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Complainant Name:
Ms O Howell, Director of Hackney Action for Racial Equality, on behalf of Mrs Ajayi and her family

Clauses Noted: 5

Publication: New Nation

Complaint:

Ms O Howell, Director of Hackney Action for Racial Equality, complained on behalf of Mrs Ajayi and her family concerning a report in New Nation on 28 February 2000, headlined “Boys took own lives”, which questioned the circumstances of her son’s death. The complaint was lodged that an approach by the newspaper’s reporter to the family following the death had been made without sympathy or discretion in breach of Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock) of the Code of Practice.

The complaint under Clause 5 was upheld.

The article reported the results of the newspaper’s own investigation into the deaths of two young men who had been found within a few hours of each at the foot of a towerblock. It was claimed that local residents had told the newspaper of their suspicions the deaths had been suicides related to drug abuse and homosexual prostitution.

The complainants said that the reporter been ‘very persistent’ in her approach to the family for comment some twenty days after the death. At the outset, the family had made it clear that they did not wish to speak to the press. The reporter, however, persisted in questioning the family who as a result felt compelled to admit her in to the foyer of their home to prevent passers-by hearing her questioning. The family were not prepared to answer the questions posed to them and stressed that they were “still in grief” and “desperate to hang on to any sort of privacy”. The text of the article itself exposed the extent to which the reporter had persisted in her questioning despite the statements of the family which were quoted and unequivocally showed that they were not prepared to talk to the media.

The newspaper stated that its reporter had approached the family for comment and that the family had indeed been “at first reluctant to let her in the house”. The family were asked about the alleged racial motive to the death but “did not want to talk about it” and so “after a short while” the reporter had left.

Decision:
Upheld

Adjudication:

The Commission stressed that under Clause 5 of the Code approaches made to those recently bereaved must be carried out with sympathy and discretion. In this case, it was apparent from the quotations attributed to the family in the article itself, in excess to the complainant’s own account, that the approach had been persistent, distressing and made without due sensitivity. The Commission was particularly concerned with the article’s description of the complainants’ response when approached by the reporter. The publication of the article had therefore not been handled sensitively in clear breach of the Code.

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It was claimed further that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) and intruded into the family’s privacy in breach of Clause 3 (Privacy).

The complaints under Clause 1 and 3 were not upheld.

The complainants said that the article was inaccurate, misleading and the claims made unsubstantiated. The deceased had not committed suicide or been involved in criminal activity. These and other inaccurate accusations were based wholly on the claims of locals, most of whom were not identified in the article. The publication of the article had proved deeply traumatic to the family.

The newspaper replied that the story had been one of great and pressing public interest which required investigation, particularly as it was at first thought that the deaths had been the possible result of a racist attack. It apologised for the upset that the article had caused but considered that publication was entirely justified. The reporter had interviewed a number of local people, some of whom had known the boys. These people had made the claims which then formed the basis of the article.

The complainants subsequently informed the Commission that the inquest had recorded a verdict of “death by suicide” but that they still considered the article to be misleading and inaccurate.

The Commission noted that the claims that formed the basis of the article, while obviously distressing to the family of the deceased, had been clearly presented as the views and comments of local people who had been interviewed by the newspaper. These comments had been distinguished as such in accordance with the provisions of Clause 1 of the Code. The Commission further recognised that the incident was one of great public interest. As such, therefore, the publication of details relating to the tragedy and the naming of those involved did not raise a breach of Clause 3 of the Code.

Report:
52



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