Decision of the Complaints Committee 05949-17 Glister-Byers v Newcastle Chronicle
Summary of complaint
1. Lucy Glister-Byers complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Newcastle Evening Chronicle breached Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock) and Clause 5 (Reporting suicide), of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Gosforth man Alex Byers whose body was found in River Tyne took his own life, coroner rules”, published on 11 April 2017.
2. The article reported the inquest into the complainant’s brother’s death. The article reported that police officers made inquiries with the complainant’s brother’s friends and family, and were informed that he “may have been depressed and suffered from low mood swings”, and that he “may not have taken the news of his [father’s] illness well”. The article also reported that he “was involved in online gambling and was believed to have some debts”. It also included a picture of the victim, and a picture of the bridge where it was believed that he took his own life.
3. The complainant said that the information reported in the article was excessive. The complainant also said that the reference to her brother’s method of suicide, and the inclusion of his picture alongside a picture of the bridge where he died, was distasteful. Further, the complainant said that the newspaper had failed to treat her with sensitivity whilst speaking to her over the telephone, and because it did not respond to her initial email.
4. The newspaper apologised that the article had upset the complainant and her family, however it did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that the article reported information heard at the inquest, and that it took care both to avoid excessive detail and to handle publication sensitively. The newspaper said that including a photograph of the bridge did not amount to a failure to handle publication of the story sensitively, and that it is standard procedure to use such pictures for illustrative purposes. It noted that the bridge was a well-known landmark.
5. Further, the newspaper said that it did not fail to treat the complainant sensitively during telephone conversations. It apologised for failing to respond to her initial email complaint and said that this had been overlooked in error. In response to the complaint, the newspaper amended the article to remove the reference to the complainant’s father’s illness, and removed the photograph of the bridge. The newspaper also offered to write a private letter of apology to the complainant.
Relevant Code provisions
6. 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
7. The Committee wished to extend its condolences for the family’s loss.
8. The terms of
Clause 4 acknowledge the press’ right to report legal proceedings, such as
inquests, and requires that in cases of personal grief or shock, publication is
handled sensitively. The article reported a short, factual description of the
circumstances of the complainant’s brother’s death, based on CCTV footage shown
at the inquest. The newspaper was entitled to report the evidence heard at the
inquest, provided it did so sensitively. Whilst the Committee acknowledged that
the complainant found this distressing to read, it was satisfied that the
newspaper reported the evidence in a manner which was sensitive. There was no
breach of Clause 4.
9. The Committee also acknowledged that publication of the picture of the bridge had caused the complainant concern. The image did not depict the method of suicide, but illustrated the location of the incident. The Committee did not consider that publication of the picture represented excessive detail of the method used, and there was no breach of Clause 5.
10. Although a breach of the Code was not established, the Committee welcomed the newspaper’s response to the complainant.
11. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial action required
Date complaint received: 11/04/2017
Date complaint concluded: 01/06/2017
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