The press watchdog has rejected a widow’s claim that her husband’s inquest should not have been covered by a regional daily because he was “not a public figure.”
Natalie Sykes told the Independent Press Standards Organisation she found it upsetting and insensitive that the Huddersfield Daily Examiner had published a report on an inquest into the death of her husband Martyn on its front page.
In a complaint to IPSO, Mrs Sykes claimed the Examiner had distorted evidence she had given at the inquest.
However, after an investigation, the watchdog found the Examiner had been entitled to report on the hearing and was satisfied the notes of the reporter present did not contradict the evidence given.
The story in question, published on 20 July this year, was run under the headline ‘Marriage split dad found hanged’ and the sub-headline ‘Electrician had struggled to cope with separation and daughter’s cancer fight’, which was published alongside a photograph of Mr Sykes.
The article quotes Mrs Sykes as saying in a statement: “Martyn had gone through a difficult period in which their daughter had been diagnosed with blood cancer and Martyn’s father was suffering with cancer.”
Complaining under Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief and shock) of the Editors’ Code of Practice, Mrs Sykes said there was no justification for publishing the details of the inquest, especially as Mr Sykes was not a public figure.
In addition to her complaint about the prominence of the article, the publication of the story had added significantly to the family’s grief and distress, and that readers who had no connection to the story were able to pass judgement or comment on his death.
The Examiner offered its condolences to the complainant and her family for their loss, and expressed regret that the article had caused the family distress.
Denying a breach of Code, the newspaper said that there was an inherent public interest in reporting on inquest proceedings held in open court and added that it had a right to report on such cases, irrespective of whether the individual concerned was a public figure.
It said care had been taken by the journalist to take thorough notes of the proceedings, and the details contained within the notes did not contradict the recording of the inquest provided by Mrs Sykes.
The Examiner added that it was clear from the coroner’s comments that he had considered several factors within Mr Sykes’s life as having possibly contributed to his decision to take his own life, including his daughter’s cancer and difficulties.
IPSO acknowledged that Mrs Sykes and her family had been distressed by the publication of the article, particularly the prominence afforded to it on the newspaper’s front page, but explained that inquests are public proceedings and journalists have a right to report on the evidence which is heard, while the prominence afforded to coverage is a discretion provided to an editor.
It found the article was an account of the evidence heard during inquest proceedings and noted that it had contained expressions of sympathy and heartfelt recollections of the life of Mr Sykes from members of his family, while he story did not contain any gratuitous detail of the circumstances surrounding his death.
The complaint was not upheld, and the full adjudication can be read here.