Press Complaints Commission
spacer spacer
SEARCH FOR     Or try the cases search  
Cases Banner
Making a complaint
Code of Practice Information
Code Advice

Complainant Name:
Ms Denise Brown

Clauses Noted: 1, 5

Publication: The Citizen (Gloucester)


Ms Denise Brown complained to the Press Complaints Commission that two articles headlined "Dog's killer found dead" and "Man who shoved dog off a cliff kills himself", published on 24 March 2011 in The Citizen, were inaccurate and misleading in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors' Code of Practice. She also complained that the newspaper had intruded into her grief, and included excessive information about the suicide of her son, in breach of Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock) of the Code.

The newspaper had offered a sufficient form of remedial action under Clause 1. There was no breach of Clause 5.

The articles were inquest reports on the death of the complainant's son, who had taken his own life. The deceased had previously been imprisoned for six months after killing a dog in 2006.

The complainant said that the articles contained a number of inaccuracies, most significantly a claim that her son had "bragged about the incident to local youths" and that she had said that he "wanted to get away from the Forest because he was becoming involved in the drink and drugs scene there". The coverage had also inaccurately referred to her marital status and where she lived.

The complainant also said that the newspaper's decision to highlight her son's past - particularly the description of him in the front page headline as a "dog's killer" - had intruded into her and her family's grief. The articles, in her view, suggested that her son had deserved what had happened to him. The complainant also said that the coverage had contained excessive detail in relation to the manner in which her son had taken his own life.

The newspaper said that - while it had no wish to upset a grieving family - it was fully entitled to refer to the previous conviction of the complainant's son. This was a matter of public record and had been mentioned during the proceedings. In its view, the headline was not insensitive and the article did not imply that the complainant's son had deserved his death. The information in regard to the method of suicide was not excessive.

The newspaper said that the court reporter had transcribed the notes directly onto a computer and incorporated the information directly into the story without retaining the original notes. As such, it was unable to corroborate most of the information which had been challenged by the complainant. The claim that the complainant's son had "bragged" about the act had been previously published at the time of the original conviction. Nonetheless, the newspaper accepted that the complainant's marital status and local area were incorrect, offering to publish a correction on all four points which had been raised. This offer was rejected by the complainant.

Sufficient remedial action offered


As a matter of important journalistic principle, newspapers are clearly entitled to cover inquest proceedings, which take place in public. It is their role to ensure that the public at large are informed of the circumstances of unusual or unexplained deaths, which can often include suicides.

It is essential, however, that reports of inquests accurately make clear to readers what has occurred during the proceedings, in accordance with the terms of Clause 1. In this case, the articles had included basic errors in regard to the marital status and address of the complainant, which indicated a lack of sufficient care on the part of the newspaper. In addition, the newspaper had not been able to corroborate a quote attributed to the complainant, for example through the provision of reporters' notes. The Commission considered that the overall manner in which the newspaper had covered the inquest raised a breach of Clause 1 (i) of the Code. One lesson from this complaint for the editor, and the industry more widely, should be the need to retain contemporaneous notes as evidence for the accuracy of reporting.

In the circumstances, it was certainly incumbent on the newspaper, under the terms of Clause 1 (ii), to publish a correction on the issues raised by the complainant, which it had offered to do. In the Commission's view, the newspaper's proposal represented an offer of sufficient remedial action to the complaint under Clause 1. This correction should now be published - provided that the complainant does not object - following the Commission's adjudication.

There is an additional requirement on newspapers in regard to inquest reports: the need to handle publication "sensitively". While it was regrettable that the complainant had been upset by the coverage, the Commission took the view that the coverage in the newspaper did not raise a breach of Clause 5.

The newspaper had relied on information given during the inquest: it was not in dispute, for example, that the proceedings had made reference to her son's conviction for causing the death of a dog in 2006. The repetition of the information which had already appeared in the public domain did not raise a breach of this Clause. The newspaper's reference to the complainant's son in the headline was an accurate, if bald, statement of his previous actions which had been reported at the time. While the article was certainly prominent, appearing on the front page, the Commission did not consider that the publication of the article meant that the newspaper had not handled the matter with the appropriate sensitivity.

Clause 5 (ii) states that when reporting suicide, care should be taken to avoid excessive detail about the method used. The purpose of this Clause is to prevent copycat acts. In this case, the article had only referred to the material with which the complainant had hanged himself. The Commission found that the reference under complaint did not represent an excessive detail such that would represent a breach of the Code.

Date Published:

<< Go Back
Home ] Cases ] Site map ]