Ruling

12061-22 The family of Matthew Lavin v liverpoolecho.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      11th October 2023

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

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

Decision of the Complaints Committee 12061-22 The family of Matthew Lavin v liverpoolecho.co.uk


Summary of Complaint

1. The family of Matthew Lavin complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that liverpoolecho.co.uk breached Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock) and Clause 5 (Reporting of Suicide) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Young man found dead after teens spot water bottle on path”, published on 21 September 2022.

2. The article – which appeared online only – reported on the opening of the inquest into Matthew Lavin’s death, which had been adjourned to a later date. It reported that Mr Lavin had been found under Pontcysyllte aqueduct, and included the height of the structure. It reported that the inquest “heard that the provisional cause of death given […] following a post-mortem examination was multiple injuries, including a fractured spine, consistent with a fall from the aqueduct”. The article concluded by reporting when the aqueduct was constructed and who designed it, and that it was “the longest [aqueduct] in Britain and the highest in the world” and “designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site” in 2009.

3. The article was accompanied by an aerial photograph of the aqueduct and included Mr Lavin’s street-level address.

4. The complainants said the article breached Clause 5, as they considered the level of detail given about the method of suicide was excessive and could enable simulative acts. The complainants said that the aqueduct was a “well-known” location for suicide and suggested that the article romanticised and glamourised it.

5. The complainants also said that the level of detail about circumstances of Mr Lavin’s death included in the article was intrusive and insensitive, in breach of Clause 2 and Clause 4. The complainants said that the level of detail the article gave about the injuries was deeply distressing, and that the family had not yet themselves received a copy of the post-mortem report. The complainants also expressed concern that the article included Mr Lavin’s street-level address.

6. The publication expressed its condolences for the complainants’ loss, however, it did not accept that the article breached the Code. It denied that the article reported – or suggested – that the man died by suicide. It also denied that the terms of Clause 5 were engaged: the article reported on the opening hearing of the inquest and no verdict had yet been recorded by the coroner. In any event, the publication did not accept that the article contained “excessive” details as defined by the terms of Clause 5. The article did not disclose any novel cause of death or reveal an unknown or undisclosed location; the aqueduct was world famous and readers would understand that falling from such an extreme height would be fatal. However, in light of the complainants’ concerns, the publication offered to remove the height of the structure from the online article.

7. The publication said that as with all open inquests, newspapers are entitled to report freely on proceedings, even if this is distressing to a family. It said that no approaches were made to the complainants and the information within the article – including the details concerning the man’s injuries and the provisional cause of death given by the pathologist – had been heard in the inquest.

8. In July 2023, ten months after the publication of the article and the complaint being made to IPSO, the complainants informed IPSO that a verdict of suicide was recorded by the coroner.

Relevant Clause Provisions

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 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

9. The Committee wished to express its sincere condolences to the complainants for their loss.

10. The Committee was clear: a formal verdict by a coroner was not required for the terms of Clause 5 to be engaged, and care should also be taken to avoid excessive details of the method used where there is a suspected suicide or an attempted suicide. The Committee also noted that location may constitute a detail of the method of suicide. In this instance, where the article reported on the opening hearing of the inquest for a death where suicide was a possible outcome and where the location of death was central to the method of suicide, the Committee considered that the terms of Clause 5 were engaged.

11. While the Committee acknowledged that the publication of the article had caused the complainants concern and upset, it did not consider that the article contained a level of detail of the method used that was excessive, to the extent that there was a risk of simulative acts: it is widely understood that falling from an extreme height would be fatal, and reporting that someone has died in this manner in and of itself is not excessive detail. Nor did the Committee consider that the descriptions of the structure contained within the article gave rise to the level of excessive detail in breach of Clause 5. While it acknowledged the complainant’s concerns that the article glamourised the location by way of its description of the aqueduct, this was not the same as excessive detail of the method itself. There was no breach of Clause 5.

12. There is a public interest in the reporting of inquests; this is recognised in the terms of Clause 4 and Clause 5, which both acknowledge that its provisions should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings. Such proceedings may involve revisiting the events leading up to a person’s death in detail and can reveal information of which family members had previously been unaware, or which family members would otherwise consider to be extremely private.

13. In this case, the publication reported on the evidence presented during the opening hearing of the inquest, including the man’s injuries and the provisional cause of death given by the pathologist. While the Committee understood the complainants’ concerns that they had not received the post-mortem report at the time of the article’s publication, it noted that these details, heard at the inquest, had been presented in a factual and non-sensational way. It was not insensitive in breach of the Code for the publication to have reported this information. There was no breach of Clause 4.

14. With regard to Clause 2, the Committee noted that the reported information was shared at the inquest hearing and therefore placed in the public domain. Information made available during an inquest was therefore not considered private, and so reporting it did not constitute a breach of Clause 2. There was no breach of Clause 2.

Conclusion

15. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

16. N/A


Date complaint received: 13/07/2023

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 21/09/2023