However the Independent Press Standards Organisation ruled that the LEP’s online version of the story breached guidelines on the reporting of suicide, as set out in Clause 5 of the Editor’s Code of Practice.
The watchdog also ruled that, in making an approach to Carly’s grandmother against the family’s previously expressed wishes, the agency reporter had failed to make enquiries with sensitivity and discretion.
In issuing its ruling, IPSO took the opportunity to draw to editors’ attention the potential dangers of such errors, and the importance of checking all elements of online material before – and after – it is published.
However the newspaper was cleared of “inappropriate” publication of pictures of Ms Potts, or reporting of her work in a gentleman’s club, which her family claimed gave the story a “lads’ mag tone”.
The story, published on 14 October 2015, reported the inquest had heard that Ms Potts had hanged herself in a hotel room “mirroring the death of her mother seven years earlier” – adding that she had been three times over the drink-drive limit and that three different drugs were found in her system.
However the online version of the story also identified the item from which Ms Potts had been found hanged, and two of the captions identified the item used as a ligature.
The story quoted from the coroner’s summing up, in which he had said that Ms Potts had “made the decision to bring about her death quickly”, while the newspaper also reported that she had worked as a dancer in order to fund her university studies and to pay off debts.
It was illustrated by a number of photographs of Ms Potts, and included a quotation attributed to her grandmother, who had described her granddaughter as a “very caring, hard-working and big-hearted girl”
Kate Farrow, acting on behalf of Ms Potts’s father Ian Farrow, complained to IPSO that the story breached Clause 3 (Privacy) and Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock) of the Editors’ Code.
The complainant, the victim’s stepmother, said the online article and accompanying images had caused considerable distress to Ms Potts’ family by including explicit details of her stepdaughter’s death, about which some members of the family had been unaware, and had focused inappropriately on her work in a gentleman’s club.
Mrs Farrow said that despite the coroner making clear that Ms Potts’s father and grandmother did not wish to comment on the matter, her grandmother had been pressured to by reporters outside court.
She considered that comments made in those circumstances should not have been published.
Mrs Farrow added that the LEP had also published personal photographs of Ms Potts taken from her Facebook page without permission, which were “disproportionate” and inappropriate in number and nature.
She claimed the images, combined with the article’s focus on Ms Potts’ work as a lap dancer, had created an insensitive “lads’ mag tone” – expressing particular concern that an image of Ms Potts wearing a bikini on a motorbike had been published.
The LEP responded that the story and photographs had been supplied by a press agency and were published in good faith, adding it had a duty to report on the inquest to ensure that the public understood the circumstances surrounding an untimely death.
It had raised the complainant’s concerns regarding the conduct of reporters outside court with the agency, and apologised for the distress this had caused the family.
The paper said it would not have published the grandmother’s comments if it had been aware of the circumstances in which they were obtained, and removed them from the online article.
The LEP denied the article’s tone had been insensitive, but removed the photo of Ms Potts on a motorbike, which it admitted was “inappropriate”. However, it did not accept the article had focused on her employment – stating her work had been central to the court’s understanding of her final hours and had therefore been relevant to the story.
The paper further denied identifying the item from which Ms Potts had been found hanged constituted excessive detail in the online article. It said that it had not included information, such as how the ligature had been applied or secured, that would enable anyone to imitate the method. Nevertheless, it offered to remove this detail.
IPSO found the approach to the family against their wishes had represented a failure to make enquiries with sensitivity and discretion, in breach of Clause 5 (i), while details in the online article surrounding the method of suicide was “clearly excessive” and “irresponsible”.
The Committee acknowledged that some of the information about the method of suicide had been accidentally published because the photographer’s caption had been automatically included with the image file, noting that this issue had arisen previously in relation to other publications.
The full adjudication can be read here.