The Press Complaints Commission has upheld a complaint against a weekly newspaper over a ‘gratuitous’ report on the suicide of a man facing sexual assault charges.
The death of Ameet Mohabeer was reported in Luton’s Herald & Post under the headline ‘L&D ‘pervert’ is found dead’
His civil partner, Rod Hemley, complained to the PCC claiming the newspaper breached Clause Five of the Editor’s Code of Practice, which covers intrusion into grief.
The PCC upheld the complaint in an adjudication published today.
At the time of his death, Mr Mohabeer had been facing 13 charges of sexual assault on a male and four charges of causing a man to engage in a penetrative sexual activity.
The offences were alleged to have occurred at Luton & Dunstable Hospital, known locally as the L&D, where he had been employed.
Mr Hemley said that the use of the word “pervert” in the headline was insensitive and inaccurate, and that the newspaper had wrongly stated that Mr Mohabeer had been due to enter a plea at a forthcoming court appearance, when in fact he already entered a plea of not guilty prior to his death.
Although the newspaper published a correction and apology on the issue of the not guilty plea, it continued to argue that the use of term ‘pervert’ in the headline did not breach Clause Five.
In its adjudication, the Commission ruled that the newspaper was entitled to report the allegations against Mr Mohabeer and the existence of the criminal case in the context of his death.
However it went on: “Mr Mohabeer’s death had occurred just days before publication. The word “pervert” was clearly a pejorative and colloquial term, and it had been presented prominently as the headline on the front-page story.
“Given that Mr Mohabeer had been contesting the sexual abuse allegations at the time of his death, and he had not been convicted of any crime in this regard, the Commission judged the phrase to be unacceptable and gratuitous.
“It therefore ruled that its presentation – so shortly after Mr Mohabeer had taken his own life – constituted insensitive publication under the terms of Clause 5. It upheld the complaint.”
Outgoing PCC director Stephen Abell commented: “This case is an important contribution to the Commission’s case law, which sets out specific standards expected of journalists.
“Reporting death can be a difficult area, with a need for balance between the right of the public to be informed and the need to protect those personally affected by it.
“This ruling by the Commission sets down an important marker in reminding editors and journalists that, whatever the circumstances of a particular story, the Commission will always expect publication to be handled sensitivity”.