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Weekly cleared over ‘gory and gratuitous’ inquest coverage

ipso-green-320The press watchdog has dismissed a complaint against a weekly newspaper over an inquest report said to contain ‘gory and gratuitous’ details of two teenagers’ deaths.

The Bury Free Press published a report on two inquests held in March this year under the headline “Road smashes cost lives of tragic teens” in which it reported that inexperience had been a factor in both deaths.

However the family of one of the victims, Robert Quinn, then complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation, claiming the coverage had contained “gratuitous and gory details” of his injuries.

They said the report breached both Clause 4 of the Editor’s Code of Practice, which covers intrusion into grief or shock, and Clause 1, which covers accuracy, arguing that the paper had been inaccurate to report that inexperience had been a factor in Mr Quinn’s death.

The newspaper reported that Mr Quinn has died on 10 July 2015 after he braked hard going round a corner on his motorcycle, causing his brakes to lock, and that he had collided with another vehicle.

It also reported that a police officer had told the inquest that Mr Quinn “sustained major trauma to the left hand side and forehead and his helmet had come off in the crash.”

Jane Cort, representing the Quinn family, complained that the article “contained gratuitous and gory details in relation to the injuries suffered by Mr Quinn.”

On the issue of inexperience, she said the police officer giving evidence had merely confirmed that Mr Quinn was a relatively inexperienced rider in comparison to his friend,

who he had been riding with at the time of the accident and who was a fully qualified motorcycle instructor.

In response, the newspaper said that it had reported the inquest proceedings “without hyperbole or sensationalism” and denied that the article “lingered gratuitously on gory details.”

However as a gesture of goodwill, it had offered to amend the online version of the story to take out the parts about which the complainant had expressed concern.

In its adjudication published yesterday, IPSO said that while it recognised that the family had been distressed by the inclusion of details about Mr Quinn’s injuries, it was not gratuitous for the newspaper to include a short, factual description of them.

It said the inclusion of these details “did not demonstrate a failure to handle publication sensitively in a case of personal grief,” and hence that there was no breach of Clause 4.

The watchdog said the inquest had heard from the police officer that Mr Quinn was relatively inexperienced in comparison to the motorcyclist he had been riding with at the time of the accident, and that in these circumstances, the reference to inexperience was not significantly misleading.

The complaint was not upheld. The full ruling can be read here.