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Complainant Name:
Dr R Brown

Clauses Noted: 6

Publication: Salisbury Journal


Dr R Brown of Salisbury complained that an article headlined "Mum hanged a year after son's suicide" published on 11 March 1999 in the Salisbury Journal unnecessarily intruded into the privacy of the dead woman's 16 year old daughter in breach of Clause 6 (Children) of the Code of Practice.

The complaint was upheld.

The article said that the complainant, who was the deceased's family doctor, had found the body of the woman who had apparently committed suicide. The woman had previously been the focus of local publicity following her campaign for a public inquiry into the circumstances surrounding her son's death in Reading Prison. The article named the woman's sixteen year old daughter, identified her school by name and speculated where she may have been being looked after.

The complainant said that the article was particularly damaging to the girl given her age and the fact that she was about to sit her GCSEs.

The editor denied that there had been any intrusion into the girl's privacy as she had not been approached by any journalist and was not under the age of 16. He said that she had been named in the report solely as a surviving relative of the deceased woman. He contended that to uphold the complaint would be to set a dangerous precedent in that it would restrict newspapers' right to mention the survivors of any death, including in an obituary. He said that it was in the public interest to inform readers that she had been told of her mother's death.



The Commission did not agree with the editor's arguments. Clause 6 (i) of the Code exists to protect young people from the publication of unnecessarily intrusive material while they are at school. It was very clear to the Commission that the girl - who was just 16 and who had just suffered the loss of her mother shortly after that of her brother -was the sort of vulnerable person who could expect the protection of the Code. The Commission saw no reason why the girl's name, school and possible whereabouts could not have been omitted from the report and did not agree that this would have restricted the newspaper's ability to report the fact that the dead woman had left a sixteen year old daughter. The Commission upheld the complaint and considered that it should have been resolved by the editor at an early stage.

The complainant also complained that the article contained inaccuracies in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code and that its publication was an intrusion into the rest of the dead woman's family's grief in breach of Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock).

The complainant said that the publication of the article on the front page and the fact that it was published so soon after the death was insensitive.

He also said that the proximity of his name in the article to the details of the woman's death gave the inaccurate impression that he had provided the information to the newspaper. He said that he had learned from a friend of the dead woman that her partner was concerned that he could not reach her on the telephone. It was therefore inaccurate to suggest that the neighbours had said that they were concerned. The complainant said that he had not found the dead woman 'in a cupboard' but hanging from the framework of an airing cupboard.

The editor maintained that the areas of perceived inaccuracy were not significant within the terms of the Code. He said that the newspaper had attempted without success to contact the dead woman's partner to verify the accuracy of the story. With regard to the complaint about intrusion into grief or shock, he said that the prominence of the article was not relevant and that it had been published at the earliest opportunity following the death as was normal practice.

The Commission has always maintained that it is not the job of newspapers to break the news of a death to the close family of the deceased. In this case this did not appear to have happened either by publication or by the approach of a journalist. Although the complainant objected to the timing of the article and its prominence within the paper, these in themselves are matters for editorial discretion and are not covered by the Code of Practice.

The Commission did not consider that the complaint of inaccuracy raised any breach of the Code. Although it regretted that the complainant felt that the article had suggested that he had been the source of the published information, it noted that the article had not attributed the information to any one party and did not consider that readers would have necessarily been misled in the way that the complainant feared. Neither were the other complaints of inaccuracy significant within the terms of the Code.


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