Clauses Noted: 5
Publication: The People
Messrs Chattertons, solicitors, of Market Street, Sleaford, Lincolnshire complained on behalf of their clients Mr and Mrs Gregory that an article in the Sunday People on 6 February 2000 headlined “Gun Cops” intruded into their grief in breach of Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock) of the Code of Practice.
The complaint was rejected.
The article described an incident in 1994 in which the Armed Response Unit of the police force was called in to arrest an armed robber. It described how the armed robber (Kevin Gregory) had taken his own life before being arrested.
The complainants, who are Kevin Gregory’s parents, said that the piece had caused them a great deal of distress. They had not been contacted prior to publication and the death of their son had not been handled sensitively. They objected in particular to the main photograph used to illustrate the piece which showed their son lying in a pool of blood and appeared to have been taken shortly after he had taken his life. They did not believe the picture had appeared elsewhere. They also objected to the language used to describe their son’s injuries and his death, such as ‘blowing his own brains out’, which they said was ‘insensitive and sensationalist’. They said that they were the innocent victims of the incident and the impact on them of publication of the article should have been considered.
The newspaper replied that the incident had taken place over five and a half years ago. Kevin Gregory and his accomplice had carried out a robbery, they were chased by the police and Kevin Gregory took a bystander hostage. He shot at a policeman and then turned his gun on himself. Full details were reported at the time. No enquiries were made of the complainants because the article concerned matters which were in the public domain. Given the horrendous nature of the crimes committed, the newspaper considered that the use of the main photograph was justified.
Clause 5 of the Code is intended to protect those who are in grief or shock. It seeks to afford protection to people when they are at their most vulnerable. However, it is not intended to restrict reporting over an indefinite period on matters of public interest.
In this case, the Commission noted that the events described in the article had taken place over five years ago and that the complainant’s son had been involved in a robbery, had taken a bystander hostage and had shot at police, before taking his own life. The Commission recognised that the description of the death of the complainants’ son may reawaken their grief and sympathised with them. However, many of the details were already in the public domain and in view of the length of time which had passed and the violent circumstances in which Kevin Gregory had taken his life, the Commission did not find that the newspaper’s reporting of the matter raised a breach of the Code. There was no requirement under the Code for the newspaper to contact the complainants before reporting on a matter which was in the public domain.
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