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Weekly rapped for publishing ‘gratuitous’ details in suicide report

Kayley FothergillA weekly newspaper which published “gratuitous” details in its report about a woman’s suicide has been rapped by the press watchdog.

The Gravesend News Shopper reported Kayley Fothergill, pictured left, had been seen hanging like a “plastic doll” by a neighbour in its story about an inquest held into her death.

The Independent Press Standards Organisations said the publication of the comparison had represented a failure to handle publication sensitively.

However, the News Shopper was absolved of publishing “excessive detail” with the regards to her method of suicide under the same Clause of the Editors’ Code of Practice.

Naomi Taylor, Ms Fothergill’s mother, complained to IPSO the newspaper had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock) in its reporting of the inquest.

It reported that the inquest heard that Ms Fothergill had depression, and had hanged herself in her bedroom “following a drinking session,” and that Ms Fothergill’s stepfather “accused doctors of a lack of concern and understanding… after she allegedly visited the doctors several times for help”.

It included comments from the investigating police officer who told the court that a neighbour had seen Ms Fothergill through a window, and had described her as hanging like a “plastic doll”.

Other information about the method of suicide was also included in the piece, which the complainant said was excessive. She added the inclusion of the neighbour’s description, and the fact the article was published at all, was insensitive.

Ms Taylor further complained the News Shopper had incorrectly reported the time of death, where Ms Fothergill’s body had been found, who had found her and that she had been found hanged.

The News Shopper responded by saying while it understood that any description of Ms Fothergill following her death could have been distressing for the family to read, the inclusion of the neighbour’s primary evidence was both necessary and justified because it illustrated the tragic nature of her death and the neighbour’s anguish at seeing her through the window.

The newspaper said the information published about the method omitted significant details heard during the inquest proceedings, and would not be sufficient to allow imitation.

It had also omitted a great many details about Ms Fothergill’s life and personal circumstances heard during proceedings, which it said that this demonstrated that sympathy and discretion had been exercised prior to publication.

The News Shopper also provided its reporter’s notes and offered to correct any points which could be shown to have given an inaccurate representation of the inquest proceedings.

IPSO took the view that the “plastic doll” comparison was gratuitous and, given the potential for such an emotive description to cause distress, its inclusion represented a failure to handle publication sensitively under Clause 5 (i).

The Committee welcomed the consideration given by the newspaper to which details from the inquest to omit, and found the detail included about the specific method of suicide was not excessive under Clause 5 (ii).

The details reported in the article relating to the time of death and the circumstances in which Ms Fothergill’s body was found were corroborated by the notes, which demonstrated that the newspaper had taken care not to publish inaccurate information.

The complaint was upheld under Clause 5, and the full adjudication can be read here.


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  • April 8, 2016 at 9:28 am

    While I have a degree of sympathy for the Shopper – could the description of the body really be described as gratuitous in the context it was said? – I think we all must accept that inquest reporting has drastically changed since the days when all manner of gruesome details were habitually published and even the content of suicide notes routinely disclosed by coroners.
    I was once taken to task by the grieving stepfather of a young man who demanded to know why I felt it necessary to include the fact his stepson had hung himself with a dog lead in my report?
    I must confess I found that question impossible to answer…

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  • April 8, 2016 at 9:38 am

    The plastic doll reference sounds both irrrelevant and obviously insensitive and surprised it was not subbed down. Did readers really need to know this?
    Having said that I was looking at a report of inquests in the 1920s and they were much more graphic, indeed cruel. In general things have improved from a sensitivity point of view.

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  • April 8, 2016 at 10:41 am

    The sensitivity issue…hmm. These things are said in open court & the press is legally allowed to report them. Not sure the press standards organisations should censure papers for that – it’s the thin end of the wedge. Soon they’ll be ruling against papers for reporting on inquests at all, even if it’s still legal. Still, I guess it might slightly curb the flow of angry families besieging reporters with threats of violence and accusations of lying after the story has appeared!

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  • April 8, 2016 at 10:48 am

    Can anyone find the circulation info for the The Gravesend News Shopper?

    Deregistered from ABC, modelled data elsewhere… but any firm figures?

    Sadly this seems to be a trend with some publications.

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  • April 8, 2016 at 11:35 am

    GladImOutOf it.

    Just because the media may publish something it does not mean they have to. Discretion is required and was plainly lacking here. It depends on the experience and wisdom of the editor.

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  • April 8, 2016 at 12:42 pm

    I agree that it’s bad to include gratuitous details in a suicide report.

    But I also think it’s bad to include those same gratuitous details in a report about a suicide report, to be honest.

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  • April 8, 2016 at 4:23 pm

    I can remember being late sub on a night when we had a particularly tragic story about a child’s death. The editor sat with me, looking for pull-out quotes and descriptions with the most impact, which I then embellished through their use in headlines etc.
    I remember at the time questioning why I was sat there at 9pm, helping a large media company profit from the hideous death of someone’s young daughter. Looking back, the beginning of many things I questioned in the years leading up to my redundancy. The press can be unnecessarily callous and I’m glad I’m out!

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  • April 8, 2016 at 4:33 pm

    Not always, but very often, this type of tragic case should be covered as a matter of record in a few pars.

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