A weekly newspaper has been rapped by the press watchdog after using excessive detail to describe a “relatively unusual” method of suicide in an inquest report.
The Independent Press Standards Organisation has upheld a complaint against the Northampton Chronicle & Echo after it published a story under the headline ‘Northampton woman dies of caffeine overdose, inquest hears’ in March 2018.
The article’s publication prompted a complaint to IPSO by Kate Dayman, the woman’s sister-in-law, and prior to IPSO making its ruling the newspaper admitted it had “fallen short” of the standards expected.
In the piece, the Chronicle & Echo described the substance ingested by the woman, the amount of this substance used, what this was mixed with, the approximate cost of the substance, the amount of the substance which constituted a “lethal dose” and where it had been purchased.
Ms Dayman claimed in her complaint that the newspaper had breached Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock) and Clause 5 (Reporting of suicide) of the Editors’ Code of Practice, saying the level of detail included made it easy for individuals to understand how they could take their own lives using the method described.
She was particularly concerned because such information was difficult to find online in other sources due to the relatively unknown method the woman used.
Ms Dayman further claimed other details included in the story were “deeply distressing”, including the victim’s symptoms and where she was found by paramedics, while details of the family’s movements, including a visit to a relative in hospital, was intrusive into their private lives.
The Chronicle & Echo accepted that it had fallen short of the expectations of Clause 5 (Reporting of suicide), in terms of the level of detail included in the article about the method used.
It said that its local news team had initially thought that this detail would serve as a warning to others, but fully understood that this was mistaken, adding it had been contacted by Samaritans shortly after the article was published, in relation to these concerns, and had therefore removed it from its website within 24 hours of publication.
The Chronicle & Echo said it had taken steps to improve its staff’s understanding of Clause 5 to avoid a repeat of the incident, and had briefed the local news team in relation to the issues arising from the complaint, while it had raised the issue formally with all content editors in the region and had taken steps to arrange a conference call with a representative of Samaritans for these editors.
It offered to issue a personal and a public apology to the family, and to publish a tribute to the woman, with full copy approval, but denied any breach of Clause 2 or Clause 4, saying all the details contained in the article had been made public at the inquest, and were reported in a factual manner, without sensationalising the issue.
IPSO said it was concerned that the level of detail in relation to the method of suicide had been included, and the details included were sufficient to support an individual, in a number of ways, in engaging in a simulative act.
This was concerning when the article related to a relatively unusual method of suicide, as there was a risk of increasing the awareness of this method among the population.
The level of detail included in the article was excessive in a number of respects, and this represented a breach of Clause 5, but IPSO noted that it was reassured by the publication’s response to the complaint and the steps it had taken indicated that it appreciated the severity of the breach to the Code in this instance.
There was no breach of Clause 2 or Clause 4.