Ruling

04394-18 Dayman v Northampton Chronicle & Echo

    • Date complaint received

      21st December 2018

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of adjudication

    • Code provisions

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

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 04394-18 Dayman v Northampton Chronicle & Echo

Summary of Complaint 

1.    Kate Dayman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Northampton Chronicle & Echo breached Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock) and Clause 5 (Reporting of suicide) in an article headlined “Northampton woman dies of caffeine overdose, inquest hears” published on 14 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; the amount of this substance used; what this was mixed with; the approximate cost of the substance; the amount of the substance which constituted a “lethal dose”; and where it had been purchased. It also described the woman’s 999 call, in which she expressed regret at 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, 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 his death. It described the woman as being “single and unemployed”. 

3.    The complainant, who was the woman’s sister-in-law, said that the article breached Clause 5 (Reporting of suicide). She said that the level of detail included in the article made it easy for individuals to understand how they could take their own lives using the method described. She was particularly concerned, because such information was difficult to find online in other sources, due to the relatively unknown method the woman used. 

4.    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 level of detail the article gave about the woman’s symptoms, 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. She also 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. 

5.    The publication accepted that it had fallen short of the expectations of Clause 5 (Reporting of suicide), in terms of the level of detail included in the article about the method used. It said that its local news team had initially thought that this detail would serve as a warning to others, but fully understood that this was mistaken. The publication said that it had been contacted by Samaritans shortly after the article was published, in relation to these concerns, and had therefore removed it from its website within 24 hours of publication. It said that, subsequent to the article’s publication, the publisher had taken steps to improve its staff’s understanding of Clause 5, to avoid a repeat of the incident. Specifically, it had briefed the local news team in relation to the issues arising from the complaint; it had raised the issue formally with all content editors in the region; and it had taken steps to arrange a conference call with a representative of Samaritans for these editors. The publication offered to issue a personal and a public apology to the family, and to publish a tribute to the woman, with full copy approval. 

6.    The publication denied any breach of Clause 2 (Privacy) or Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock). It said that, while it understood the sensitive 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 were reported in a factual manner, without sensationalising the issue. 

Relevant Code Provisions 

7. 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 

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

9.  The purpose of Clause 5 is to prevent the publication of material which might lead to imitative acts. The article had provided extensive details regarding the method of suicide the woman had used, as outlined above. The Committee was concerned that this level of detail had been included, and the details included were sufficient to support an individual, in a number of ways, in engaging in a simulative act. This was concerning when the article related to a relatively unusual method of suicide, as there was a risk of increasing the awareness of this method among the population. The level of detail included in the article was excessive in a number of respects, and this represented a breach of Clause 5 (Reporting of suicide). The Committee noted that it was reassured by the publication’s response to the complaint; the steps it had taken indicated that it appreciated the severity of the breach to the Code in this instance. 

10.  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.  

Conclusions 

11. The complaint was upheld under Clause 5 (Reporting of suicide).  

Remedial action required 

12. Having upheld the complaint under Clause 5, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required. 

13. The publication had published excessive detail regarding the method of suicide, in breach of Clause 5. In these circumstances, the appropriate remedy was the publication of an adverse adjudication. 

14. The article had not appeared in print, and had been online for less than 24 hours, and the Committee noted the considerable steps taken by the publication since the article was published. However, given the severity of the breach, and having considered the layout of the publication’s website, the Committee considered that a link to the adjudication should appear in the top five articles on the publication’s homepage for a period of 24 hours, in the font size standard for items in this location, before being archived in the usual way. The wording of this link should be the same as the headline of the adjudication, which should be agreed with IPSO in advance. 

15. The terms of the adjudication for publication are as follows: 

Kate Dayman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Northampton Chronicle & Echo breached Clause 5 (Reporting of suicide) in an article headlined “Northampton woman dies of caffeine overdose, inquest hears” published online on 14 March 2018. The complaint was upheld, and the Northampton Chronicle & Echo has been required to publish this ruling as a remedy to the breach of the Code. 

The article reported on an inquest into the death of the complainant’s sister-in-law, who had died as a result of an overdose. It described the substance ingested by the woman; the amount of this substance used; what this was mixed with; the approximate cost of this substance; the amount of the substance which constituted a “lethal dose”; and where it had been purchased. 

The complainant said that the article included an excessive level of detail about the method the woman had used, and that this increased the risk of other individuals using the same method. She said this was especially concerning when the method used was relatively unusual, with little information available about it online. 

The publication accepted that it had not acted within the spirit of Clause 5 (Reporting of suicide) and had published an excessive level of detail of the method used. It said that it had been contacted by Samaritans shortly after the article was published, in relation to these concerns, and had therefore removed it from its website within 24 hours of publication. The publication said that, since the article was published, it had taken steps to train its staff in relation to the reporting of suicide. 

The Committee noted that the purpose of Clause 5 (Reporting of suicide) is to prevent the publication of material which might lead to imitative acts. The article had provided extensive details regarding the method the woman had used, as outlined above. The Committee was concerned that this level of detail had been included, and the details included were sufficient to support an individual, in a number of ways, in engaging in a simulative act. This was concerning when the article related to a relatively novel method of suicide, as there was a risk of increasing the awareness of this method among the population. The level of detail included in the article was excessive in a number of respects, and this represented a breach of Clause 5 (Reporting of suicide). The Committee noted that it was reassured by the publication’s response to the complaint; the steps it had taken indicated that it appreciated the severity of the breach to the Code in this instance. 

Date complaint received: 12/07/2018

Date decision issued: 22/11/2018