Ruling

12290-15 Bakehouse v Bristol Post

    • Date complaint received

      10th March 2016

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      5 Reporting suicide

Decision of the Complaints Committee 12290-15 Bakehouse v Bristol Post

Summary of complaint

1. Vicki Bakehouse complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Bristol Post breached Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock) in articles headlined “Man found dead in river near Bristol Harbourside”, and “Man pulled from Bristol harbour was 49-year-old with paranoid psychosis”, published online on 23 November 2015, and headlined “Family appeal for information as man, 49, pulled from harbourside”, published in print on 24 November 2015.

2. The first article, headlined “Man found dead in river near Bristol Harbourside”, reported that a body of a man had been found in a river in Bristol, and that police believed that the deceased was Andrew Bakehouse, the complainant’s brother. The article made reference to his having “suffered mental health problems”.

3. The second article, headlined “Man pulled from Bristol harbour was 49-year-old with paranoid psychosis”, was an update of the first article; it confirmed that the deceased was Mr Bakehouse. It said that Mr Bakehouse had “convictions for making repeated hoax 999 calls”, and included details of his court appearances. It said that during one such appearance, Mr Bakehouse’s defence said that he “had symptoms of paranoid psychosis for which he was on medication”, and that magistrates took his mental health into account when sentencing him. Both articles included details of a police appeal for information about the death.

4. The print article was substantively similar to the second article, but also included comments left by the complainant on the newspaper’s Facebook page, asking for information about the death.

5. The complainant was concerned that it was insensitive for the first article to have reported that her brother had died, before formal identification had taken place. She also said that it was insensitive and irrelevant for the second article to have referred to his convictions, and for both articles to have included details of her brother’s mental health.

6. She said that, prior to publication of the second article, a reporter had contacted her on Facebook to ask whether she would like to provide any comments as a tribute to her brother. The complainant told the reporter that she would like to discuss this offer with the family, and did not immediately provide any comments for publication. The second article was published before Ms Bakehouse had been able to confirm whether she would be providing any comments. She considered that publication had therefore been handled insensitively, and that the journalist’s approach was not made with sympathy and discretion. The complainant provided a record of her conversation with the journalist.

7. The newspaper extended its condolences to the complainant, but did not accept that the articles were insensitive in breach of Clause 5. It said that the first article had been published on the basis of a press release issued by the police which had been published online; it had named the complainant’s brother, and stated that while formal identification had not been completed, his next of kin had been informed of the death.

8. The newspaper said that prior to the publication of the second article, the journalist had sent the complainant a sympathetic message asking whether she wanted to provide comments for publication. It noted that the complainant did not appear upset or concerned over this approach, and said that the subsequent publication of the article was not insensitive or unsympathetic. Further, the details included about Mr Bakehouse’s previous convictions and mental health had previously been disclosed in open court. The newspaper said that it included this publicly available information in a manner that was not insensitive.

9. While the newspaper did not accept that the articles breached the Code, it offered, as a gesture of goodwill, to remove both articles in order to try to resolve the complaint.

Relevant Code Provisions

10. Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock)

i) In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively. This should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings, such as inquests.

Findings of the Committee

11. The Committee extended its condolences for the family’s loss. It understood that the publication of the details about Mr Bakehouse’s mental health and convictions had caused the complainant concern. However, these details – which were already in the public domain as a matter of public record – were not reported in a manner that was insensitive so as to breach Clause 5. Further, while the Committee understood that no formal identification had taken place when the first article had been published, it was not in dispute that Mr Bakehouse’s immediate family had been notified of his death by the authorities, and it was not insensitive to have republished information which had already been made public by the police. There was no breach of Clause 5 on these points.

12. Clause 5 makes clear that in cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion, and publication should be handled sensitively. While the Committee understood the complainant’s concern that she had not been able to discuss further the second article with the reporter prior to publication, the record of the journalist’s contact with the complainant showed that she had been approached in a sensitive and sympathetic manner. Further, the terms of Clause 5 do not require that publications seek consent to publish articles from those involved or potentially affected by the coverage. The journalist’s approach and the editorial decision to publish the article were not insensitive, and there was no breach of Clause 5 on these points.

Conclusions

13. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

N/A

Date complaint received: 04/01/2016
Date decision issued: 10/03/2016