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Daily newspaper cleared of ‘copycat suicide’ report

A regional daily has been cleared of encouraging ‘copycat suicides’ following a report on a man who died from inhaling helium gas.

The Press Complaints Commission today ruled that an article in the Southern Daily Echo did not contain ‘excessive detail’ in breach of the Editors’ Code of Practice.

The newspaper reported that 57-year-old Tony Rodskjaer, from Southampton, had bought a blow-up balloon kit complete with helium canisters.

He was found dead in April on the boat where he lived, having inhaled too much of the gas.

Rosie Nicol-Harper, the director of a childrens’ bereavement charity, complained to the PCC that by revealing such detail, the newspaper was likely to encourage copycat suicides.

However the newspaper said it had omitted various details from the inquest hearing such as the precise means by which the gas had been inhaled and the quantity that would generally lead to death, specifically in order to limit the chance of other people copying it.

The Commission ruled that the article did not constitute a breach of the terms of the Code.

It said the newspaper was entitled to cover the inquest proceedings and report basic information about the method. The level of detail it had included was “suitably limited”.

Today’s ruling stated: “Details about the precise apparatus that had been constructed – and how much gas had been inhaled – might well have been excessive in breach of the Code, but they had not been included.

“This was a difficult balancing act, but the Commission was satisfied that the newspaper had published a suitably limited level of detail.”

PCC director Stephen Abell commented: “The Code makes clear that editors should take care not to publish excessive detail about the method of suicide. The editor, on this occasion, was able to show the care that he had taken.

“He had removed references that would have provided too much information about how precisely the person concerned had taken his own life. This is what the Code, and the Commission require, so as to reduce the likelihood of copycat suicides.”