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Complainant Name:
Mr Michael Maude

Clauses Noted: 3, 5

Publication: Derby Telegraph


Mr Michael Maude of Breadsall, Derby, complained that an article headlined "Toddler dies of meningitis" published in the Derby Evening Telegraph on January 10 1997 intruded into his family's privacy in breach of Clause 3 (Privacy) and breached Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief and shock) of the Code of Practice.

The article reported that the complainant's eighteen month old grandson had died of meningitis and quoted neighbours who expressed their shock. The complainant objected that no one from the newspaper had approached them prior to publication and that the first that the family knew of the article was when they read the paper. He complained that the reporter had broken the news of the death to the neighbours of the child's parents.

The editor said that he had a duty to inform the public as soon as possible and said that his reporters had spent some time trying to trace members of the dead boy's family. While it was true that some of the neighbours had had the news of the death broken to them by journalists, it was clear that the death was a matter which was being discussed locally and several neighbours already knew. Although he did not feel that the Code of Practice had been breached, the editor wrote a letter to the family in which he apologised for being unable to contact them and for having left them with the impression that the matter had not been handled sensitively.

Not Upheld


There were two distinct complaints for the Commission to consider: the fact that the complainant's family had not been informed by the newspaper of the intention to publish details of the death and the fact that journalists had spoken, and in some cases broken news of the death, to the complainant's neighbours.

The Commission regretted the distress that the complainant and his family must have felt in the tragic circumstances and was pleased to note that the editor had personally apologised to the complainant for exacerbating the family's grief. However, the Commission considered that it was clearly in the public interest for the story, which covered an important matter of public health, to be published as soon as possible and while it was unfortunate that the newspaper could not contact the family of the deceased child it was apparent that significant efforts had been made to do so.

The Commission has always held that it is not the job of reporters to break the news of a death to the family of those involved. It does, however, accept that the gathering of news in such circumstances is a difficult but necessary aspect of the journalists task. In this case, attempts to reach the family and to gauge local reaction had resulted in some cases in neighbours being informed of the tragic death. The Commission could not find that the journalists were acting in breach of the Code by seeking comments from local people who were not part of the complainant's family. It was an unfortunate but inadvertant consequence that some of these people learnt the news from journalists before the complainant's family realised that the news was going to be published.

The complaints were not upheld.


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