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Watchdog rejects complaint over website’s inquest coverage


A woman’s complaints that a website’s report of the inquest into her brother’s death in Spain was inaccurate has been rejected by the press watchdog.

Rebecca Kelly complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation over a story on Devon Live headlined a story headlined “Criminal who skipped the country and fled to Spain dies of drug overdose, aged 35″ published on May 15.

The inquest report said Ms Kelly’s brother had died of a “drug overdose”, and included evidence heard at the inquest that his cause of death was “acute toxicity poisoning,” that cocaine and heroin were found in his body, that “drug abuse may have enlarged his heart,” and that “drug paraphernalia” was found in his room.

It also said he died five months after having been released from prison for “stabbing a man”, and that he fled the UK while on license after committing the offence.

Ms Kelly claimed the report breached Clauses 1, 4 and 12 of the Editors’ Code of Practice, covering accuracy, intrusion into grief or shock, and discrimination, arguing that the coroner had not said that her brother had taken heroin or died of a drug overdose.

It was said during the inquest that her brother had suffered from Left Ventricular Hypertrophy (LVH) which could be caused by chronic drug abuse, but there was no evidence to suggest that he had chronically abused drugs, Ms Kelly said, adding that the coroner’s findings were that low levels of cocaine and morphine were found in his blood – levels not typically associated with fatalities – and that it was not possible to conclude which drugs her brother had taken.

She also noted that only prescribed medication was found with her brother at his time of death.

In addition, she said, the inquest report focused inappropriately on her brother’s criminal convictions, which were not mentioned at the inquest and were not relevant.

Devon Live noted evidence in the toxicology report that free morphine was found in Ms Kelly’s brother’s blood, and provided a recording of the inquest hearing in which the coroner stated that he had taken either heroin or morphine before his death.

The coroner had concluded that it was a drug-related death, the cause being LVH and acute toxicity poisoning, and that on the balance of probabilities there did not seem to be a better reason as to why his heart was so enlarged, it said.

The coroner’s office gave the cause of death in its daily listing as a “drug overdose”, said the website, which provided the reporter’s notes of the inquest and a transcript of them.

The website said details of the brother’s convictions were in the public domain.

The inquest had also heard that Ms Kelly’s brother had been out of prison for five months, said it was relevant to include this information and an explanation of why he was in prison.

Ipso’s complaints committee said the reporter at the inquest took detailed notes which were provided by the website, and was able to provide a recording of the hearing. This demonstrated that care had been taken to ensure the accuracy of the information reported.

The toxicology report stated that Ms Kelly’s brother’s cause of death was a combination of LVH and acute toxicity poisoning.

Mr Kelly’s brother had previously suffered from LVH; the coroner concluded that on the balance of probabilities, it was most likely that there was drug use at the time of his death which may have contributed to the enlargement of his heart.

As the details of the coroner’s findings were made clear, the committee said, it did not consider that characterising the cause of death as a “drug overdose” was significantly misleading.

The toxicology report also stated that free morphine was present in the dead man’s body, indicating that he had taken either morphine or heroin before his death – it was not significantly inaccurate to report that heroin was found in his body.

Clause 4 acknowledged the press’s right to report legal proceedings, such as inquests, and required that in cases of personal grief or shock, publication was handled sensitively.

The fact that Ms Kelly’s brother had recently been released from prison was referred to at the inquest and the website was entitled to note the nature of his conviction.

While Ms Kelly found it distressing to read, the committee did not consider that including this information was insensitive, particularly in circumstances where her brother’s convictions had been widely reported in the past.