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Complainant Name:

Clauses Noted: 5

Publication: The Sentinel (Staffordshire)


Ged Flynn complained on behalf of PAPYRUS Prevention of Young Suicide to the Press Complaints Commission that an article headlined "Dad took his own life after police failed to find suicide letters in Vauxhall Combo van", published by The Sentinel (Staffordshire) on 17 September 2013, contained excessive detail about a method of suicide in breach of Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock) of the Editors' Code of Practice.

The complaint was not upheld.

The articles reported on an inquest into the death of a man who had taken his own life by overdosing on a narcotic and inhaling a fatal quantity of poisonous gas. It included the name of the drug, the type of gas, how it had been produced, and where the suicide had occurred. The complainant said the articles included an excessive and irresponsible level of detail about the method of suicide, which could lead to imitative suicide attempts.

The newspaper said that it aimed to be sensitive when reporting inquests and took extra care with cases involving suicide; it believed that it had acted responsibly in balancing its right to report the proceedings with its obligations under the Code. It had chosen to omit a number of details that had been given at the inquest from its report, including further information about the method. Nonetheless, it pointed out that it had removed the material complained of from the online article on a goodwill basis, at the request of the complainants, before receiving the complaint via the PCC.

Not Upheld


Clause 5 (ii) of the Editors' Code of Practice is intended to reduce the risk of imitative suicides and requires that "when reporting suicide, care should be taken to avoid excessive detail about the method used".

Inquests involving suicide provide a particular challenge to editors, as they frequently include a high level of detail about the method and require editors to exercise fine judgments about how much material it is appropriate and safe to publish. In this instance, it was clear that the newspaper had given consideration to its Code obligations and had chosen to omit significant details of the evidence heard at the inquest. While the resulting coverage did contain substantial information about the method, the Commission concluded that on this occasion, the newspaper had stayed just on the right side of the line.

Nonetheless, it took the opportunity to emphasise that Clause 5 (ii) was introduced to the Editors' Code in recognition of the fact that suicide is a major public health problem, which the press can help combat through responsible reporting. In all such cases, editors should have regard for the potential impact that coverage may have on vulnerable individuals when considering how to approach the story and how much detail to include.

Relevant Rulings

A woman v Wiltshire Gazette & Herald
A woman v The News (Portsmouth)
Mr & Mrs Marsh v Reading Chronicle

Date Published:

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