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Inquest report complaints are rejected by press watchdog

A woman who objected to the way two London newspapers reported on the inquest into her daughter’s death has had her complaints rejected by the newspaper industry watchdog.

Both the South London Press and the News Shopper ran stories in September, headlined “Teen runaway’s heroin tragedy” and “Heroin causes death of teen” respectively.

They reported how the complainant’s daughter had died after taking heroin for the first time, but she claimed that the articles contained a number of inaccuracies, in breach of Clause 1 of the Code of Practice, and also intruded into her grief in breach of Clause 5.

She also raised concerns under Clause 3 (Privacy) and said that by identifying her as the mother of the deceased Clause 9 (Reporting of crime) had been breached.

The Press Complaints Commission rejected all complaints.

The complainant said that the characterisation of her daughter as a “runaway” was incorrect as she had her own flat at the time of her death, and the papers had overlooked the fact that the toxicology report disproved an allegation by her daughter’s former boyfriend that her daughter smoked crack cocaine.

She said that while the coroner found she had died as a result of non-dependent abuse of drugs, it had been reported simply that she died “due to abuse of drugs” and that the omission of the phrase ‘non-dependent’ was significant.

However, while the PCC appreciated that the inquest hearing must have been particularly harrowing for the complainant, it was not persuaded that there were any material inaccuracies in the newspapers’ reports.

The newspapers said that the articles were based on the same court agency report, and the court had heard that the complainant’s daughter had run away when she was 16 – the fact that she had a permanent residence at the time of her death did not invalidate the description of her as a “runaway”.

The PCC also agreed that the papers were right to report the allegation of crack cocaine use as, even though the complainant disputed it, it had been made in open court.

The Commission also said that there had been no breach of Clause 5, as it specifically upholds the right to report inquests, and in its view there was nothing insensitive about the reports.

Turning to the complaint under Clause 3, the Commission said because the complainant had given evidence at a public hearing, something that newspapers were entitled to report, they had not intruded into her privacy.

The complaint under Clause 9 was also rejected as this is concerned with the identification of relatives of those accused of crime, rather than with the identification of relatives of the deceased.