Ruling

04393-18 Dayman v Gloucestershire Echo

    • Date complaint received

      21st December 2018

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 2 Privacy, 4 Intrusion into grief or shock, 5 Reporting suicide

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 04393-18 Dayman v Gloucestershire Echo

Summary of Complaint 

1.    Kate Dayman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Gloucestershire Echo breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock) and Clause 5 (Reporting of suicide), in an article headlined “Birthday visit ended with tragic death of Deborah, 39”, published on 15 March 2018. 

2.    The article was a report of an inquest into the death of a woman who had died as a result of an overdose. It described the substance ingested by the woman, and stated that ingesting a high level of this substance “can be fatal”; it also described the concentration of this substance in her blood. It described the woman’s 999 call, in which she expressed “second thoughts” about her attempt, and the location in which paramedics found her on arrival. The symptoms she experienced after the overdose and details of the treatment she received were described in detail, including the details of the time and ultimate cause of her death. The article included extensive comments made by the coroner at the inquest, including details of the woman’s visit to her parents, and the family’s whereabouts at the time of the incident. It also reported that the coroner had said that “’they had a party for [the woman] on August 6’”. It also said that the woman “who was single and unemployed, had been formally identified by photographs supplied by her mother [name]”. 

3.    The article appeared in substantially the same format online, under the headline “Caffeine overdose kills woman with history of mental health problems who ‘changed her mind’ over suicide”. This article was published on 13 March 2018. This article included contact information aimed at individuals considering suicide. 

4.    The complainant, who was the woman’s sister-in-law, said that the article breached Clause 5 (Reporting of suicide). She said that the woman had used a relatively unknown method of suicide, and that the article had increased the likelihood of simulative acts occurring by describing the substance used, and the levels of this substance in her blood. She said that it was common knowledge that some substances, ingested in excess, could be fatal – but this was not the case for the substance in question, the effects of which were not widely known. The complainant also said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy): no birthday “party” had taken place, and this gave a misleading impression of the woman; in addition, she had been identified by her brother, rather than her mother. 

5.    The complainant also said that the article included a level of detail of the circumstances of the woman’s death that was intrusive and insensitive, in breach of Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock). She said that the article had been published before the family was aware of the outcome of inquest, which was insensitive. The complainant also said that the level of detail the article gave about the woman’s symptoms, her 999 calls, and where she was found by paramedics, was deeply distressing. In addition, the complainant said that the article’s characterisation of the woman as “single and unemployed” diminished her life and accomplishments in an insensitive manner. In addition, she said that the inclusion of the details of the woman’s symptoms and treatment, and details of the family’s movements, including a visit to a relative in hospital, was intrusive into their private lives. 

6.    The publication denied any breach of Clause 5 (Reporting of suicide). It said that the terms of Clause 5 related to the excessive detail of the “method” used; reporting only the substance used did not therefore constitute excessive detail. The publication said that including the level of this substance in her blood did not indicate how much of the substance had been ingested, such as would support any simulative acts.  

7.    The publication denied any breach of Clause 2 (Privacy) or Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock). It said that, while it understood the distressing nature of the material published, the article was a report of a public inquest; all the details contained in the article had been made public at the inquest, and it was entitled to report on them. 

8.    The publication denied any breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) with respect of the claim that a “party” had been held to celebrate the woman’s birthday: a ‘celebration’ had been referred to at the inquest, and witnesses had described ‘a really enjoyable birthday’. In these circumstances, it said, the use of the term “party” was not significantly misleading. However, the publication had immediately accepted that it was inaccurate to state that the woman had been identified by photos provided by her mother. It therefore offered to publish the following clarification on page 2: 

The article ‘Birthday visit ended with tragic death of Deborah, 39’, 15 March 2018, which reported the inquest into the death of Deborah Frayling, suggested that Deborah’s body was identified by photographs provided by her mother. We are happy to clarify that Deborah’s body was identified by photographs provided by her brother. 

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 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. 

Clause 2 (Privacy)*

i) Everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, 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 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 

10. The Committee expressed its sincere condolences to the complainant and her family for their loss. 

11. There is a public interest in reporting cases of suicide. The purpose of Clause 5 is to prevent the publication of material which might lead to simulative acts. The article had named the substance the woman had used in her suicide attempt, and indicated that this had been the cause of her death; it had also included the concentration of this substance in her blood. 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. Furthermore, the details included in the article helped to explain the coroner’s finding that the woman appeared to have changed her mind about taking her own life. While the Committee understood the complainant’s concern that the substance used was relatively unknown 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. The Committee commended the steps taken by the publication to remove details which could lead to simulative acts, and the inclusion of information about where people with suicidal thoughts could seek help.  

12. The Committee acknowledged that the details included in the article were deeply distressing for the complainant and her family. However, Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock) explicitly states that its provisions “should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings”, and inquests are held in public; the information revealed during proceedings is therefore already in the public domain, and is not private to the family of the deceased. In choosing to publish this information, the publication had not sought to mock or belittle the circumstances of the woman’s death, and the article was a factual account of the information heard at the inquest. Reporting the details of the woman’s death in a factual manner was not insensitive in such a way as to breach Clause 4. In addition, reporting on the details heard in the public proceedings did not intrude on the family’s privacy, and there was no breach of Clause 2 on this point. In relation to the complainant’s concern about the timing of the article’s publication, it was not in dispute that the article had been published after the conclusion of the inquest. While it was unfortunate that the family had not been made aware of the outcome at this time, the publication was not obliged to seek confirmation of whether any relevant authority had informed them, when the proceedings had already been conducted and concluded publicly. Publishing the details heard at the inquest, after its conclusion, did not represent a breach of Clause 2 or Clause 4. 

13. In relation to the concerns raised under Clause 1 (Accuracy), the Committee did not consider that it was significantly misleading to refer to a “party” having taken place; this claim was attributed to the coroner in the article, and the complainant was not in a position to dispute that this word had been used. In any event, it was not in dispute that a “celebration” had occurred, and the Committee did not consider that characterising this as a “party” gave rise to any misleading impression. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point. The reference to the woman’s mother identifying her was accepted to be inaccurate, and the Committee acknowledged the importance of accurately reporting inquest proceedings. However, in the context of an article which focused on the events surrounding the woman’s death, the Committee did not consider that this represented a significant inaccuracy such as would require correction; this was not a claim to which any significance was attached in the piece. Nevertheless, it welcomed the publication’s immediate offer to clarify this point, should the complainant wish this to be printed.

Conclusions 

14. The complaint was not upheld.  

Remedial action required 

15. N/A

Date complaint received: 12/07/2018

Date decision issued: 22/11/2018