The editor of the South Wales Echo has hit out at a senior police officer who criticised the paper’s coverage of the Bridgend suicides.
Mick Hill, who has only recently taken up the post, defended the Echo’s reporting and called the comments an “outrageous and misguided attack”.
Dave Morris, assistant Chief Constable of South Wales, was seen on news channels waving aloft a copy of the Echo and openly criticising its front page story about the 17 suspected suicides.
In last night’s Echo, Mick wrote a 500-word leader piece saying the paper had strived to separate the fact from the fiction.
He said: “Covering the spate of young suicides in the Bridgend area has been a difficult job.
“At all times our reporters have sought to sift truth from rumour and fact from fiction while being sensitive to the terrible plight of the 17 families whose loved ones have taken their own lives.
“For the last 13 months in which the Echo has covered the story, we have maintained a professional relationship with South Wales Police.
“Yesterday that relationship changed after Assistant Chief Constable Dave Morris chose to use this paper to support his claim that sensationalist reporting was contributing to the situation in Bridgend.
“Despite numerous references in the national press to “suicide town”, “death cults” and “internet suicide pacts” he chose to single out a paper which has constantly said that the deaths of the young people are not linked.
“He chose to attack a local paper that is part of the fabric of Bridgend, reporting on issues that matter to the community long before the spate of suicides started and who will continue to do so long after the national press have packed up and moved on.”
Mick went on to say that other members of South Wales Police had contacted him to apologise for the comments and that blaming the media for the deaths was fatuous.
Sharon Pritchard, mother of Nathaniel Pritchard who died in hospital last week, appealed to the media to cease the high profile coverage, fearing it could trigger further suicides.
Earlier this month suicide prevention charity PAPYRUS called for an end to media coverage of the deaths amid fears of copycat incidents.
The press is fully entitled to report on unusual or premature deaths, such as suicides, but there are rules in the industry’s Code of Practice stating that excessive detail should not be used when reporting the method of suicide.
Publication must be handled sensitively at times of grief and shock. The Press Complaints Commission is monitoring media coverage of the situation in Bridgend.
Chairman Sir Christopher Meyer said: “I particularly want to make sure that the relatives and friends of the young people who have died are aware that they are not obliged to speak to the press and that, if they do not want to, the PCC can help prevent unwanted inquiries.
“We are ourselves monitoring the situation. But we would urge anyone with examples of articles which, in their view, are either insensitive or which provide such excessive detail to contact us immediately.
“We are in touch with the South Wales Police and have asked them to pass our details on to any of the relatives who might need our help.”