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Complainant Name:
Ms Claire Page

Clauses Noted: 5

Publication: Woodley & Earley Chronicle


Ms Claire Page complained to the Press Complaints Commission, via Cllr Keith Baker, that an article headlined "Tributes flood in to ‘a little angel'", published by the Woodley & Earley Chronicle on 22 May 2014, intruded into her grief in breach of Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock) of the Editors' Code of Practice.

The complaint was not upheld.

The article reported that the complainant's five year-old daughter had died suddenly after collapsing at school the previous week. It quoted from a tribute by the complainant to her daughter, which had been written on a card placed under a tree inside the entrance to the school grounds. The article was accompanied by a photograph of the collection of tributes that had been laid, by the complainant and other mourners, near the tree.

The complainant said that the publication of the article intruded into her life at an intensely painful and private time. She had been contacted by the newspaper before publication, via Facebook, to ask whether she wished to contribute to the article, but she had not seen the message for a day, at which point she had replied requesting the newspaper not to publish anything without her consent. The appearance of the front-page article, including her tribute, was therefore particularly distressing. She also felt that it was inappropriate for the reporter to have sent her the message at such a time, and objected to a note at the end of the article asking readers to email tributes to the reporter.

The PCC issued a private advisory notice on behalf of the complainant and her sister after they were contacted on Facebook, passing on their request not to be contacted again; no further attempts were made to contact them.

The newspaper expressed its sympathy to the complainant. Nonetheless, it maintained that, following a death, families often appreciated being afforded the opportunity to remember a loved one in a public way. On this occasion, a single approach had been made to the complainant as soon as the newspaper was aware of her identity, asking if she wished to contribute to the article. She had responded requesting that no tributes from her Facebook page be used, and that nothing be printed without her permission.

The newspaper said that a reporter had visited the grounds of the school to look at the tributes and to talk to the parents of other pupils; the publication of such tribute messages was common practice. The complainant's tribute, which had been left openly beneath the tree near the school gates and not placed in an envelope or otherwise concealed, had been published elsewhere the day before its own article had appeared. The reporter had left the school when asked and agreed not to visit again. The newspaper had not sent any further messages to the complainant, and it did not otherwise contact the family. It was standard practice to request further tributes from members of the public, to allow the wider community to express their grief.

Not Upheld


The Commission extended its sympathies to the complainant on the death of her daughter.

It understood that the complainant had not wanted coverage of her daughter's death to be published at the time the article had appeared. It was mindful, however, that as well as being the complainant's daughter, the child had been part of a wider community, including at her school. This was reflected in the newspaper's request for further tributes, although it was most unfortunate that this had caused the complainant distress. The article under complaint was a warm homage, and it reflected a wider sense of loss. The newspaper was obliged to ensure that publication was handled sensitively, but this did not mean that it had to obtain the family's consent in order to publish an article about the tragedy.

While the newspaper had been entitled to report on the death and the general tone of the coverage was appropriate, the Commission considered carefully the complainant's concern about the publication of her tribute.

The Commission was seriously troubled that the reporter had apparently entered the grounds of the school in order to photograph the tribute, without reference to the school authorities. It considered that this raised a legitimate concern that is not directly addressed by the terms of the Editors' Code of Practice, and it took this opportunity to draw this issue to the attention of the Editors' Code Committee. Nonetheless, its role was to consider the complaint under the terms of the Code in their current form.

The Commission noted that the tribute had been left close to the entrance of the grounds and had been written on an open card, apparently intended to be read by other mourners and visitors to the school. In this context, the complainant's expression of loss was, to an extent, a public one. While it was extremely regrettable that the complainant had been distressed by its wider publication, the Commission concluded that this did not constitute a failure to handle publication sensitively, under the terms of Clause 5.

The Commission considered finally the publication's message, via Facebook, asking whether the complainant wished to submit a tribute. While it was, again, regrettable that the complainant had been distressed, the Commission was satisfied that this single approach, respectful in tone, complied with the newspaper's obligation to ensure that enquiries were made with sympathy and discretion.

Date Published:

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