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Complaint over daily’s coverage of suicide case rejected

The Press Complaints Commission has rejected a complaint that a regional daily’s coverage of a suicide inquest contained excessive detail.

The Sentinel, based in Staffordshire, published a story on 17 September last year headlined “Dad took his own life after police failed to find suicide letters in Vauxhall Combo van”.

Ged Flynn complained to the PCC on behalf of the PAPYRUS Prevention of Young Suicide charity that the story contained excessive detail about the method of suicide, in breach of Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.

But the Commission rejected the complaint, saying that the title had “stayed just on the right side of the line” in its coverage of the inquest.

The paper’s stories reported on an inquest into the death of a man who had taken his own life by overdosing on a narcotic and inhaling a fatal quantity of poisonous gas, including the name of the drug, the type of gas, how it had been produced, and where the suicide had occurred.

The complainant said the articles included an excessive and irresponsible level of detail about the method, which could lead to imitation suicide attempts.

In responding to the complaint, the newspaper said it aimed to be sensitive when reporting inquests, particularly with cases involving suicide, and it believed it had acted responsibly in its reporting.

It said it had chosen to omit a number of details that had been given at the inquest, including further information about the method used.

The paper said it had also removed the material complained about from its online article on a goodwill basis before it received the complaint via the PCC.

In its adjudication, the Commission said that inquests involving suicide provided a particular challenge to editors because they frequently included a high level of detail about the method.

It said: “In this instance, it was clear that the newspaper had given consideration to its Code obligations and had chosen to omit significant details of the evidence heard at the inquest.

“While the resulting coverage did contain substantial information about the method, the Commission concluded that on this occasion, the newspaper had stayed just on the right side of the line.”

The PCC, however, stressed that Clause 5 (ii) was introduced to the Editors’ Code because suicide is a major public health problem, which the press can help combat through responsible reporting.

It said that in all such cases, editors should have regard for the potential impact their coverage may have on vulnerable individuals, when considering how to approach the story and how much detail to include.