis’ name and inaccurate information about her published without their permission. The complainant also said that they considered the reference to “1A hanging” to be unnecessary and insensitive. He said this detail caused further upset for the family as they did not wish for the method of suicide to be widely shared. The complainant said that they requested for the publication to remove the article, which it declined to do.
5. The complainant also said that the article constituted a breach of Clause 6 as no permission was sought from the family to name Miss Temani-Lewis, who was twelve years old at the time of her death. He confirmed that the family had not been present at the inquest.
6. The publication said it did not accept that there were any breaches of the Code. It expressed sincere condolences for the complainant’s loss and were sorry to hear that the article had caused the family distress. However, the publication maintained that the article was an accurate report of information given at the inquest, and provided the reporter’s full contemporaneous shorthand notes and a transcript. The publication said that the reporter confirmed that the complainant’s sister was referred to as a young carer throughout the inquest, and the reporter’s notes confirmed this. The publication also said that the article stated that Miss Temani-Lewis was pronounced dead at the hospital, and this was supported by the notes, which recorded the inquest heard she had been “declared dead shortly after arrival at the hospital”.
7. The publication said that the reporter’s notes showed that Miss Temani-Lewis “was on a prescription for ADHD” and that she had “not been taking [her] ADHD medication”. The reporter’s notes also showed that “she received counselling up to dec 2019” and that at the age of six she had said to social workers that she “wanted to die” and had a “history of self harm and suicidal thoughts”. The publication also said that the notes from the inquest showed there were a number of references to Miss Temani-Lewis having been “struggling”: that she had struggled being a carer; that lockdown had added to her struggles; and that she had been struggling at school.
8. The publication said that Clause 2, Clause 4 and Clause 6 had not been breached and that the complainant had not raised any specific issues that engaged these Clauses. It apologised to the complainant if the reference to “1A hanging” had caused any upset or distress but maintained that the publication was entitled to report this, and it did not represent a breach of the Code.
Relevant Code Provisions
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 corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and — where appropriate — an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator.
iii) A fair opportunity to reply to significant inaccuracies should be given, when reasonably called for.
iv) The Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
Clause 2 (Privacy)*
i) Everyone is entitled to respect for their private and family life, home, physical and mental health, and correspondence, including digital communications.
ii) Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual's private life without consent. In considering an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy, account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information and the extent to which the material complained about is already in the public domain or will become so.
iii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals, without their consent, in public or private places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.
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 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.
Findings of the Committee
9. The Committee wished to express their sincere condolences to the complainant and his family for the tragic loss of his sister.
10. The article reported on the inquest into the death of the complainant’s sister, Amira Temani-Lewis. The complainant and his family had not been present at the inquest, so his concerns lay with the accuracy of the information reported about his sister and her situation, rather than the accuracy of the article as a report of what was said at the inquest. The role of the newspaper, however, was to give an accurate account of the evidence given during the course of the inquest; it was not responsible for the accuracy of the evidence itself.
11. The publication had provided contemporaneous shorthand notes taken during the inquest and a transcript of the notes, which showed that the disputed points of fact had indeed been heard at the inquest. The notes demonstrated that the inquest had heard that Miss Temani-Lewis had been a “young carer”; that her death had been confirmed shortly after her arrival at the hospital; that she had been prescribed medication for ADHD; that she had received counselling up until December 2019 and had a “history of self harm”; and was described to have been “struggling” on a number of occasions. In light of the content of the notes, the Committee was satisfied that the publication had been able to demonstrate that it had taken care over the accuracy of its report of what was heard at the inquest. There was no breach of Clause 1(i).
12. Whilst the Committee understood that it was upsetting for the complainant and his family to read the article and that they wished to have been contacted for permission prior to the article being published, the information included in the article had been made public at the inquest. This is a form of court reporting, which is in the public interest. The publication was entitled to report on the information heard at the inquest, as it had been placed in the public domain, and it did not need to seek permission from the complainant or his family to publish it. There was no breach of Clause 2.
13. Clause 4 requires that publication is handled sensitively in cases involving grief or shock and that enquiries and approaches are made with sympathy and discretion. Although reporting on the death of family members can be very upsetting to family and friends, deaths affect whole communities and the obligation to handle publication sensitively does not restrict the right to report on them. The Committee did not consider the article reported on Miss Temani-Lewis’ death in a way that was insensitive and noted that the publication apologised for any distress and upset caused. The Committee noted the complainant’s position that the reference to “1A hanging” was unnecessary and insensitive; however, reporting this detail did not amount to a breach of Clause 4: it reflected the legal record of the cause of death, and while the reference to the numbering was legalistic in tone, it was not insensitive. While the Committee understood the article was upsetting for the complainant and his family, the publication was entitled to report on the inquest and there was no breach of Clause 4.
14. The Committee noted that the complainant had concerns over the naming of Miss Temani-Lewis, who was twelve years old at the time of her death, without gaining permission from her family. Whilst the Committee appreciated the complainant’s concerns and understood the article was distressing, the terms of Clause 6 are not engaged in relation to the deceased.
15. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 25/05/21
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 29/07/21Back to ruling listing