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Editor raises concerns over ‘suicide’ assumptions in story comments

Jack AllenderA regional daily editor has raised concerns about online commenters assuming young people who die suddenly have committed suicide.

Worcester News editor Michael Purton says people have a “tendency” to make the assumption and subsequently post comments which are “incredibly upsetting” for the family of the person who has died.

Last August the News reported on the death of Worcester tattoo artist Jack Allender, pictured, and readers posting on the newspaper’s website and Facebook page had made suggestions he had taken his own life.

Mr Allender’s friends subsequently publicly denied the rumours which were being posted.

The News has now clarified that the 29-year-old died of natural causes, after his grandmother contacted the paper about the results of his post-mortem examination.

Michael, who has previously served as voluntary media officer for Gloucestershire-based charity Suicide Crisis, penned an editorial on the back of the story, questioning whether people are too quick to assume a sudden death is a suicide.

Wrote Michael: “With mental health issues so firmly in the public spotlight at the moment (and that’s not a bad thing), people have a tendency to assume that suicide is the cause when a seemingly healthy young person dies suddenly.

“That was certainly the case with Worcester tattoo artist Jack Allender, who died in August last year aged 29. Posting on the Worcester News website and Facebook, there were suggestions that Jack took his own life, prompting his friends to come out and deny the rumours.

“When someone who has died is falsely accused of suicide, it’s incredibly upsetting for their family and friends. So you can understand why Jack’s grandmother, Linda Burrows, has contacted the Worcester News to say that the post mortem results have shown that Jack died of natural causes.

“She naturally wants people to know that Jack did not commit suicide because, of course, someone who takes their own life feels they have nothing left to live for, and that most definitely was not the case with Jack, who had a daughter, his own business and many loving friends and family members.”

4 comments

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  • January 21, 2019 at 4:17 pm
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    How could anyone assume that? Sign of the times in 21st century. Thanks to fools on social media and 24-hour news no-one gets the benefit of the doubt any more.

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  • January 21, 2019 at 5:26 pm
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    This could be an indictment of unclear, cryptic or vague reporting not explicitly stating the apparent/likely causes of a death. Legal restrictions on initially giving details may apply in some cases, until the outcome of an investigation and/or inquest, but the onus is on a paper/website to report clearly and unambiguously. If suicide is ruled out, they should say so. But this would still not entirely deter kneejerk online presumption and Chinese whispers among commenters who just read a headline without bothering to check the full story.

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  • January 22, 2019 at 8:51 am
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    my local paper used to carry an inquest or two every week. They don’t seem to be covered now. Perhaps they don’t have the experienced staff obviously needed now as inquests are among the trickiest things to cover. No good sending along some green trainee reporter (we have all seen it!) and hoping for the best.

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  • January 22, 2019 at 1:45 pm
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    Turn off comments on your own website when reporting anything that might prove problematic. Or is that too simple?
    Of course, the ubiquitous FB link that’s now sadly part and parcel of working the unregulated wild west wastelands of social meejah to drive in punters – proves more difficult to manage 24/7.

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